Columns

Jamaican politics: Give me less style, more substance

Richard Blackford

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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There is a level of contempt that has crept into our thinking that is, in my opinion, proving far more divisive and dangerous than what obtained in the 1970s when our politics functioned based on a deep ideological divide. For, at the very least, an ideological difference indicated that opposing paradigms are held by either side and that convergence was impossible.

That was the case of the 1970s, and the country literally went to war with itself at the expense of the country, taking along the way nearly 30 developmental years. Twenty-nine years after the cessation of those hostilities and the interment of the two main protagonists it appears that we are still at it. This time, though, it is a psychological warfare, and if we are not careful not only will it poison the minds of all who come within its aura, but it will also serve to divide our nation further into groups of “deserving” and “unworthy”.

For this is what happens when political rhetoric displaces rational thought in any society. We are seeing it at work here in the USA, where in the Trumpian neo-liberal times, we are being told that the things we thought we knew and understood were not actually so. We are being told that all failure is personal, not structural, and that if an individual is not doing well we should conclude that they are simply not in step in the partnership for prosperity.

This is the new “divide-thinking” that is currently operating in Jamaica. We have long abandoned the pursuit of a social justice agenda as a pillar for people development. Today, in Jamaica, you are either Labourite or Comrade, and since it is 'Labourite time' no one else qualifies as Jamaican. It is even worse if “yuh nah seh prosperity — even if yuh a dead fi hungry.

A section of the Jamaican population bought into the political rhetoric of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) in February 2016 and elected its members as stewards of the country. In principle, absolutely nothing was wrong with their decision, for that is the working of our democratic process. It is up to their opponents, though, to provide the requisite checks and balances to keep them honest and to call them out when their actions run counter to their promised rhetoric. That rhetoric was headlined by its promise of prosperity; defined as a successful, flourishing, or thriving condition, especially in financial respects; good fortune and prosperous circumstances characterised by financial success or good fortune.

The fact is that the Jamaican economy has been enjoying positive gross domestic product (GDP) growth since 2013. The debt-to-GDP ratio has fallen from 150 per cent to a 90-plus percentile over the same period and unemployment to date is reported at 9.1 per cent. The local stock market has been on a record run, reporting the best global stock market growth for three years on the trot. No doubt, these are all positive indicators and, in general, this has translated into increased profits for a select number of people. The fact is that Jamaica needs to move from a position where it works for a handful of Jamaicans to one which works for a majority of Jamaicans.

Between 2007 and 2017 the proportion of individuals living below the poverty line increased from 9.9 per cent to 19.3 per cent, or more than half-million Jamaicans. During the same 10-year period inflation was registered at 127 per cent. In the simplest of terms, this means that the $6,200 minimum wage for 2017 could buy what $2,730 could buy 10 years earlier, when the national minimum wage was $3,200 and translates to a 15 per cent reduction in the real minimum wage. The situation was even worse in 2018 as the increased minimum wage of $7,000 still put it at below $3,000, in 2007 dollars. Keep in mind that Jamaican youngsters at the secondary school level are still anchored by an education system that only works for less than 40 per cent of its 35,000 plus graduates annually. A significant percentage of these youngsters is chained to poverty by an underfunded and dysfunctional education system.

With all these elements in mind, therefore, where is the Government's justification for the “prosperity” that it promised? Are we to be satisfied with blaming an uneducated and underprepared youth for his/her failure and insist that it is their own personal effort, not a structural failure, and that if an individual is not doing well, we should conclude that they are simply not in step in the partnership for prosperity? This is the contemptuous narrative that is being carried in too many quarters and has no place in any kind of public discourse. Too many Jamaicans have bought into “style” over “substance” and are unprepared to call out the Government for failing to do what it was elected to do — provide the environment that will create better opportunities for more Jamaicans.

And do not even attempt to propose what the People's National Party (PNP) had not been doing, as for the first time in 30 years the incoming Administration was gifted with a good wicket and there were runs on the tins.

Let us commit to changing the narrative. Let us commit to abandoning these decadent labels based on our redundant practice of politics. We are all Jamaicans and we must all be interested in what is best for Jamaicans — a Jamaica that works for the majority of Jamaicans.

Richard Hugh Blackford is a self-taught artist, writer and social commentator. He shares his time between Lauderhill, Florida, and Kingston, Jamaica. www.yardabraawd.com Send comments to the Observer or richardhblackford@gmail.com.


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