Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Mark Wignall | Why your roads mightn’t be fixed

Published:Sunday | April 9, 2017 | 4:00 AM

Two Fridays ago, I interviewed Stephen Shaw, spokesman for everything at the National Works Agency (NWA), the entity responsible for road maintenance in Jamaica.

When I asked him about the average yearly estimate of costs to repair roads, he told me it was about $6 billion. Then the reality check. The amount available to the NWA on an annual basis to remedy the $6b road fix? A mere one billion dollars.

So, it really doesn't matter what your MP has told you, even if you have been extremely lucky or privileged to have glimpsed him/her after the mass disappearing act from February 2016. Don't listen to your councillor while he is on his usual hustle and trying to sell you snake oil.

Mr Shaw told me that targets for repair are graded on a needs basis, implying that the worst roads would be repaired first. But here is the big problem.

If each year the country is experiencing, on average, a $5-billion road-repair deficit, after, say, about five years, all roads needing repairs fall into the worst-case scenario. One reader living in Derrick Smith's safe JLP-held constituency of North Western St Andrew emailed me last week with a simple yet poignant, "We need your help. Meadowbrook Avenue is an obstacle course."

It does not matter how bad the roads get in sections of that constituency where, incidentally, there are active road-repair activity crews now operating. The roads are repaired and a majority vote JLP. The roads fall apart and morph into obstacle courses, Mr Smith still picks up another win.

 

FALSE PROMISE

 

Some years ago, Anthony Hylton gave his St Andrew Western constituents, including a majority who would always vote for him, a solemn promise that there would be an immediate remedy for the obstacle courses in wide swathes of Washington Gardens.

But the constituents were duped, not just because the MP is in the business of making promises, including handing out a promissory note, but mainly because the MP has no real power in making decisions on road repairs. Plus, he may now take the view that since his party is out of power, to hell with road repairs.

Let his constituents eat cake, keep voting for the PNP, and allow him to enjoy his vacation in Opposition. The fact is, active or not, the efforts of Smith and Hylton must constantly stare into the barrel of that $5-billion road-repair deficit each year.

Which MP would dare say something like this to constituents: "I know the roads are in a deplorable state and you have made numerous complaints, but there are going to be no repairs this year. I am sorry. Want a game of domino?'

 

All bully beef is same bully beef?

 

It has taken corruption in a section of the huge meat market in Brazil and a brief ban on Jamaica importing canned corned beef for us to realise what we had known for long. All bully beef is the same bully beef, no matter the brand and claims by some that their brands are better 'quality'.

What is eventually conjured up is the image of a gargantuan factory complex in Brazil where huge sides of beef are brought in daily, cut up, processed in the pickling/flavouring assembly lines, ground and brought to the final part of packaging in tins.

"Hey Carlos, which country this week?"

"Jamaica," is the answer.

"OK, Carlos, how many brands?'

"I think seven or maybe eight."

"OK, Carlos. Which brand first?"

Pause, then, "Doesn't matter. Just get the labels ready."

Now that the ban has been lifted, it has to be assumed that a clean bill of health has been given to all stock that was already here. In huge warehouses of the large distributors, in sections of supermarkets, in wholesale stores, in little shops, and the one tin in your kitchen cabinet. We can now go back to eating it.

When I worked downtown as a young man in the early 1970s, there existed a comfortable little restaurant called Meal-a-Minute on Orange Street, close to its intersection with Harbour Street and not very far from the iconic Moby Dick restaurant.

Meal-a-Minute had about 15 tables, and any lunchtime, the company director was likely to be seated not far from the file clerk. One of the specialist items they had as a regular on the menu was corned beef and cabbage. This was not bully beef, which came out in the hash form from tins. This was chunks of beef corned, flavoured, cooked and sliced like pieces of roast beef.

I have not seen any restaurant in Jamaica serving that now. Utterly delicious, but in these times, it would be quite expensive, in the range of roast beef and oxtail. We know that bully beef in tins can be 'stretched' meaning in the Jamaican parlance it can be mixed with other items like finely chopped cabbage or baked beans.

GraceKennedy may have scored the first marketing coup in voicing the possibility of producing its own bully beef locally. But where are the big herds of cattle in Jamaica? If one assumes that the cows that would be used would be mostly confined to old dairy cows that are heading to that good grazing in the sky, where is the dairy industry, and is there the size not just to promote that idea, but to manufacture in a constant process?

The business gurus at Grace are no tyros. They must know what they are all about, but immediately, it would seem that buying in bulk from a large country like Brazil, with all the conditions that would be suitable to the importer, one would tend to come out a cheaper price point than the complex manufacturing process that would be required in the Jamaican context. And we have not even factored praedial larceny into the equation.

 

Boy kills boy. Madness!

 

Two children are in a heated fuss. One is 11, the other 14. It is left unresolved and later one returns with a cutlass and almost decapitates the other. The child runs off into a banana walk and falls down dead.

It is not unknown that children, especially those attending school, will fight. Many boys bond in groups to protect themselves, but more so to announce their 'arrival' as part of a crew. In some schools, there are gangs associated with the gang connection operating on the outside in the underworld.

So it would be unsurprising to see schools in proximity to say, Spanish Town central, having boys allied to the notional PNP Clansman Gang and the JLP One Order. They begin early. A worrying trend that I have observed is the unwillingness of adults to intervene in violent disputes between children.

There may be good reason for this nonchalance, this seeming indifference. Many adults are very afraid of the ability of young thugs to inflict on them bodily harm. In every violent dispute setting between, say, two young boys, there is always one who is more eager to push the conflict to its unforeseen limit.

When an adult gets involved, it is that child who will be grabbed up, but that youngster may sincerely believe that the adult is just another person 'fighting him down'.

Our schools are struggling to come to terms with defeating this malady that springs from violent homes and violent communities.

In 1981 when I was held up one evening at the northern end of Hanover Street, it was by a gang that announced themselves as 'Sky Juice and His Gang'.

There were over a dozen of them, and some were as young as 12 with filed-down machetes and kitchen knives. One youngster was constantly smiling as they took my $12.

He was enjoying it.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.