Thu | Mar 22, 2018

Mark Wignall | Progress by patties

Published:Sunday | July 2, 2017 | 12:00 AM

One day during the summer holidays in 1968, three of my KC schoolmates and I walked into the Half-Way Tree Road front office of the Carlton Exchange of what was then the Jamaica Telephone Company (now FLOW).

I cannot quite recall if jobs were advertised or we had just gone out cold hunting for jobs. In the latter half of the last decade and throughout the 1960s, there was rapid expansion in bauxite mining that gave rural parishes like St Ann, Manchester and St Elizabeth new possibilities.

In the Kingston Metropolitan Area and as far westward as Spanish Town, there was an explosion of commercial activity and small manufacturing all the way through the industrial estate to Three Miles and downtown Kingston. Violent crime was then not a major concern in terms of the regularity of murders, the economy was humming, and to potential school leavers, entry-level jobs were widely available.

We were strong on science subjects, and at the time I was waiting on the results of O'Levels for ad maths, maths, physics, chemistry, English language, and art. The way we figured it, even if we made the decision to go on to sixth form, a starter job in the interim could never be disadvantageous.

All of us who walked in that day were offered jobs as trainee electronic technicians. There was a school on the property, so while I examined circuit diagrams at my station in the noisy place, there was company-paid progress to CAST (now UTech), then on to a first degree at the appropriate campus at the UWI if we stuck it out.

We were paid seven pounds, 12 shillings and six pence per week. To round it out in what would have been 1968 dollars (we moved to dollars in 1969), it would be $15. Two years before that, a small company had opened in Cross Roads selling patties and drink like milk and grapefruit mix. It was called Tastee.

A patty was less than 10 cents, but if it should be rounded off at 10 cents, that would mean that my weekly salary could purchase 150 patties. Let me now fast-forward to 2017. As our dollar has suffered consistently against major currencies, if we were to assume a youngster securing a starter job, for his pay to be in the same economic condition of 1968 that could purchase 150 patties @$150 2017 dollars, it would have to be at $22,500.

I am forced to ask myself, where are the starter jobs at $22,500 per week? Many of our boys do not complete the basic term limit in educational exposure. Unlike in my teens, where on-the-job training was available, openings for 2017 jobs require you to carry immediate value to the workplace when many youngsters have earned no vocational basics.


To make social intervention real


While on Nationwide recently, I received a call from a man who told me his girlfriend had close to double the number of CSEC passes I had in O'Levels and she was working for $9,000 per 80-hour week. Her pay would only purchase 60 patties in 2017, significantly less than the 150 my salary could for the same period in 1968.

It has become more than a buzzword among the thinking class, that is, all who recognise that raw crime fighting cannot be divorced from exposing at-risk youth to dispute resolution, vocational training and the hope of a livable wage. Without launching into a wave of pessimism, it is quite obvious that we are not there yet in achieving those ideals. In fact, not even close.

How, therefore, is it reasonable to believe one-half of our problems be resolved without sustainable support for the other half?

Let me explain. In any new-fangled crime plan that has as its main mandate a most urgent demand for steep decreases in murder and shooting, there is going to be a new net of young men taken in. What will we do with them?

Will we assume that all are criminally tainted, so all will share the same space in the rough jail population throughout Jamaica? What increases in efficiencies in the justice system will be implemented to dovetail with a pileup of living bodies having a right to the speediest trial in our courts?


Government, society demands action


It is a lesson best learned early that white-rum pocket cannot sustain a love for champagne. But the contrasts are not all that stark. It is simply that as much as we love to cuss the government of the day, whether JLP or PNP, it often has the unenviable task of prioritising action in extended periods of insufficient resources.

So, the nation may not now be in the mood to spend too much time in concern at the likely condition of those detained/arrested. We will probably allow ourselves the convenience of a momentary suspension of conscience as our fear far outweighs our need for a full examination of all issues surrounding violent-crime increases and, even better, its prevention.

There will be increases in the bodies shot dead by the security forces. That must be a reasonable assumption. And I also expect that public sympathy for those killed will decline as we announce our personal but collective judgments.

Always facing a government of the day is the need for immediate action, and the beginning of operational presence in selected communities will provide the general public with the best exposure of such action.

Conditions for the constant re-examination of security forces/citizens interaction must be placed in the same 'urgent' column as the operations themselves. A wider mobilisation of community agencies like the church and schools and citizens associations will have to accompany the operations of the security forces.


Learning from mistakes previously made


The security forces with a special emphasis on the JCF must have collated a history its many wrongs committed against law-abiding citizens over the last 40 years. At this time with the eyes of the nation more focused on 'police successes,' the press cannot afford to relax its vigilance on police excesses.

More of our people are willing to give the police additional leeway and I am certain that those in operational ground-mode and in the command structure know this too. That understanding must never be translated into excess as the rule instead of the rare exception.

At some stage, the government and the security forces will find itself flying blind,on the assumption that the criminal pockets and gangs are unlikely to roll over and play dead. In one area that will occupy the JCF will be extortion at transportation hubs throughout the country but especially in urban centres.

Gangs and small groups of mercenaries have been violently wrestling with each other for the control of extortion in various centres. The Police High Command must also know that collusion between rogue cops in the officer corps and gang leaders must never be ruled out in attempts to dismantle these networks.

At some stage, the Government will have to ask itself if it is better to provide a respite from violent criminality instead of instituting alternative action dealing with reductions over the long term. The choice may come down to the objective of providing many lulls in the increase of murders until the gangs and guns regroup.


PNP buy-in politically sensible


At some stage, the PNP's campaign that begun with extensive tomes critiquing the Government's new proposal on quelling the murder fever had to die down, and if not 100 per cent agreement, there had to be significant PNP buy-in if even to find political rhythm with the general public.

When an important social and political activist such as the former PNP Gen Sec Paul Burke loudly announces his support, although it rankled many of those in the PNP ranks, Burke's assertions that some politicians are not in social synch with the street-level realities must have embarrassed some into new considerations of the issue.

Even in the 'people party', PNP, there are those who are socially dislocated from the people. Reality.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to and