Ronald Thwaites | 'Changing out better'
Tammy's babyfather is in Florida. His income as sideman on a delivery truck has taken a beating since Miss Irma visited recently. He usually sends money at month end, not through a remittance company, but, albeit riskily, by post or with one of his "bredrin who travels regular". That way, Tammy can change out the US at a much better rate.
She then gives something to her partner's mother who cannot survive on the NIS pittance - sorry, pension - and also hands as little as she can get away with, to her babyfather's big daughter by a different mother. That girl, who graduated last year, can't find a work, has now "gone up" (is pregnant) and has become surly and demanding,
Tammy came to the constituency office last week to ask for money to pay school fees for her two children, one in primary, the other in high school. She 'chuppsed' her teeth at me when reminded that Government says they have given schools all the money they are supposed to need and showed me the substantial payment vouchers given to all students.
"Change out some of the dollars which their father sent you and pay down something on the school fees," I reasoned. No, she replied, because her man is telling her that the money from him is going to be slippery because the truck he worked on was destroyed by the storm and, besides, she wants to do a little selling towards Christmas and she has heard that the US will "change out better" by then.
And she is right. The bank on Duke Street she went to on Friday, offered her $130.15 for the balance of the school fee money she had to change out after I gave her what I could. Despite the sign that said they were selling US currency at $131.30, a cool J$1.15 profit from handing the money from one teller to the other, the bank said they did not have enough to sell to a man who needed US urgently to pay a debt. Tammy told me that he was glad to buy her US$60 at $150.
Tammy's story is one of facing, not avoiding reality. It is an example of the working of the Jamaican economy on the ground.
What a contrast to the three leaders of the manufacturing sector on the television news last Friday, imploring, nay demanding, that the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) 'technocrats' (does that include you Audley or only Mr Wynter?) "do something" to prevent the dollar slide.
But do what? Short of running down the Net International Reserves to zero, as we have come close to doing once or twice before, conclusive action hardly lies with the BOJ.
We are spending around 15 million foreign dollars per day on imports, while earning less than four million. Add to that, the uncertain remittances from the likes of Tammy's babyfather and the small retentions from the big-sounding tourist dollars, and then take away the dollars hoarded by the speculators and the big money repatriated as profits by financial and other institutions, and you get the real picture of an inevitable Jamaican dollar depreciation.
It isn't pretty.
If good money can be made from currency transactions and unbridled bank fees, what is the incentive to go through the hard, risky work of financing and producing for export and import substitution?
And when we consume more than the whole of our measly export receipts buying oil and cars, and governments don't even tell us the truth that this is unsustainable, then they, and us, are avoiding reality.
Tammy has a plan. She is saving up her foreign exchange to pay a man who says he can arrange a visa for her. She shows me a certificate from one of those expensive, but unaccredited, nursing schools that says that she is a 'graduate home care specialist'. She expects this will get her a job when, not if, she reaches America. Trump can't build any wall that will keep her out. "But are you going to leave the children?" I ask. She turns sad and then steely. "God will provide ... and don't you will help them?"
Last week, I told the story of a former permanent secretary being banned from praying at a Ministry of Education function because she is affiliated with the People's National Party. This week, I was contacted by an official from the HEART Trust to ask if I would accept an invitation initiated by the trainees themselves to speak at their graduation ceremony. In light of the previous week's occurrence, I ungraciously suggested that the official check with her management if I would be an acceptable person. The call came back later in the day. Very sorry. The invitation has to be withdrawn.
- Ronald Thwaites is Central Kingston member of parliament and opposition spokesperson on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.