Is prosperity becoming a bad word?
The Jamaica Labour Party won the 2016 General Election on the wings of a prosperity message.

As far back as 2016, the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) adopted as one of its main electioneering slogans the mantra “from poverty to prosperity”. Up to that time, the People’s National Party (PNP), through its Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips, had sought to convince the nation that it needed one more bout of disciplined fiscal management — belt-tightening — to ensure that we could finally say goodbye to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and stand on our own two feet. In essence, carving a positive path towards achieving economic independence, which has eluded us since 1962.

From all indications, it was a case of “mission accomplished” as Jamaica’s macroeconomy was showing great progress and moving in the right direction, so much so that The Gleaner had declared the astute minister Man of the Year for 2015 because of what was deemed a success story.

However, the country, especially the working class and the marginalised, inclusive of the middle class, had to bite the bullet in many instances in order for Dr Phillips to achieve his magnum opus.

It was against this background that Andrew Holness skilfully set out to burst Dr Phillips’s bubble by shifting the narrative to one that sought not just to bring about hope and fiscal prudence, but the JLP leader went on to outline what he dubbed a prosperity programme. Like one of his predecessors and mentors Edward Seaga, he became convinced that it takes cash to care and, “Money must jingle innna pocket.” After all, to be prosperous means to be successful or flourishing, especially financially.

Well, despite a very narrow election victory in 2016, the JLP leader’s message seemed to have worked, and so he carried that same theme into the 2020 General Election which saw the PNP being routed and temporarily shunted into political wilderness. Indeed, Holness has continued to crow as he did back then that, “The Jamaica Labour Party is serious about growing the economy and creating jobs. We have the prosperity plan to grow the economy, create real jobs, and improve your life.”

Fast-forward to 2022 and, despite not having introduced any new taxes for several successive years, bringing down the unemployment figures in a most impressive way, particularly because of a resurging tourism industry and a booming, expanding business processing sector, things have come to bump, so much so that some of the JLP’s detractors are now alluding to that popular song of the turbulent 70s, Everything Crash, when just about every government entity went on strike or go-slow. And we have seen a rash of industrial actions taking place, with more to come, as the ongoing unrest among workers gathers steam. In this vein, ‘prosperity’ for many disgruntled Jamaicans is fast becoming a bad word.

Indeed, this scenario reminds one of the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ famous novel A Tale of Two Cities, which reads, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Since the start of 2022, working- class Jamaicans have seen their spending power reduced significantly due to increased prices of fuel, electricity, food, transportation, etc.

Political pundits at the time explained the situation thus: “The year is 1775, and life in England and France (London and Paris) seems paradoxically the best and the worst that it can be. The rulers and ruling classes of both countries may have the best of life, but they are out of touch with the common people and believe that the status quo will continue forever.

“In France, inflation is out of control and an oppressive social system results in intolerable and extreme injustices being committed against average citizens who believe they have the worst of life. The breaking point — riotous rebellion — is near, and the populace of France secretly but steadily moves toward revolution.” Is this what is likely to unfold in Jamaica? After all, there is that well-worn French expression, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Let’s face it, things have been getting from bad to worse. Indeed, everywhere one turns “macka jook you”.

The people in general are being buffeted by high prices of fuel, electricity, food, transportation, and in just about every sphere of their lives. Then there are the murders, an increase of almost five per cent over last year,; the frequent road accidents caused by the crass indiscipline and carelessness of many drivers; a creaking health system that could go under if the current spike in COVID-19 cases gets out of hand; plus a general sense of hopelessness that has led to much despair, mental stress, anxiety, and depression.

This writer is not attempting to be a prophet of doom, but “things no look pretty out deh”, and well it has been said that the road to Hell is oftentimes paved with good intentions. In this vein, it is fair to say that the Holness Administration means well and is trying hard to heal the wounds and make things work, but its messaging and, in some instances, its posture have gone awry, further compounded by its over-obsession with its prosperity mantra that flies in the face of John Public who is far from experiencing a prosperous life. In essence, therefore, this may well be a classic case of Nero fiddling while Rome is burning, or is it “cock mouth kill cock”?

In the meantime, the reclassification exercise that has triggered much furore and dissatisfaction among government employees has left the well-intentioned and studious Finance and Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke in somewhat of a quandary as his seemingly detached demeanor (a characteristic of most highly competent accountants) has not gone down well with many disgruntled workers who interpret it, and perhaps wrongly so, as arrogance and being uncaring.

Against this backdrop, the Government needs to rewind and come again. To begin with, it needs to infuse itself with a good dose of emotional intelligence. This writer strongly recommends that both Prime Minister Holness and his adept Finance Minister Dr Clarke get copies of the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jan Greaves. Its introduction states that, “In today’s fast-paced world of competitive workplace and turbulent economic conditions, each of us is searching for effective tools that can help to manage, adapt, and strike out ahead of the pack.” A word to the wise is sufficient.

In the meantime, the potent question remains: Whither prosperity? Well, that’s a multimillion-dollar question.

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 45 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

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