Facing reality: COVID-19, Manley, elections

Facing reality: COVID-19, Manley, elections


Sunday, August 02, 2020

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When a lion eats a bad person and it is not killed, next it will eat a good person. — Madi proverb, Uganda/South Sudan

'Sooner than later, Holness! Play the advantage and call it' was the caption of my The Agenda article in the Sunday Observer of January 26, 2020. Were it not for the novel coronavirus pandemic, I believe our 18th parliamentary election would have been done and dusted. From all credible indications, COVID-19 will be with us for a while yet.

No Government can afford to put its citizens' lives on permanent pause. The World Health Organization (WHO) reminded us of this reality last Monday: “Continuing to keep international borders sealed is not necessarily a sustainable strategy for the world's economy, for the world's poor, or for anybody else,” Michael Ryan, WHO emergencies director, told journalists in a virtual briefing.

“It is going to be almost impossible for individual countries to keep their borders shut for the foreseeable future,” he said, pointing out that “economies have to open up, people have to work, trade has to resume”.

A viable vaccine won't be ready for distribution until mid-to-late 2021. That is the most optimistic forecast from some of the best scientific minds. With that reality staring us smack in the face, we shall have to double up on the prescriptions of the WHO and related local and regional authorities as we carry on our lives and livelihoods in a new normal dictated by the wearing of appropriate masks, physical distancing, frequent personal and public sanitisation, plus community and national education.

The global economic and social meltdown caused by the rapid and unprecedented impact of this coronavirus infection continues to send shock waves around the world. The globe's most vulnerable are experiencing the severest consequences of COVID-19.

Consider this: “Economic fallout from pandemic will hit women hardest,” The Guardian UK, July 24, 2020 noted, among other things. “Four months from the launch of lockdown and, as Britain slips into the deepest recession for three centuries, it is increasingly clear the economic fallout from the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on women.

Decades of progress — although very much incomplete — risk being unwound in a crisis that has shone a light on myriad social and economic issues.

Earlier this week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that, if left unchecked, 30 years of gains for women's economic opportunities could be erased, and called for governments around the world to take immediate action to prevent longer-term damage.

COVID-19 has and will continue to expose the pre-existing conditions of local, regional and global economies. Consider this also: 'Deadly double — Coronavirus, hurricane could unleash serious malnutrition on Jamaica, says UWI professor'. This Jamaica Observer article noted this and more: “But a top university professor is warning Jamaicans that another storm — which is likely before the hurricane season ends in November — could combine with the novel coronavirus pandemic to unleash a serious onset of malnourishment, especially among children and pregnant women.

“ 'The present COVID-19 pandemic, as well as severe weather conditions such as hurricanes, may result in food not being readily available, accessible, or affordable, and lead to malnutrition,' said Dr Dalip Ragoobirsingh, professor of medical biochemistry and diabetology at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, St Andrew.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 27, 2020)

Economies worldwide are in choppy waters. Only the ablest captains will steer already battered ships to safety. Last Tuesday, Bloomberg News noted, inter alia: “Jobless claims rose for the first time since March in the week ended July 18, ticking up to 1.42 million.

“Restaurant bookings have stopped increasing nationwide and remain at about one-third of year-earlier levels. Consumer sentiment as measured by the University of Michigan soured this month as the virus spread.”

When our major trading partners catch a cold, we sometimes contract pneumonia. Increased emphasis on global economic stability and growth will have to occupy centre stage over the coming months and years. Simultaneously, Jamaica and other countries will have to protect those who simply cannot fend for themselves. This does not mean a return to the far-left, redistributive-minus production experiments, which proved nearly catastrophic in the 70s, is the answer. Those will land us right back into the economic and social abyss.

Jamaica's direction

The Jamaica Observer/Johnson polls, which were conducted in early July found that, “Just over 40 per cent of respondents in the latest survey by pollster Bill Johnson say that Jamaica is heading in the right direction, compared to 34 per cent who hold the opposite view.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 27, 2020)

Johnson also noted: “I have been asking this question for 23 years and this is one of the few times that this many people have said things are going in the right direction,” Johnson told the Observer.

“Normally during the run-up to an election the numbers would narrow, but I can't remember any time before now seeing this type of margin,” the pollster said.

Poll findings by Bluedot Insights on the question of the direction of the country were similar to Johnson's based on what I heard last Wednesday on radio.

Johnson's July poll also showed that “77 per cent of voting age Jamaicans have given the Government a positive rating for its performance”. ( Jamaica Observer, July 30, 2020)

I believe “the eagle of victory has taken flight”. Here I am quoting US secretary of state in the Lincoln Administration William Seward.

I explained this utterance in last Sunday's piece. The unprecedented favourable findings are, in the main, related to the praiseworthy management of the COVID-19 crisis by the Holness Administration. This was also borne out by recent findings of veteran pollster Bill Johnson: “The Government continues to win praise for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic with an increasing number of people surveyed by veteran pollster Bill Johnson marking the Administration's efforts as excellent.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 29, 2020)

Jamaica is also internationally recognised for her creditable management of COVID-19. Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-trained pandemic expert, physicist, renowned systems scientist, and founding president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, has included Jamaica among 43 countries (updated July 28, 2020) which are doing “best in beating COVID-19”.

