Mon | Apr 22, 2019

JaRistotle’s Jottings | Ordinary Jamaicans

Published:Thursday | March 21, 2019 | 12:17 AM

In the aftermath of the finance minister’s budget presentation there was, quite understandably, a lot of chatter about the various initiatives and overall direction of the budget. Members of the private sector were quick to express their views, as were members of the opposition, leading up to the presentation by the opposition leader which was essentially a rebuttal of the minister’s plans to manage the country’s economic path for the next year.

Throughout the post- budget dialogue, I kept hearing about the implications for the ordinary Jamaican. Most of those expressed opinions came from persons who I consider to be anything but ordinary Jamaicans: captains of industry, political hacks and politicians themselves. This got me thinking as to whether they really understand ‘the ordinary Jamaican’, our challenges and our perspectives. So, who are we, these ordinary Jamaicans?

Ordinary Jamaicans see things in a very practical way. In almost every situation that may face us, the overarching question we ask ourselves is, ‘Ah wha dis Lord?’ Our very creative and flexible dialect allows us to ask one question and answer it in multiple ways, all a matter of perspective.

So ‘Ah wha dis?’ may mean ‘What is in this for me?’ ‘What does this mean? Is it crosses or blessings?’ or, if others are involved, ‘What dem want now?’ Or ‘What dem up to?’ Armed with this curious opening question, we proceed to examine the issue for what it is worth.

Ground-level perspectives

Jamaicans are largely focused on surviving comfortably, being able to meet our obligations without undue duress. While some may harbour delusions of grandeur and engage in Anansi-ism, most ordinary Jamaicans want to be able to legally access, at minimum, the benefits of being a citizen in their own country.

Being treated fairly, having a regular and ‘sufficient’ income, and experiencing the dignity of honest work, being able to provide for ourselves and our families, getting an education and having access to public utilities.

Oftentimes, these simple benefits of citizenry have proven to be elusive, sometimes because of our own individual life choices, but more generally because of corruption and political manipulation.

Today, we are more aware of how corruption affects us as ordinary citizens – how resources and benefits intended for us, and to which we are entitled, are channelled away from us and into the coffers of the greedy.

Our eyes have long been opened to the unethical practices of business operators who, having been the beneficiaries of stimulus budgets, have opted for profiteering rather than passing on the benefits to consumers.

We are also acutely aware of our position as perceived minions to our politicians. Politics is all about capturing the attention and support of a sufficient majority at a particular point in time – during elections. Outside of that all-important point in time, we generally don’t matter to politicians until they need us again. It’s simply business, so to speak, and the unethical practice of ‘selling’ access to rights and benefits in exchange for votes is akin to extortion.

We are not blind: experience teaches wisdom, and we have become wiser, especially in our outlook towards politicians, budgets and rhetoric. We know that regardless of how well-intentioned government budgets and programmes may appear to be, the litmus test for us is in the trickle-down effects.

First is the extent to which a dollar can stretch at the shop, predicated on business operators facilitating us rather than capitalising on the moment; and second, how our access to the benefits of citizenship are improved as a result, without us being extorted to vote for a particular candidate in order to receive those benefits.

Ordinary Jamaicans have long graduated from being a term of convenience. We exist. Please remember that.

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