Sat | Aug 8, 2020

Mark Wignall | Fighting wise and staying strong

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2020 | 12:23 AM

In the days before a tropical hurricane is expected to hit, people in all communities huddle and plan and create their own dramatic twists to even the most mundane. Those who have been there before can attest to the raw fear felt as hurricane force winds terrorise the night, rip at the roof and place ones family in dangers way.

Last Tuesday, the inevitable happened. COVID-19 was imported by a Jamaican living in Britain. Apart from that lady who eventually tested positive and is now in isolation in hospital, by the next day, another person – at the US Embassy was also confirmed positive on tests.

One shudders to think of the tree of contacts: the branches, the limbs, and the leaves, a spread that is expected to present the health services in Jamaica with its greatest ever challenge. But there is also the socioeconomic response.

On Tuesday evening, the nation went on a buying spree. Traffic was backed up on major roadways, and at a place like Price Smart on Red Hills Road, it was close to pandemonium, with the supermarket overwhelmed with panic-buying. On Wednesday morning, our people were back at it.

A 40-year-old businesswoman in the hospitality industry told me on Tuesday night: “You said the poor are unconcerned. It’s not simply that. They have nothing to spend to purchase excess supplies, so they dismiss the matter. It helps them psychologically.”

“I never thought of it that way but you may be on to something. So, how do you explain the crowds shopping?” I asked.

“The better-off is having another adventure in the midst of some of our people panicking. They go off shopping. How long can a 100-pound bag of rice last you? Even if it lasts you three months, what if you can’t get any after that?”

The conversation was becoming depressing. “What are you doing to protect yourself, your workers, and your business?” I asked. She told me that she had had meetings with staff and everyone was on board.

“The biggest problem facing me right now is, I don’t have a clue where my business will be in the next three months. I may have to lay off staff and shutter the place for a while. I, too, have my fears but I don’t believe in hiding from reality and letting the pain overcome me.”

The politics of COVID-19

It seems that it was just over a week ago that many political pundits were in the business of positioning the People’s National Party (PNP) and its leader in slots where they would best be displayed as useless brass objects on a wall in the back room.

Today there is hardly any talk about politics. For the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) it will become the worst of times.

The prime minister and every single minister, his junior minister and every ministry person being paid to match the suit, the tie and the air conditioned office will be called upon to live their lives for the people of this country. And they will have to do so through many sleepless nights.

Without trivialising COVID-19, when hard politics is woven into it, for the PNP there will always be the thought that there is never an ill wind which blows no good. A bit morbid but in reality, it spares the PNP from the inevitable walloping that was in the making.

PM Holness is in leadership no-man’s-land simply because there it no template stored in any archive anywhere in any ministry. “Jamaica has some of the best expert medical professionals,” said a business executive in a well-known financial organisation.

“The problem is that they are few and the pressure on the system overwhelms them. The government is going to have to work closely with them if we seriously want to beat back COVID-19.”

It was always expected that Leader of the Opposition Dr. Peter Phillips would lend a hand of magnanimity to the government in this time of major crisis. But, political altruism aside, Dr. Phillips will be allowed more time to build out his caucus in the PNP, heal old wounds and get another shot at the JLP.

Probably around September of this year, given best case scenarios of estimates of increase in rates of infection, topping out, decreases and seeing an acceptable level of return to normality. Of course if the much feared worst case scenarios happens, we may end the year seeing the nightmare we imagined.

Unfair lending practices favour the powerful

Based on what I have seen over many years, it would seem to me that for every contract between a lender and a powerful lending institution that gives significant rights to the person borrowing, there are nine more that hands the major rights to the powerful lender.

In many cases, we have seen that when loans go into default, it seems that the lenders have no regard for the welfare of the borrowers.

Even more serious are the instances when the lending institutions are holding mortgages over properties as collateral on loans. When a loan goes into default, and the powerful lending institution uses their powers of sale under mortgage agreement, they would sometimes sell properties far under market value having no regard for the circumstances of the mortgagor.

There are times when the borrower and family are cast out into the street with nowhere to live. And still owing money.

The matters that took place when properties lost under FINSAC were sold for pennies on the dollar only made the already rich that much richer. The FINSAC report has been stalled for many years, and the JLP, which had championed investigations into the financial meltdown of the mid-1990s, has long backpedalled, and can give no reason whatsoever as to why the report is being hidden from the eyes of the people.

A powerful lending institution selling a mortgagor’s property at private treaty and falling short of the true value as would be had through a public auction creates a scenario when the lender is saddled with insult placed on top of injury.