The reality of the Holness Administration — Part 5

The reality of the Holness Administration — Part 5

Canute
Thompson

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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The is the final installment in a series which was begun on December 5, 2019, and I wish to thank commentators and critics, both here and on social media, for their feedback. The series sought to do an assessment of the performance of the Andrew Holness Administration across several areas.
In Part 1 I looked at crime and the economy and found that performance in those areas was dismal to weak. In the area of crime, there has been continued malperformance with an average of four murders per day, even with several states of emergency (SOEs). Ironically, many murders are taking place inside the areas under the SOE. The prime minister was reported on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 as saying a sophisticated national security plan is coming. But the prime minister has on previous occasions said the Government cannot reveal its crime plan, and later that the plan is being implemented, but it is just that people do not understand it. Now we hear it is coming. These conflicting statements reveal one undeniable fact: The Government has failed to manage crime, despite Holness having said during the 2016 election campaign that: “...there is a lot we can do about crime”, plus the infamous “if you want to go to your beds and wake up alive you cannot make the mistake of voting for the PNP”, and that the JLP would make the country so safe we would be able to “sleep with windows open”.


Part 1 also examined the economy. While economic stability has been maintained, there has been negligible economic growth and nowhere near the five per cent per annum the Government promised on the campaign trail.


In Part 2, the education and health sectors were examined, and the fact of there being no appoint minister of education for now a year, and more recently the spate of violent acts committed against teachers expose grave dangers for the education sector.

My critique of health was that the minister was strong on public relations but weak on results, and his pet programme, Jamaica Moves, was devoid of targets so it cannot be truly called a programme.


In Part 3 I revisited the nagging issue of crime and in Part 4 I looked at the environment. In this the final piece I will look at public order, justice administration, inflation, and the exchange rate.

Public order
The most potent measure of public order, or the lack thereof, is seen in the conduct of taxi drivers in every town across Jamaica and a failure of law enforcement to bring a semblance of civility.

I share the view that the decision of the Government to issue limitless hackney carriage and route taxi licences was bad policy.

While the influx of imported vehicles and limited economic opportunities would be encourage citizens to take up taxi-driving as an occupation, there cannot be a limitless issuing of licences, given the issue of physical space for parking and waiting at the various spots in our cities and towns.


This major problem will not be solved overnight, but the solution must include, in my view, the following:


(1) a mandatory disclosure rule in the police force, which requires that all police personnel who own taxis declare same to his or her commanding officer, and that this information is lodged with the relevant deputy commissioner. Included in the information will be the area in which the vehicle operates, the driver, etc.

The aim of this policy will be to ensure that the operator of the vehicle receives no more favourable treatment than any other motorist would, and that sanctions for misconduct on the road and the absence of insurance, etc, are duly prosecuted;


(2) dash cams in all public passenger vehicles. (I am aware that the Government is moving in that direction and this is commendable);


(3) the temporary halt of the issuance of public passenger vehicle (PPV) licences;


(4) a review of the transportation sector to establish demand patterns and usage before issuing new licences;


(5) the rescinding of licences of operators who repeatedly violate the terms of their licence;


(6) a traffic ticketing system which is tied to drivers' licences renewal, renewal of road licences, insurance, and access to National Housing Trust (NHT) benefits. Thus, if any motorist has an unpaid traffic tickets, he or she will not be able to access the abovementioned services.

Justice administration
The issue of justice administration is interwoven at points with the issue of public order, thus an efficient justice system which allows for the smooth flow of public order matters through the courts will be needed.

With the new Road Traffic Act more congestion of the courts may occur as people challenge tickets due to the high fines.


In my opinion, the leadership being offered by the chief justice is a definite plus for the administration of justice.

He has set the bar high and is requiring judges to operate at that high standard and destroying the culture of requests for adjournment of cases as a delay tactic. Lawyers have been put on notice, and that is a good thing.


At the system-wide level, the chief justice is using data to drive improvements.

At a recent event in St Thomas he disclosed that studies done on the justice system found, among other things, a courtroom utilisation rate of 59 per cent. Rounded to 60 per cent this means, the chief justice explained, that whereas courts should be sitting for five hours per day, the average is three hours.

The effects of the loss of 40 per cent of court time are seen in lower case disposal or completion rates, greater uncertainty about a case being heard on the day scheduled, both of which have implications for people's lives and for productivity. It is my hope that the chief justice will succeed in his mission of transforming the justice system.

Inflation
Jamaica has seen record levels of low inflation, but I would add “on the books”.

The average motorist and/or head of a household will confirm that whereas the Government reports low inflation, their experience at the gas pump is quite different.

The price of gas will move by $2 or $3 two weeks in a row (as was the case the pricing weeks of February 13 and 20) and then go down by a dollar or a few cents the next week. But, overall, the price year on year has moved considerably. But with public transportation costs controlled by the Government, and with the price of gas not being part of the inflation basket, that reality is not reflected in the basket.


Similarly only basic food prices are captured in the basket, along with things like utilities, so many of the food items and other consumables which the average householder and struggling middle class person purchases are not included in the basket, so their realities are not reflected in the consumer price index (CPI).

While the CPI basket is outdated, having been last updated in 2015, the minister of finance is confident that when it is updated there will not be much change in the outputs of the measurements. The minister's position is contained in a report carried in the Jamaica Observer on November 27, 2019 in a story titled 'Jamaica's consumer price index four years behind, minister confirms'.

In that said story, Wykeham McNeill, chair of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, complained about how the CPI is disconnected from the realities of Jamaicans.

I challenge the finance minister that once gas prices get included in the CPI there will be a different ball game and, regardless of what it may mean for a People's National Party Government, an honest assessment of the realities facing the country at any given time is to be preferred.

I trust that the minister will move to ensuring that the CPI is updated and that gas prices, toll rates, and the cost of education be included.

Exchange rate
The facts show that the Jamaican dollar has lost and is losing value when compared to all hard currencies, especially the US dollar.

According to the Bank of Jamaica's (BOJ) website, the US dollar was being sold for $106.90 in January 2014.

In June 2014, Holness wrote to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) complaining about the movement of the dollar and demanded action to stop what he said was a slide, which Audley Shaw called “dollar wine”.

In January 2015 the dollar moved to $115.32. Holness continued the campaign and in September 2015 demanded that Government take action to “halt the slide”. The dollar moved to $121.96 in March 2016. As at February 20, 2020 the BOJ website states that the selling price of the dollar is a whopping $142.05.


It is hypocritical that while Holness railed at a rate of $106:1 he would have us believe that nothing is wrong with $142:1. The record is plain that the Governments' performance on containing the movement of the dollar can only be described as a failure. The Minister of Finance would want us to focus on the inflation rate and not the exchange rate.

This does not provide an explanation for the JLP's position on the dollar between 2014 and 2016. The inflation rate in 2014 was 3.68 per cent and 3.73 per cent in 2016. It is time, as Minister Clarke says, we stop playing politics with the dollar.

So, after four years, the major areas of governing show crime as an even greater problem than in 2016, corruption is unchecked, the economy is barely growing at one per cent, education is in a downward spiral, the number of people in poverty has increased.

Employment is up, but mainly in low end jobs combined with income inequality. Significantly, the macro-economic fundamentals remain where they were in 2016.

Canute Thompson is chair of the People's National Party's Policy Commission, as well as head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning and senior lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of five books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.


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