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The PNP and its surrogates need to jump off the hamster wheel and just breathe!

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, January 14, 2018

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There are years that ask questions and years that answer. — Zora Neale Hurston

The 'sky is falling' addicts in the People's National Party (PNP) and its surrogates by now are likely covered from head to toe in political sackcloth and ashes. Comments in the media, especially during the last three weeks, made it obvious that many with umbilical attachments to 89 Old Hope Road were salivating at the prospect of a national strike by public sector workers during the first official workweek of the new year. The PNP evidently drew another political 'bad card'.

In The Agenda of December 24, 2017, in the piece I wrote entitled '19 months with Andrew Holness-led Administration: Signs of sunrise', I made mention of some important and welcome signs which showed that our blessed country was once again beginning to retake a path which should help us to regain our former position as the “Pearl of the Caribbean”.

Some surrogates of the PNP, like Dr Canute Thompson, are evidently bothered by these good tidings. I am not in the least surprised. This snippet of an e-mail sent to me by Thompson on December 24, 2017 at 5:02 am is instructive: “It takes some real intellectual self-numbing for you to see only sunrise and not the dark clouds of corruption and the red stain of blood from a runaway murder train. A species of deception is denying the obvious — when that obvious is being seen by all others!”

This kind of inverted narrative, I believe, smacks of one of the major challenges of the current PNP led by 68-year-old Dr Peter Phillips — unmitigated political 'bad mind'! It was a similar kind of bad mind which boiled over in these putrid comments by Phillips at a constituency meeting in St Ann last August: “Make sure, Comrades, that the People's National Party is ready to become the Government of Jamaica. Remember is only one [seat] separate us in Parliament, and we don't know is which one, whether is one weh a go prison, or is a sick one, or a crazy one, but is one, and any number can play, so get yuhself ready!” I believe this concentrated type of bad mind represents outpourings from the inner recesses of the speaker's mind.

I suspect it was a similar kind of rancid, political bad mind which informed this revelation from Venesha Phillips, PNP councillor for the Papine Division, on social media last week. The occasion was the Shaggy and Friends charity show: “Di Labourites dem did nuff yuh see, but mi jus poker grin mi face; cramp wen mi done. Heard Sis P was there, didn't see her tho. Only PNP I saw were Bunting and Dollis and Hugh, Bobby Councillor. It bun I how our people so damn mean and they avoid events and leave it to the Labourites. You don't need free tickets for everything. Girl, dem arite yah, I'm in the face of Labourites to stay; they annoy di $#$$### out of mi, I swear.”

Rustic folks maintain, “Chip nuh fly far from block.” I agree.

Time to continue building

As I pointed out in The Agenda on December 24, 2017: “The Portia Simpson Miller Administration capitalised on the economic groundwork laid by the Bruce Golding Administration. This is good governance. Confucius said: 'Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.' The Andrew Holness-led Administration has built on the gains of the previous Administration. This is good governance. Those who preach ad nauseam that Jamaica is close to disappearing, like the fictional continent of Atlantis, are involved in severe self-delusion, rooted in bad mind. The incontrovertible evidence supports the reality that we are starting to see — and here I take liberties with Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign slogan: 'It's morning again in America. It's morning again in Jamaica.' ”

Except for a period in the mid-1980s, I recall that for years I would hear these or similar refrains in the budget presentations by the prime minister:

1. “We are going to have to bite the bullet.” — Edward Seaga

2. “We are going to have fasten our belts.” — Michael Manley

3. “We are going to have to tighten our belts.”— P J Patterson, and I could go on.

Jamaica economically, socially and otherwise is still at a very sensitive crossroads. We still have many sacrifices to make, but it is obvious — maybe except to those fixated in political colic and bad mind — that there are credible reasons for real medium- and longer-term hope, notwithstanding our many long-standing problems.

I share the optimism of Jamaica Observer Deputy Chairman and CEO Adam Stewart, who recently said: “In 45 years we have not seen the confluence of events that's taking place right now across the business sector in Jamaica... inflation rate at four per cent, unemployment at 11.3 per cent (the lowest it has been since 2007), long-term interest rates at eight per cent and below, the creation of 35,000 jobs in the last 12 months, and 55,000 since Mr [Audey] Shaw and his Government took over...

“In my nine years I've never been to more Caribbean islands where people are asking us about what is going on in Jamaica… Jamaica has become the international icon of the turnaround economy: The country that is doing all of the right things at the right time.” ( Jamaica Observer, December 13, 2017)

I recall that for many years, vendors in downtown Kingston would invariably give a sort of formulaic answer when asked if they were doing good business at Christmas: “Dis a the worst Christmas...Nuh money nah spend...The people just a look an' nah buy nutin...Only the store owners dem a mek money...Christmas cancel...”

This year we heard a different tune for the first time in many years. The Gleaner article from December 23, 2017, entitled 'Higglers in downtown Kingston experiencing bumper Christmas shopping', told a refreshing tale. “President of the Jamaica Vendors, Higglers and Markets Association Dunstan Whittingham is pointing to a bumper Christmas for those he represents, saying that approximately 70 per cent of the money in circulation this year will be spent in downtown Kingston.”

“ 'It is very encouraging so far. We are seeing the crowds, and from what we observe and calculated up to this point, it is expected that this will be a bumper Christmas for our vendors,' Whittingham noted.

