Haley Reeves Barbour, former governor of Mississippi, said: “The key to being successful in governing is to make the main thing the main thing.” As I see it, the main things for this Andrew Holness-led Administration are COVID-19, crime, and the economy.
Some, for reasons best known to them, are trying to throw a giant wet blanket over the Administration. I think Holness should largely ignore them. The Administration needs to forensically focus on the priorities of the weary majority. We are anxious to return to the pre-COVID-19 normal, or the new normal, that will allow for engagement of daily activities corresponding to our needs.
The Administration should be careful that it does not allow itself to get bogged down by the dead weight of those who major in the minors. Included are those who sit in ivory towers and pontificate that an elephant can be suspended on the tip of a thread over a giant precipice. And those who are trying desperately to reintroduce a time in this country when but a few had a near-monopoly on what most people thought and how often they thought it.
Consider this, according to a recent report published by the World Bank, UNICEF and UNESCO, up to US$17 trillion in lifetime earnings could be lost by the current generation of students because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
There are thousands of children here in Jamaica who have not benefited from face-to-face learning for the better part of two years because of the pandemic. Last Tuesday, Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams made a revelation in Parliament which should concern all well-thinking Jamaicans. Among other things, Williams said: “A recent World Bank study for Jamaica showed that the fiscal impact to support the health and safety requirements for the opening of schools will be in the region of $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion annually for one to two years.” ( Jamaica Observer, January 12, 2022)
Williams noted that, “The World Bank concluded that the long-term cost of inaction is in the order of $828 billion, approximately 40 per cent of Jamaica's gross domestic product.”
Notwithstanding the education ministry's best effort, it is going to be many years before Jamaica's children close or overcome an estimated 1.3 billion in-class hours lost over 20 months of physical school closures as reported in sections of the media. When the pandemic ends, it is going to take a Herculean effort on the part of every well-thinking Jamaican to overcome this staggering deficit.
Our most vulnerable children who are severely disadvantaged for regard access to remote education have been hit the hardest. They will require special interventions and national support if we are to prevent the loss of an entire generation.
This is the main thing, not intellectual 'Anancyism', which some among us want to use to suck up all the oxygen of public attention, government effort, and concentration. Catastrophic social, economic and political consequences will overtake us if we don't get our children, all our children, back to in-person learning at the earliest. This is the main thing.
Many who specialise in optical illusions might not have seen this horrifying headline last Tuesday: 'Murders up 32% when compared to the same period last year'.
The Observer, news item said, “For the first eight days of 2022 the island's murder tally has risen to 37, according to the latest police crime statistics.
“This is nine more homicides or a 32.1 per cent increase when compared with the corresponding period in 2021.”
Some, doubtless, will be quick to point out that, “...the total number of serious and violent crimes committed so far this year has declined by 16.5 per cent,” as was reported in the mentioned story. I commend our hard-working security forces for this improvement. But we must never lose sight of the fact that murder is the 'ultimate' crime. Our supremely abnormal murder rate is a millstone around our necks. This is the main thing, not the intellectual ping pong of loquacious theoreticians.
Andrew Holness's Administration deserves commendation for keeping the economy afloat during the overlapping and horrendous consequences of the pandemic. Many of our sister islands are having huge challenges paying nurses, doctors, and other government employees on a timely basis. We are not, thankfully. One only needs to take a cursory look at especially the major newspapers of some of our Caribbean neighbours to realise that their national purses are in an extremely tattered state.
Dr Nigel Clarke, minister of finance and the public service, has done a very good job of meticulously managing our national purse so that we can better absorb the terrible shocks of the worst pandemic in the last 100 years. I previously gave details of the current and positive macro-economic indicators which have enabled Jamaica to discard the humiliating tag of “Poorman of the Caribbean”, which she wore for nearly 30 years. I remember many heated discussions during my time as a student at The University of the West Indies, Mona, when regional colleagues frequently reminded me of the then near moribund state of the Jamaican economy. I have not heard those cacophonous voices in recent years.
That aside, the Holness Cabinet — now slightly reconfigured, as I predicted it would have been some weeks ago — needs to constantly reacquaint itself with the reality that people have to be brought along with gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Globalisation of capital, services, goods, and people, yes, people, has coughed up alarming anomalies, maybe, more properly, tragic contradictions such as jobless growth and the working poor.
In today's global realities, the macro indicators can radiate with positives, but people's lives don't improve. This is the fuel of identity politics and extreme right-wing populism which is now a clear and present danger to the survival/vibrancy of Western liberal democracies, particularly developing ones like ours. But that is a discussion for a future piece. Like a laser beam, the Holness Administration needs to focus on ensuring that macro-economic positives are registered in the pockets and on the dinner tables of hard-working Jamaicans.
