Can the poor take any more?

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, February 18, 2013

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SOME of us Jamaicans live good lives, as witnessed by the social pages in our press. Some live terrible lives, as witnessed by the nightly newscasts. We saw the valiant Marvin Campbell, St Ann manager of the Jamaica Public Service Company, explaining to Steer Town residents that illegal power connections were not just a financial issue, but also that they are dangerous.

Sadly, danger is a way of life in the inner city. A dreadlocked man said he, his lady and six children were living in a one-room dwelling, so 'what we going to do?' One woman who was asked by the Jamaica Observer about the Government's tax package seemed diffident - she was unemployed. We heard a mother mention to a reporter that she had cooked dinner for a 42-year-old man who allegedly had been co-habiting in a neighbouring house with her 16-year-old daughter. Her child had been stabbed to death by the said man, who is now a fugitive!

On a weekend visit to a resort a few months ago, we met a Canadian couple who were so impressed with a young waiter that they asked to visit his family. They were shocked at their poor circumstances, but impressed by his dignified parents and young brother. They hosted them for a weekend at the hotel, and were moved by the simple things which were regarded as luxuries by the rural family: a flush toilet, a private shower, separate beds.

And so we say to our well-dressed, well-housed, well-guarded leaders: why, after 50 years of Independence in a tiny, well-endowed country does it take a foreigner to introduce the family of a hard-working man, to such a basic facility as a flush toilet? Is it because the folks who have sworn to uplift their people are too busy playing solitaire in meetings, as in that photo tweeted Thursday night by a fellow Jamaican?

This country could have been humming like a well-oiled machine decades ago, were it not for the misplaced priorities of our leaders. Here we are sitting on the gold mine that is Brand Jamaica, worrying about the repayment of rising debt. We brag about Jamaica trending after our Super Bowl buzz, the Bob Marley tribute at the Grammys and we have done so little about this opportunity. We should be planning a 'Talk Jamaica' World Tour with Oliver Samuels, Bello & Blacka, Joan Andrea Hutchinson, Ity & Fancy Cat and some of our wonderful artistes and bands. Could Jampro get this going?

I see packaged dried mangoes selling for good US dollars, yet mangoes rot on the ground every season. Distant New Zealand has found a way to make kiwis the rage, yet our delicious naseberries remain unknown, and we are a hop away from Miami.

No, I will not believe a particular critic who told me of our Cabinet members that "they are just plain lazy and arrogant - they are not interested in doing anything for Jamaica". When I called the names of my favourite ministers they scoffed saying, "They won't say a thing - they're too busy protecting their corner".

Clearly, it is time for the private sector to ensure that this proposed oversight committee announced by the finance minister will have teeth - no one can be comfortable with this widening gap between rich and poor. At a meeting of PSOJ members on Friday morning, financial guru Sushil Jain observed that US President Barack Obama mentioned support for the middle class about 10 times in his State of the Union Address. "You can only grow the economy if you grow the middle class," he said.

For those who thumb their noses at the PSOJ, they should know that one has to be tax- compliant to be a PSOJ member and that these folks are responsible for the billions of dollars of revenue that flow into government's coffers, to build and light our roads, and pipe our water. GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby pointed out that 70 per cent of corporate taxes was paid by one per cent of Jamaican corporations.

Instead of overburdening this group and taxing raw materials that are necessary to keep factories open and Jamaicans employed, we need to hear more about tax compliance. Two major manufacturers at the meeting noted that if taxes were imposed on molasses and corn, there would be a terrible fallout - a death knell for one business and a punishing increase for consumers. Can the poor take any more?

Whither Caricom solidarity?

I am relieved to hear that the daughter of Carolyn Gomes is recovering well after she sustained an injury in a robbery attempt at the Trinidad carnival. Another terrible incident involved two Jamaicans in their early twenties who went to an event in Jamaica-branded T-shirts, whereupon the security guards told them that the place was too crowded so they could not enter. They saw the guards allowing many others to go in afterwards, and so decided to make bold and go in. The guards, six in all, found and beat them so badly that one had to get stitches to his face and the other sustained broken fingers.

They waited hours to be treated at hospital and when they went all battered, the next day to report the matter to the Trinidad police, they were told, "you have no rights here". Our Caricom leaders have to work at breaking down these petty barriers which are breeding so much division in our region at a time when we need to be synergising for development.

Hon Teddy McCook - our shining star

Teddy McCook was easily the single most significant contributor to the development of Jamaican athletics. This passionate patriot ran a tight ship when he was JAAA president but was beloved because he inspired everyone with his golden vision for Jamaican achievement.

He became a sought-after expert regionally and internationally, and at the time of his death was a council member of the world governing body for athletics, the IAAF, as well as president of the powerful North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC).

Norman Peart, Usain Bolt's manager, said of his move to Kingston with a young Usain Bolt: "Under the guidance of Hon Teddy McCook, we decided to make the transition to the High Performance Centre at UTech that would take him to a professional level."

Teddy would regale us with his regime to develop four self-reliant daughters: from an early age they had to set up bank accounts and be responsible for their individual budgets. He and his dear Sonia succeeded well, and I extend to them my heartfelt condolences. There will never be another Teddy McCook, but we can keep his spirit alive by living by his values of integrity, discipline and excellence. Rest in peace, Brother Teddy!




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