Tue | Jan 15, 2019

Mark Wignall | Whose year has it been?

Published:Sunday | December 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Verona Graham laments the murder of her daughter, Jennifer Garrison, in Dias, Hanover, in December 2016. Murder has become a natural hazard of living in Jamaica.

If you are the majority shareholder of a large or medium-size company and you are also active in its management directions, are the owner of two or three houses, excluding the one in South Florida, and your family is safe and sound, 2017 would have been good for you.

You not only survived, but actually thrived in spite of the violent criminality and its geographical uncertainties. At one moment, it is mayhem in western parishes; at another, it is murder madness in the country's capital, Kingston.

If you are 38-year-old Cindy who runs a small shop, it is always dependent on the price of farm provisions at Coronation Market. Apart from selling small food and grocery items, cigarettes and ganja are her big sellers.

If the price is right at the market and her regular customers are not scared away by the seasonal spike, the sale of ganja and cigarettes, plus beer and rum 'under di counter', will be enough to keep her three children in school, clothed and fairly well fed.

The year 2017 has been pretty much what the last one was: constantly hoping for the violence to tone down so she can grow in hope when her children must make their way to and from school. So she has nothing spectacular to report. To Cindy, "Di whole a dem corrupt," she says about the politics in the two main camps.

"All me want is dis crime ting fi get under some control. It just look like dem is 50 step behind di criminals. Me a throw mi pardner and mi a buy few more block now fi mek two more room".

Teachers, nurses and policemen have not seen anything positively unusual about this 2017 year. As I have previously stated, JLP administrations over the last 30 or so years have not had much success in negotiating with the oftentimes bellicose union heads.

Plus, it has to be factored in that in the PNP occupying government for 18 and a half years, it would have had sufficient time to politicise the leadership of the unions or, at the very least, have leaders there more amenable to the PNP instead of JLP negotiators.

It has certainly not been a good year for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). The armed criminals have kept the police tense, wary and in many moments, plainly scared even though they will not admit to this in the public domain. With violent crime being our number one problem in this country, a lot rests on the shoulders of the police in this country, especially those who have resisted the pull of the rogue element in the JCF.


Christmas bad time for police strike


Whomever it is that gets placed in the position of chief negotiator on behalf of rank-and-file cops must know that although the JLP is not at the popularity level it was in the first three months after the 2016 elections, if a strike were called, the public would probably place the blame for an insecure nation at Christmas squarely on the shoulders of the police.

Minister Montague, it is reported, begged the police not to go on strike. I am certain that he did actually say, "A beg unnu, duh, please, please, nuh bodder go pon strike now at Christmas. Just go easy pon wi. And who knows? Di boys pulling the purse strings will be kinder to you in 2018."

And that seems the perfect time to also say that 2017 has not been a good year for Minister Montague. For a man who took a job he did not want, he never doubted that its proper application would require 100 per cent of his direction, efforts and broad political and management skills.

It could be that when PM Holness saddled Bobby Montague with the national security portfolio, the PM, being the political chess player that he is, was banking on Montague bringing new skills to wage negotiations, even though his tendency to say what needs to be said is often misunderstood. Maybe the PM knew of his begging skills. Let's see if they will work.


Being poor and alone at Christmas


Why is it that just about everyone on social media such as Facebook and Twitter is planning to have one whale of a time this Christmas and yet many of the people I meet seem stuck in a ditch of pessimism but with a tenacity to press on.

"Mi nah complain too much," said Junior, a plumber. "Di ting is, mi know nuff yute weh nutten nah gwaan fi dem. Dem jus a hang out an a wait fi trouble fine dem."

"Plumber can't dead fi hungry," I said. "Especially di good one dem."

Dessie is about 50-something and she does domestic work. "Most a di people in di house grow big and gone weh, so is only three days mi work now. My likkle enjoyment is church, bingo and a likkle tups a rum. Yu ask mi how mi gwine spend Christmas. Mi have $4,000 and it gwine haffi do. So, yu a buy mi something?"

It is typical that some married men of modest and well-secured means tend to press 'delete' on the outside lady or ladies at Christmas. The poor do not have the luxury of embracing or disavowing what many see as the special joy at Christmas.

"Is five year now me washing car, and next year will be my last," said 27-year-old Tex. "Some a di chemical a mash up mi han and part a me foot. Mi want a car next year and mi a go run it pon a nice route."

"So how you an di police gwine mek out?" I asked.

"Di way mi grow up inna life, me know seh life is a hunt. Every ting yu do, govament gwine fight yu. So mi fight back, an is di best hunter win."

I asked him about Christmas. "Mi a go stay wid mi sister. Mi can get cake and nuff food. Only ting mi miss, me an mi girl pull up dis year. She get a visa, and from she left 10 months ago, is one time mi hear from har."


Togetherness is best painkiller


Unfortunately for many of us, many gunmen had a good year in 2017, even when they gunning down other gunmen.

During a particularly dark period in the 1980s for me, I found myself headed to a Christmas gathering at one of my sisters' homes. My wife had departed and I allowed many parts of my life to fall apart.

There would be many children at that party. In former years, I had money flowing, and at Christmas, I would go all out on spending to make the children smile and shriek in peals of laughter.

But this time, I had little money. I stopped by a pharmacy and went to the candy section. I bought little wrapped chocolate rolls, coloured candy and everything in-between. I left with them packed in a paper bag.

On arrival at my sister's house, I saw a multitude of children tearing open and playing with expensive, fancy battery-driven toys of various types. What, I thought to myself, could I really give to the kids to bring any additional joy to their lives, their faces.

"What the hell!" I said to myself, and took a few steps over to where a pile of presents were under a wide Christmas tree.

I reached across and upended the bag, emptying out all of the sweet stuff inside. The children rushed it, grabbing at sweets and a new round of fun began.

My sadness disappeared, if even for the day, as bringing family and the children together made it a good Christmas. Have a very merry Christmas.

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