“Fresh out of an organisational meeting at the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, where he engaged Mayor Delroy Williams in mapping out the commercial district for a more organised shopping experience, Whittingham said that he believed that this could be a massive weekend.”

“BRIGHTEST TIME

“ 'Christmas is usually the brightest time for these vendors. I can tell you that this year is going to be big in terms of the money being spent,' he said.

“One bubbly vendor, who goes by the name Nadine, said she was feeling the Christmas spirit as she had been making brisk sales of her clothing items from early in the morning.

“ 'Trust me, it a gwaan good. Money a mek, and that is the important thing,' she said.”

Those who want to only spew doom and gloom, even in the face of real reasons for hope, doubtless, were very happy when the Jamaican dollar traded at a low of J$131.31 to US$1 on September 15, 2016 — just over three months ago. They must be wringing their hands in agony at the appreciation of our local currency, which was J$124.76 to US$1 last time I checked.

The Jamaican dollar closed 2017 stronger than it started it — the first time in seven years. Some prices have already started to go down. Here is an illustration: Kim_ @OneKim1991 — “The toner for my printer at the office was always almost 12k. Today I called to order one and I was told 7k+, so I asked the sales rep to check again, that can't be right. He said there's a decrease in prices due to the JMD strengthening against the USD. Glory be to God.”

Economist Dr Damien King says the current appreciation of the Jamaican dollar will improve the standard of living in the country. The Jamaican dollar started appreciating in December last year. That was the first year since 2010 that the currency has revalued. This is due largely to the Bank of Jamaica's Foreign Exchange Intervention and Trading Tool, (B-FXITT), launched in August. King, who's also co-executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, says the low rate of inflation will also positively affect investment. He adds that the appreciating dollar is encouraging people to buy locally instead of importing. King says he expects the Jamaican dollar to remain in the region of J$130 throughout this year ( Nationwide News Network, January 5, 2017). I am prepared to trust the analysis of Dr King,over that of someone like Ralston Hyman, who said on the radio some time ago that he was an economist.

Matched alongside other good, and here I reuse a term that some will find spectacularly offensive, “signs of sunrise” taking place in the economy, why should Jamaicans not feel a real sense of optimism at the fact that we continue to meet all the benchmarks of the new Precautionary Stand-By Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund programme?“Jamaica's economic programme continues to deliver strong results, supporting high confidence and increasing job creation. All quantitative performance criteria and structural benchmarks at end-June 2017 were met. The central government's primary balance surplus exceeded the programme target by a healthy margin, mainly from buoyant corporate income tax. Non-borrowed international reserves also overperformed, and inflation is anchored within the Bank of Jamaica's target range of 4-6 per cent.

“The Jamaican economy is rebounding, despite the impact of weather swings in 2017. Growth has been positive for nine consecutive quarters, with strong performances especially in tourism, construction, and manufacturing.” [IMF report, September 14, 2017.

“STATIN's [Statistical Institute of Jamaica] latest data indicate that the unemployment rate as at July 2017 was 11.3 per cent, representing the lowest quarterly rate in eight years.” (Nationwide News Network, December 19, 2017)

Those who are unhappy that business and consumer confidence are at all-time highs need to fight the facts, not me. I did not make this up!

“Jamaicans remain upbeat about the country's economic prospects, although the reality of the slower-than-anticipated rate of growth over the past 18 months has tempered some of the expectations.

“That's the finding of the latest survey of consumer and business confidence indices released by the Jamaica Conference Board, the research advisory body of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce.

“The findings for the third quarter of this year showed the Consumer Confidence Index at 151.1, slightly above the 149.3 recorded for the second quarter of the year.

“This was nearly identical to the third quarter of last year and, according to lead researcher Don Anderson, consumers gave credit to the Government's economic policies and, increasingly, to the actual expansion of business and job opportunities sparked by these policies.

“Anderson noted that Jamaican firms expressed a greater degree of economic confidence in the third quarter than any other time prior to 2016.

“He added that, while optimism has slowly declined from the unbridled responses to the initial announcement of the Government's new policies nearly two years ago, the pull-back mostly reflected a more realistic assessment of the pace of the expected gains.

“The survey found that 50 per cent of firms expect an improved economy, with 58 per cent saying the time is right to expand their capacity and 66 per cent expecting financial gains in the year ahead.” ( The Gleaner, October 10, 2017)

That tourist arrivals are on the rise is not fiction, it's a fact: “Jamaica on Friday welcomed the arrival of a record four million tourists to the shores since the start of the year.

“Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett is now projecting that, by the end of the year, the destination will welcome 4.3 million visitors, or an increase of over 500,000 more than visited last year.” ( Loop, December 16, 2017)

Here is another fact: Thousands of jobs have been created in the business process outsourcing industry, plus hundreds at Alpart and in other sectors. Plus, “The first cargo of alumina produced by the Alpart refinery in St Elizabeth under its new Chinese owners was shipped from Port Kaiser at Alligator Pond on Friday (December 29). The shipment, which totalled 35,000 tonnes, is destined for China. It is the first following the resumption of operations in June after acquisition of the plant by China's state-owned Jiuquan Iron & Steel Group (JISCO), and comes after a nine-year hiatus.” ( The Gleaner, January 5, 2018)

You know yourselves, jump off the hamster wheel and just breathe!

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

When life's problems seem overwhelming, look around and see what other people are coping with. You may consider yourself fortunate. — Ann Landers

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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