Press ahead, Holness!Sunday, March 28, 2021
Last Sunday Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced numerous measures intended to slow the exponential spread of the novel coronavirus. I am not surprised at threats of open defiance and, worst, from crevices and murky quarters that are fuelled by devilment.
Honest brokers recognise that the Andrew Holness-led Administration does not have many good options to choose from as it seeks to balance lives and livelihoods in the midst of what many virologists and other experts say is the worst pandemic in the last 100 years. Of course, the Administration's paucity of good choices are, among other things, partly related to several largely preventable errors in its recent management of the COVID-19 crisis. I discussed some previously.
Predictably, some who smell blood in the political waters are working overtime to confuse and derail public acceptance of physical distancing measures, gathering bans, mask-wearing, closures, and strategic lockdowns. I am not surprised. It is feeding time for some. Moreover, it is well known that when an animal is thought to be wounded its competition will invariably attack.
Get on with it!
Prime Minister Andrew Holness more than any Jamaican prime minister, perhaps except for P J Patterson, has made tremendous investments in stakeholder consultations. Some folks have apparently interpreted Holness's approach as weak-kneed and have sought to thwart the implementation of key measures, policies, and programmes, including those crucial amendments to laws which would enable the security forces to better enforce rules and regulations that are sure to save life and limb, especially in the midst of the aggressive spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus.
Extensive consultation with stakeholder groups is necessary, but, having consulted widely, there is a point at which the Administration just has to get on with it and implement. We are at that point now!
It was hard not to notice that minutes after Holness announced a raft of measure intended to halt the runaway spread of coronavirus there were howls of protests about personal rights being infringed, claims of constitution violations, and shouts about Government whittling away the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Jamaican people.
Maybe these folks have not heard that some 180 nurses had contracted the novel coronavirus infection to date ( Radio Jamaica, March 24, 2021). Maybe, too, they are oblivious to the fact that more than 300 Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) personnel had contracted the novel coronavirus ( Radio Jamaica, March 15, 2021). At the time of writing, close to 550 Jamaicans had died from COVID-19, and there were some 37,000 cases.
One does not need tested glasses to see that a terrible crisis is upon the land. Those who tell us that God told them to tell Jamaica that prayer and fasting, minus the taking of the COVID-19 vaccine, will tame this calamity, are fraudsters and one-arm bandits.
I am a fervent believer in God. The God I serve does not encourage helplessness. He gave us a brain and we are obliged to use it to help solve our problems.
On the thorny subject of problems, we need to keep a constant searchlight of suspicion on those who, in a shameless effort to feather their own rotten and insular objectives, champion an antediluvian guff that democracy is unalterable. Democracy, on the contrary, is not an immutable system. It is not a millstone around our collective necks.
I am pretty sure that most Jamaicans do not share the idiotic view that their democratic rights are best secured when Government is fitted into a regulatory cul-de-sac which constrains it to twiddling its thumbs while people continue to die in overcrowded hospitals and hundreds are infected each day.
From what I have observed, the Holness Administration has been leaning forward, even at the 11th hour of implementation to accommodate numerous adjustments to measures designed to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Still, this inclusive approach has not satisfied some, who have taken on a posture of 'I must get what I want for my special interest groups.' When they don't get their fancies tickled, some invariably don a cloak of obstructionism and cry false tears that consultations were insufficient, one sided, or, among other things, ignored critical elements of decision-making. This theatre happens while thousands of dispossessed and downtrodden Jamaicans catch hell.
The Administration must be careful it does not fall into the precipitous trap which Aesop described in his fable The Man, the Boy and the Donkey. Trying to please everyone, all the time, is spectacularly foolish. Like in Aesop fable, that approach ultimately results in no one being satisfied. In raw political terms, when that happens, administrations invariably gets voted out of office.
I believe the Holness Administration must conscientiously press ahead with all the measures it announced last Sunday. Once there is a firm commitment to an action, and the required preparatory work has been done, half-measures, dithering, and dilly-dally won't do. Like Napoleon Bonaparte famously said, “Gentlemen, if you're going to take Vienna, take it.”
At this point the measures which Holness outlined last Sunday are best to preserve lives and livelihoods without shuttering the economy and thereby heaping more fiery coals of hardship upon the heads of, especially, very vulnerable Jamaicans.
The reality is that the majority of us cannot afford to become economic recluses. Hundreds of our citizens live from one pay cheque to another. Thousands have to depend on various forms of 'hustling', or short-term and informal employment to eke out a living. I find it curious that, while some are busy retailing the idea that we should adopt the lifestyle of hermits, many of them are at the same time calling on the Administration to provide increased financial and other forms of support for every conceivable thing under the sun. Of course, too, those individuals know where their next meal is coming from. Their false-hearted narratives represent, in my view, a sick attempt at betrayal which must be frowned upon in the strongest manner.