Professor Bar-Yam advises numerous global agencies and countries on the control and spread of pandemics. The full list and related data are available at: www.EndCoronavirus.org.

It's a big feather in the Administration's cap that it has been able to reopen those sections of the economy which had been temporarily shuttered in a near seamless manner. The apocalyptic economic collapse which some predicted has not happened.

The successful repatriation of thousands of Jamaicans, notwithstanding the doom and gloom which some predicted, is also an important achievement, given the limited resources of our country. Those who predicted that the sky over Jamaica was going to fall during the COVID-19 crisis are now wiping a whole lot more than just egg off their faces.

I believe it is time the people of our country are given an opportunity to settle the matter of the direction of the nation for the next five years. I believe Prime Minister Andrew Holness should call the general election sooner than later. Public sentiment is firmly on Holness's side at this time. All the recognised polls over the last 18 months have favoured Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

If I had the decision to make I would set the general election date for early as September 1, 2020, but certainly no later than October 29, 2020.

Political strategy 101 teaches that when you have the advantage card, play it.

Stratospheric poll numbers do not last forever, Mr Holness.

The polls show that the Leader of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition and president of the People's National Party (PNP) Dr Peter Phillips and his party are falling politically. Holness should remember Napoleon's maxim: “Never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake.”

Common sense says don't give them time to recover either.

The Big 22

I think these are the crucial seats to watch when the votes are being counted in the next general election:

1) Derrick Kellier – St James Southern

2) Colin Fagan – St Catherine South Eastern

3) Horace Dalley – Clarendon Northern

4) Dr Fenton Ferguson – St Thomas Eastern

5) Dr Dayton Campbell – St Ann North Western

6) Robert Pickersgill – St Catherine North Western

7) Richard Azan – Clarendon North Western

8) Noel Arscott – Clarendon South Western

9) Victor Wright – Trelawny Northern

10) Dr Morais Guy – St Mary Central

11) Frank Witter – St Elizabeth South Eastern

12) J C Hutchinson – St Elizabeth North Western

13) Pearnel Charles Jr – Clarendon South Eastern

14) Evon Redman – St Elizabeth North Eastern

15) Mikael Phillips – Manchester North Western

16) Marlene Malahoo Forte – St James West Central

17) Alando Terrelonge – St Catherine East Central

18) Anthony Hylton – St Andrew Western

19) Fayval Williams – St Andrew Eastern

20) Zavia Mayne – St Ann South Western

21) Leslie Campbell – St Catherine North Eastern

22) Pearnel Charles Sr – Clarendon North Central

Based on an average of recent poll findings, plus data which I have been collecting on recent road trips, I will say who I believe will win these crucial 22 seats in an upcoming piece.

Some Members of Parliament (MP) who feel they have it all in the bag will be gobsmacked when the votes are counted. Voters are not iron filings, and politicians are not giant magnets. Some will learn that the hard way.

Shearer wronged!

Two Sundays ago I said: “I think the good, the bad, and the ugly, especially of our public officials, among other things, must serve as critical signposts. Otherwise we are like ostriches with our heads deep in the sand. This behaviour is a proven formula for backwardness, mediocrity, and poverty.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 19, 2020)

If we foolishly drink the concentrated Kool-Aid of those who have become ossified with the grubby business of mythologising and simultaneously demonising certain of our national political leaders we would think that former Prime Minister Hugh Lawson Shearer, for example, did not come up with any legislation which substantially advanced the social development for Jamaicans. This is totally untrue.

Consider this! Headline: 'Shearer: “Maids will get paid vacations'. ( The Daily Gleaner, July 21, 1967)

“...Prime Minister Hugh Shearer announced yesterday that the Government intended to enact legislation under the Holiday With Pay Law to make it compulsory for household workers to enjoy the benefits of annual vacation and sick leave with pay, like other category of worker.” Does this even remotely qualify as part of the 'smadditisation' (think Rex Nettleford) of our poor, downtrodden, and dispossessed post-political independence, majority-black population? Some, for reasons best known to them, will scream “No!” More anon!

Scared into exile

Many of the social policies and programmes of former Prime Minister Michael Manley were good for Jamaica. I said so in previous my The Agenda columns and on radio. I have also said Manley's social programmes could not be sustained primarily because of the absence of a viable economic base to pay for them. I have presented incontrovertible data to support these conclusions in previous articles.

I have also noted in previous pieces that a key error Manley made was the scaring into exile of some 20,000 professionals and their families. These were some of our best and brightest. This was one of the greatest acts of political self-sabotage committed by a national leader in Jamaica.

Since my article two Sundays ago I have received numerous e-mail from individuals who say they left Jamaica in the 70s because of the ruination of the economy and Manley's “five flights a day to Miami” invective. Some say they have never returned to Jamaica.

The exiling of the 20,000 professionals in the 70s has cost this country direly. Some bright student who is studying, maybe economics should do a thorough analysis of this reprehensible act.

These are e-mail snippets from some Jamaicans who were undemocratically scared into exile:

“We left behind thriving businesses and were dedicated to fulfilling and building upon the business foundation which our father established, unfortunately, Manley destroyed opportunity.”

“To this day, I have regretted leaving Jamaica in June 1976, but I felt I had no choice. What I have built here in the USA should have been in Jamaica.”

“I was one who drank the Kool-Aid, as you call it. Manley broke not only my heart. I sold my house and business and ran.”

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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