Policy by pollsSunday, October 17, 2021
We should treat with a bag of salt the platforms, utterances, and decisions of political leaders who wholesale and retail their so-called deepest policy convictions about the directions in which our country must go, based on polls, especially during this pandemic.
Make no mistake, such 'leaders' are only thinking about the personal political benefit to them and their party.
Consider this headline: 'PNP against mandatory COVID vaccination 'at this time' ' Last Monday's Jamaica Observer, reported these and other details. “The Opposition People's National Party (PNP) says it is against a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for Jamaica at this time. The disclosure was made by PNP President Mark Golding, who declared that the party's position was arrived at due to recent poll findings which suggested a large percentage of Jamaica's population was against such a mandate.
“ 'Our position is that, with over 70 per cent of the population polling against mandatory vaccination, we don't think that it is practical or right to try and implement mandatory vaccination,' Golding declared.”
It did not escape my attention, either, that Golding proudly declared to the country that he and his team were all vaccinated. Interesting!
Sunshine leadership on steroids
In my The Agenda piece last Sunday I pointed out that the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition Mark Golding, and health spokesperson Dr Morais Guy were advanced in a two-mouthed game on the critical issue of the PNP's official position on the management of the novel coronavirus pandemic. I did not envisage that less that 24 hours after the publication Golding would have committed the cardinal sin of flip-flopping (poll mimicry).
A poll is a snapshot in time. Based on Golding's utterance in the mentioned news item one can reasonably conclude that if new polls found that a majority supported mandatory vaccination he would then simply mimic the polls. Decoded, that is what “at this time” apparently means. This is sunshine leadership on steroids. Talk about flaccid convictions — pardon the oxymoron.
Like his predecessor, Dr Peter Phillips, Golding is flipping and flopping worse than a busted gasket. This propensity to be carried by the wind, hither and thither, does not augur well for the Opposition PNP. Will the real Mark Golding please stand up?
We have seen this 'swing-song' from Golding in recent times. It is fair to conclude that there is a pattern.
Recall that after he firmly supported Prime Minister Andrew Holness's decision to reopen the entertainment and creative sectors three months ago Golding then made an almighty about-turn when the predictable spike in novel coronavirus cases and matching dire national consequences happened in late July, early August.
At a hastily called press conference Golding said this: “The prime minister decided to open up while the rest of the world was already reeling from another wave of the pandemic due to the highly infectious Delta variant, which we can be sure will be on our shores soon.
“We warned him, then that this was risky, given the openness of our borders and the very low level of vaccine penetration achieved today in our country. We are now seeing signs of another spike as positivity rates of COVID are trending up, and the number of hospitalisations and critically ill patients are again rising. The Government is once again backtracking on its earlier position.”
Last Sunday, I pointed out numerous other instances which supported my conclusion that Golding's political skeleton is frail. I have not recoiled from that position. Golding's political 'flow with the tide' approach has not benefited the Opposition or the country.
I believe Golding's continued misleadership on the pandemic will cost the PNP dearly in the upcoming local government election.
The urgency of now
Jamaica is at a critical juncture. We need political leaders who are thinking about the development of our country 25, 50, and 100 years from today. Personal political expediency has brought untold hardships upon the people of this country, time and time again. No more lessons should be necessary there.
It is blindingly obvious that the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 is wreaking havoc globally; it does not respect vaccine hesitancy or resistance, rich, poor, bond-servant or free. As I see it, all efforts to achieve herd immunity boil down to the employment of one of three strategies — a pleasant nudge, an almighty shove, or a combination of the two.
I was heartened to hear Prime Minister Holness declare in recent days that some kind of vaccine mandate was coming soon. Unlike the Opposition, the Holness Administration does not have the luxury to shilly-shallying on the direction the country must take to protect the lives and livelihoods of Jamaicans.
This headline: 'Jamaica among four Caribbean countries yet to vaccinate 20% of population' does not speak to our being in good company. These details must concern all well-thinking Jamaicans: “According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Jamaica is one of four Caribbean countries which is yet to vaccinate 20 per cent of their populations.
“Meanwhile, director of PAHO Dr Carissa Etienne, on Wednesday, said that several Latin America and the Caribbean countries are on track to reach the World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 vaccination target of 40 per cent before the end of the year.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 13, 2021)
Some among us do not seem to realise that thousands across the length and breadth of this country are fetching literal hell because of the massive downturn in various areas of the economy.
The cold, frosty hands of COVID-19 have clasped all parts of the globe. No social class, economic enclave, or religious protectorate has been spared from the octopus-like tentacles of the novel coronavirus. The consequences have been horrendous. Millions have been uprooted economically, many millions more are facing social displacement and unprecedented emotional trauma. And even darker clouds are gathering on the horizon as evidence in this headline: 'Nations must be 'absolutely vigilant' about inflation, says IMF'.
In relation to us, the news item gave these worrying details: “However, the IMF expects most advanced economies to return their pre-pandemic growth trends next year as supply chain issues ease, and to exceed it by about one per cent in 2024. By contrast, it said emerging and developing economies (excluding China) could fall back and remain 5.5 per cent below their pre-pandemic forecast by 2024.
“ 'These divergences are a consequence of the 'great vaccine divide' and large disparities in policy support,' Ms Gopinath said.