It seems obvious to me that there are some among us who are concerned only with extracting their pound of political flesh during this pandemic.
I think Opposition Leader Mark Golding deserves kudos for his support of the amendments to the Disaster Risk Management Act (2021), notwithstanding the fact that he does not have the political muscle to do otherwise. We are told that 40 offences are now prescribed in the law, with 10 levels of fixed penalties ranging from $3,000 to $500,000.
Did you read this? “The Opposition unsuccessfully sought to have the debate suspended to allow for review of the new provisions which, it said, could be problematic in the future, and lead to issues such as police excesses.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 24, 2021) I suspect it was more about political posturing than any real attempts to thwart the process which lawmakers in the Lower House approved last Tuesday.
Going forward, enforcement by the proper authorities will largely determine whether the amendments are worth the paper they are written on. Various studies have pronounced time and time again that Jamaica is a corrupt country. Unsurprisingly, corruption is rife in the police force. We are all well aware of the “lef or write” practices in relation to traffic offences/tickets. It is an open secret that police personnel are owners of taxis and buses which add to the terror on our streets. It is also well known that the operators of these so-called public passenger vehicles are often allowed to get away with breaking laws with impunity.
Maybe it is foolhardy of me to expect that the ticketing system related to the amendments in the Disaster Risk Management Act (2021) will meet a better fate than the traffic ticketing system which, incidentally, we have been told for donkey's years will be overhauled. I am, nonetheless, locating my cautious optimism in several positive improvements in the JCF that have become noticeable in recent times.
This headline, for example, did grab my attention: '53% clear-up rate for homicides in 2020, PM says' ( Jamaica Observer, March 20, 2021). The news item said, among other things: In 2020, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) recorded a 53 per cent clear-up rate for homicides, compared to 39 per cent in 2019, according to Prime Minister Andrew Holness.”
As the improvements bear good fruits, we must significantly step up the salary and benefits of the members of our security forces.
Recent successes of the police in the recovery of large stack of firearms, and the liquidation of super predators who, we are told, attacked law enforcers in the commission of their duties have also not escaped my attention. I hope these are sustained.
I am not one of those who foolishly believes that the JCF and Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) are so bad that we are better off taking our chances with the criminals. Admittedly, the JCF and the JDF are not perfect. I have fiercely criticised several of their actions in previous columns, but I have also poured commendations on them on many occasions when I felt they earned plaudits. Those who do not recognise that the JCF and JDF are actually among the few remaining barriers between us and marauding criminals/merchants of death are living in self-imposed ignorance.
Last Sunday, in my The Agenda piece, among other things, I noted that, Prime Minister Holness's budget presentation “fell down badly, however, in the crucial area of institution-building”. Some of my readers have asked me to comment in detail. Since I had already made reference to the benchmark for all reports on global competitiveness — the Global Competitiveness Report (GCR) published by the World Economic Forum — I have utilised herein material which the GCR has published that succinctly explains the importance of healthy institutions.
The GCR notes, among other things: “In the context of the current GCI [global competitive index], institutions are defined by two characteristics that reflect core features put forward by economic literature. First, institutions set formal, legally binding constraints — such as rules, laws, and constitutions — along with their associated enforcement mechanisms. Second, institutions include informal constraints such as norms of behaviour, conventions, and self-imposed codes of conduct such as business ethics, and can be thought to include norms of corporate governance as well. By shaping the ways in which individuals organise themselves and their economic transactions, institutions form the backbone of societies. The differences among institutions explain many of the underlying reasons for the differences in technology and in physical and human capital between countries, which in turn explain a large part of cross-country differences in income.”
Institutions are in large part the critical social glue which holds society together. They, by and large, direct and dictate the tone and tenor in which human interactions are conducted. They are informed by the critical cultural adhesives of values, attitudes, and culture.
Douglass North, co-recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Economics in his seminal research on economic development, says institutions “are the rules of the game in a society or, more formally, are the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction”. North's book, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance, gives a wealth of detail on how economic growth is intertwined with robust institutions.
American economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, in their celebrated work Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, convincingly argue, among other things, that: “institutional differences... affect the laws and regulations under which individuals and firms function, and thus shape the incentives they have for accumulation, investment, and trade...”
Robust institutions are the oxygen of democracy. We have to build out foundational infrastructural development, alongside simultaneous improvements in institutions. Anything short of that is the equivalent of building a concrete house without the required amount of cement being poured into the foundation.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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