I believe we are at a point in our history, where the Administration should be concerned less with the winning of elections and more with losing a country. My The Agenda piece last Sunday in part-centred on the moot issue of states within a State and James Madison's template for a successful democracy. As I see it, administrations formed by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) have been successful whenever they act with informed courage and take bold decisions, instead of waiting in the vain hope of cooperation from the People's National Party (PNP). Given that reality, the creation of a Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, headed by Marlene Malahoo Forte, was a wise political chess move by Holness. I am sorely disappointed that there is no ministry of social transformation. I believe this is a major error by the prime minister. The landslide victory of September 3, 2020 is but a distant memory. Among other things, Holness now needs to deliver on the constitutional amendments which he promised. Time is not on his side either. If we go by the recent facts, general elections are now held at four- to four-and-a-half-year intervals.
Rough seas ahead!
I don't foresee that Holness will have an easy time at bat in the coming months. Misinformation, disinformation, incessant complaining, pie-in-the-sky promises, fake news, misguided bluster, empty chat, political deflection, 'bad mind', threats of street demonstrations, political schizophrenia, 1984 Orwellian-type strategies, and/or attempts at filibuster, will all be unleashed on the ruling Administration by those who are anxious to see it fall into the political abyss.
Trumpism is alive in local politics, whether or not we want to believe it. It is a clear and present danger to all well-thinking Jamaicans. To counter its putrid march, all well-thinking Jamaicans need to thoroughly understand it. Professor of history at Yale University Timothy Snyder, in his seminal work On Tyranny – Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, notes among other things: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticise power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.” A word to the wise should be sufficient.
A firm hand
We have a lot of unwise among us. I think that fact, among other reasons, explains why only 22 per cent of Jamaicans are vaccinated with two doses of a World Health Organization (WHO)-approved vaccine.
I said in this space many months ago that we should stop babysitting the feelings of those who are attempting to eat their cake and have it at the same time and, in so doing, also attempting to deprive us who have done the responsible thing and got fully vaccinated. The mollycoddling irresponsible people needs to stop.
I am not including in this lot Jamaicans who have valid medical reasons for not taking the COVID-19 vaccines. Mountains of verifiable medical evidence have confirmed that COVID-19 vaccines massively reduce hospitalisation if one becomes infected with the novel coronavirus. Tons of verifiable evidence have confirmed that vaccines massively reduce the chances of an infected person landing in the intensive care unit or on a ventilator. At the time of writing, Reuters new agency has reported that some 9.54 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered globally. Yet some insist that they are waiting to see what will happen. Well, let them wait all they want, but the vaccinated should not be delayed by them. It is time to get the country ready for resumption of full economic-related activities. I agree with these sentiments expressed by Prime Minister Holness at a press conference last Sunday: “I know there is great tension in the air, and what it says to me is that people are not listening to what I have said. I have been very clear in Parliament, very clear, absolutely gone overboard to say that we are not going back to lockdowns, so be calm. I have said what the [containment] strategy is. It is now in your hands. Go and take the vaccine. That is the strategy.” Where, though, is the vaccine mandate, Prime Minister Holness?
This is where sensible governments are headed. In France, President Emmanuel Macron's Government recently approved laws that restrict people from riding trains and utilising other public facilities unless they can provide a negative coronavirus test result.
Consider this: “The Canadian province of Quebec, struggling to control the Omicron variant, will impose a new health tax in the coming weeks on those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.” ( Jamaica Observer, January 11, 2022)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking in the province of Quebec just two weeks ago, chided the unvaccinated. Said Trudeau: “People are seeing cancer treatments and elective surgeries put off because beds are filled with people who chose not to get vaccinated, they're frustrated.” ( The Washington Post, January 10, 2022)
Numerous other governments globally and a weary majority have become totally fed up with waiting on the wilfully unvaccinated. They continue to drink the kool-aid of conspiracy theorists and individuals who got their medical and related qualifications on social media. Some among us, owing to fanaticisms, seem hell-bent on enabling the uncontrolled spread of the novel coronavirus in our country. Why? I don't think it is difficult to figure. It is political and personal desperation on steroids contaminated with apocalyptic titivations. Enough!
A man urgently needs money. His second child is days away from being born. He dreams of being a great actor. But he is a black man in 1950s America, riddled with overt racism. He has unique acting talents. He gets a movie role that guarantees him US$750. That is a lot of money. He turns it down. Why? Because it does not represent his core values, would dishonour the memory of his father, a poor tomato farmer from The Bahamas, plus the role does not exemplify the kind of message he wants his race to hear. He instead borrows US$75 and uses his household furniture as collateral.
Sounds like a script for a movie, doesn't it? It actually happened to Sidney Poitier. He made the revelation in a tear-jerking interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2000.
The late Sidney Poitier was a legend, a pioneer, an Oscar-wining actor, and a genuinely decent human being.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.