“While over 60 per cent of the population in advanced economies are fully vaccinated, and some are now receiving booster shots, about 96 per cent of the population in low-income countries remain unvaccinated.
“The hit to these countries' living standards would be 'much higher' now, she told the BBC [ British Broadcasting Corporation].
“On fiscal policy, the IMF said countries would have to tread fine between controlling inflation and giving their economies enough stimulus to recover.
“It said that debt in many countries was at record levels due to emergency pandemic spending, and employment remained significantly below pre-pandemic levels. The post-lockdown recovery is getting messy.” ( BBC, September 12, 2021)
Those who preach that Jamaica is an anomaly and won't be affected by the imminent plume of troubles are living in la-la land with the mythical Santa Claus.
We will have the conditions for a perfect storm if children continue to be away from school; tourism continues to be a comparative shadow of itself; manufacturing continues to recover at a snail's pace; agriculture, commerce and mining continue to be hampered by various international supply chain interruptions, while other sectors of the economy continue to crawl. Those who want double-digit increases on basic salary and fringe benefits “right now” had better wake up and smell the coffee.
And there is potentially still even more trouble on the horizon. These snippets from a CNN Business item titled 'A global energy crisis is coming: There's no quick fix', should make us all pay attention. We need to put measures in place to lessen the likely negative impact. The news item noted, among other things: “Astronomical increases in natural gas prices. Skyrocketing coal costs. Predictions of US$100 oil.
“A global energy crunch caused by weather and a resurgence in demand is getting worse, stirring alarm ahead of the winter, when more energy is needed to light and heat homes. Governments around the world are trying to limit the impact on consumers, but acknowledge they may not be able to prevent bills spiking.
'Further complicating the picture is mounting pressure on governments to accelerate the transition to cleaner energy as world leaders prepare for a critical climate summit in November.
“In China, rolling blackouts for residents have already begun, while in India power stations are scrambling for coal. Consumer advocates in Europe are calling for a ban on disconnections if customers can't promptly settle what they owe.”
I believe tougher times are ahead. For sure we cannot respond to the coming challenges as we did in the past. The disastrous lessons of the 1970s and 1990s are too numerous to ignore. The days of printing confetti money or funny/wheel-barrow money, as some Americans/Europeans term it, should by now be permanently in our national rear-view mirror.
I don't foresee this Administration, or any in the near future, returning to that suicidal financial abyss. Were we to do so, we would be the laughing stock and, indeed, be relegated to the ignominious category of the permanent castaways of the region.
I have said before, but it bears repeating, what will save us from being sucked in by the coming terrible vortex is an unequivocal vaccine mandate that is specific to local needs, but simultaneously in sync with international standards. We cannot be daunted or distracted.
One set of people who, unfortunately, has not been relegated or daunted in efforts to spew misinformation and disinformation is the antivaxxers.
Many weeks ago I pointed out that: “Anti-vaxxers of varying rank; those who wholesale and retail superstitious beliefs, religiously imbued or not; conspiracy theorists who peddle a twisted narrative that the pandemic is a hoax; and those who have desperately tried to turn a public health issue into a cultural dogfight, have gone relatively quiet since the surge in Jamaicans across the island who are turning out to be vaccinated.
“The loud silence of the anti-vaxxers and their acolytes may well be an indication that they are losing, are surrendering, or are more than likely 're-strategising' for a final showdown.” ( Jamaica Observer, September 5, 2021)
I believe I have been proved right. Even a cursory examination of social media, for example, will reveal that the antivaxxers are working overtime to conflate, mislead, and bamboozle the unsuspecting.
Last week I read an interesting article which discussed some of the new and devious tricks which are being employed by anti-vaxxers. Consider this: “On Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, anti-vaxxers are using a host of new techniques to hide their vaccine misinformation from algorithms designed to catch them. They put their anti-vaccine content in their Instagram stories or call vaccines “Maxine”, or “jabberwock”, or other code words.
Many have backup accounts in case they get booted — and backups to backups.
One particularly popular algorithm-dodge among anti-vaxxers right now: They make content in actual posts deliberately cryptic, with vague mentions of “freedom” or “questioning authority”. Then they put the vaccine content in a list of links hosted by third-party companies including Linktree and Campsite.bio.” (Senior Editor Kiera Butler, Mother Jones Daily, October 8, 2021)
Global momentum, though, is not on the side of the anti-vaxxers. I suspect they know that they have but a short time. We who have supported vaccination and related public health protocols which are intended to stymie the novel coronavirus pandemic — which health experts say is the worst in the last 100 years — must not become complacent. We must press home the advantage, because the race is not finished.
There are those among us who are obsessed with the burning of 'bad lamp' for Jamaica simply because their party was booted from Jamaica House three and half years ago. The 'bad lampers' are working overtime to try and keep Jamaica in a state of destitution and abject poverty. While some of them jealously protect their First-World-type standards of living, they feverishly continue to romanticise poverty and glorify the 'suffera mentality' in the eyes of the general public. This blot should have been extinct from the 70s. But, sadly, this dinosaur survived.
Jamaicans cannot allow people who are concerned only with their narrow interests to derail the economy and plunge the country into untold chaos. Jamaica deserves better.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.