Three of several inconsistencies

By Michael Burke

Thursday, April 10, 2014    

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TODAY, April 10, is the 79th birthday of Percival Noel James Patterson, who grew up in the People's National Party (PNP). Today also marks 52 years since the general election of 1962 which brought the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to power after being in opposition for more than seven years. It was the result of that election that made Sir Alexander Bustamante, one of the heroes of the workers, Jamaica's first prime minister on Independence Day that year.

I wish to look at the inconsistencies between what our heroes were recognised for and what obtains today. I will also be looking at the inconsistencies between what we say we want and what we actually do.

The first inconsistency is between what our heroes fought for and some of what obtains today. There have been many gains by workers, but material gain has largely come with the condition of another type of enslavement. By the 1980s and onwards the social programmes in this country had been eroded.

On the one hand, the JLP was in power for most of the 1980s. Apart from the HEART/NTA programme, which was really an improvement of the old Social Development Commission Youth Camps, fewer houses were built and many of the social programmes were destroyed.

On the other hand, the PNP has been in power more years than the JLP, especially since political independence. This was the party of the social programmes, the party of empowering the workers, the party that promoted mainly co-operatives with its dual principles of share ownership and democracy. Today, most of our workers employed to owners of private enterprise are semi-slaves, where their rights are being eroded with each passing day.

The second inconsistency is that, officially, good family life is encouraged yet many are reluctant to advise young people to delay sex until marriage, or at least until adulthood if couples do not believe in formal marriage. This, unfortunately, is a carryover for the days of the slave stud farms. Why are we playing around with raising the age of consent from 16 to 18? Is it because it would be unpopular?

Jamaican men are correctly blamed for sexual sins and absent fatherhood. But the wrongs here are not exclusively on the part of the men. Very few persons are addressing the allegations regarding women seducing teenaged boys and using their children as middlemen in the process. How can we have responsible family life if, instead of breaking the vicious circle, we are prematurely sensitising children to sexual intercourse?

The third inconsistency is the so-called drive to boost production and the deliberate deprivation of some integral tools to get it done. The decision to enact a law or a regulation that makes passengers liable for taking an unprescribed public passenger vehicle is as counterproductive as it is oppressive.

I suspect that an unelected technocrat suggested such a law without any consultation with the wider public. I do not know where this crazy idea of charging passengers came from, but I suspect it might be coming from someone who does not take public transportation.

I have written for years that the thing to do is to incorporate as much of our indisciplined and illegal taxi divers into the system by compulsory training for anyone desirous of running a route taxi. But the powers that be have done the opposite.

There are now to be fines for the passengers of illegal taxis. So the workers now have the difficult choice of irregular Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses or a whopping $100,000 fine for taking a vehicle not licensed to provide the service.

We speak a lot about production. Up to now, in Kingston, the JUTC — with its commendably luxurious buses, air-conditioning and all — cannot, by itself, bus everyone to work. Yes, we hear of 350 new buses coming. But by the time our indisciplined workforce fall down on the job, and by the time the buses need maintenance and even more buses are off the road, since we will have more buses, won't we be back to square one?

The private sector as a whole has been oblivious to the plight of the transportation of workers. Most employers do not really care how their workers get to work as long as they are punctual. Not even ministers of government of either party when they are in office care about how the nursemaids for their own children get to work, as long as they are on time for work.

But what is going to happen when the workers cannot get to work as the government gives commuters basket to carry water? And, even if the 350 new buses are able to take away the commuters' transport woes, what about the loss of income of the 'robot' drivers who have children to put through school?

Are we really serious when we say that we want to stop crime when we deprive people of income in this way? Yes, I am mindful that this might be a stipulation from some international financial institution or other before another drawdown of borrowed money can be had, but I suspect that it is mismanagement, more than anything else, that has caused the JUTC to be in the red, not the illegal taxi drivers.

Some years ago Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke about debt forgiveness to the Third World. Michael Manley visited Pope John Paul II in November 1980 to report of the destabilisation process that had taken place by inimical interests in the 1970s. This was right after the PNP lost power in October 1980.

When Blessed Pope John Paul II was shot three times in May 1981, Michael Manley, as Opposition leader, paid tribute to him as being on the side of the poor. Since the Roman Catholic Church is not about to change its position on these issues, the people in government — no matter how anti-Roman Catholic some of them might be — should eat humble pie and ask Pope Francis to intervene on our behalf to seek debt forgiveness.

And there is a precedent for this. Michael Manley, as vice-president of Socialist International, sought the intervention of Pope John Paul II on such matters. Of course, the PNP will be quick to remind me that it was during their tenure in office, when P J Patterson was prime minister, that Blessed Pope John Paul visited Jamaica in August 1993.





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