This week, the University Hospital was plunged into darkness for three hours. Medical personnel at the Kingston Public Hospital withdrew their services over faulty air-conditioning systems. Several citizens across the country have staged protest demonstrations outside the offices of the Jamaica Public Service Company against the high cost of electricity.
There were also protests by several students and citizens against issues affecting their schools' environment. Criminals continued on their nefarious path, making the lives of innocent citizens a living hell. Apart from the triumphant return of triple Olympic gold medallist and record breaker Usain Bolt, there was not much to celebrate last week. Yet, this marks the first anniversary of a new government, headed by Prime Minister Bruce Golding, which promised to "change course".
For the overwhelming majority of citizens, it seems things have indeed changed - but for the worse. Neither free tuition nor free health care - two promises made and kept by the new government - was sufficient to mask the escalating prices of school books, auxiliary fees or the cost of medications not available at the hospitals. Wage increases to workers have not kept pace with inflation, and workers are worse off this year than they were last year. More people are jobless today than last year. For the supporters of the Government, one year is too short a time to judge the performance of the new administration. They beg for more time. Oil and other prices have gone through the roof. They tell us that the wicket is sticky, and, therefore, the populace must be patient. How much more time they need to fulfil the plethora of pre-election promises is uncertain. Certainly, it can't be more than the 18 months that former prime minister Portia Simpson Miller spent in office.
Jamaica, like many other countries in the world, has had to face adverse external shocks and the negative impact of natural disasters over recent times. The previous government had to bat on a wicket similar to this one, including dealing with the trend of upward prices for oil and other commodities. It was against this background that the promise of 'changing course' by means of better management of the economy was endorsed by the narrowest of majorities in the general election of September 3 last year.
At the end of Portia Simpson Miller's first year as prime minister, she reported to Parliament on her stewardship. Then, the rate of inflation was at 5.8 per cent for the calendar year. This was the lowest ever in 30 years. Today, the annual inflation rate borders on 20 per cent. With respect to unemployment, Portia's first year was recorded at 9.6 per cent, the lowest in our living experience. Today, using the very same measurement, unemployment has risen to 11.9 per cent. This is the highest level of unemployment in the last four years. From a party that promised jobs, jobs and more jobs, this is definitely bad news for Mr Golding and his Cabinet. Simpson Miller boasted a 2.5 per cent economic growth in her first year, and despite the promise of significant growth of over five per cent annually, the new government seems to be floundering in its effort to show any real growth in the economy. With respect to the critical area of interest rates, the former government, under Portia Simpson Miller, was able to reduce rates to the lowest they have ever been in the last 21 years. Currently, there is an upward trend in interest rates, which is not good news for business and the economy.
Statistics have shown that the claim of superior management by the current administration, even with its oversized Cabinet, is just not true. The Simpson Miller government, using the same measurements of the economy, outperformed the Golding government in those critical areas mentioned above. Yet, the perception of inability to manage is being consistently cultivated by sections of the society against Simpson Miller. Worse, this perception is being fostered by some within her own party, who, despise being led by a woman from a humble working-class background. A prime minister depends on his or her Cabinet to ensure good governance. It is not a one-man or one-woman band that is solely responsible for managing the affairs of the nation. The collective takes praises for the successes and must also be held responsible for the failings.
On Saturday next, over 4,000 delegates of the Opposition party will give an indication as to whether or not they believe the statistics that their current party leader, Portia Simpson Miller, in her first year, managed the economy better than Golding has done in his first 12 months in Government. An objective evaluation suggests Portia Simpson Miller deserves much more credit than she has been given for her government's management of the economy in a difficult world environment. Consumers, farmers, workers, professionals, unemployed, parents, and several business people are undoubtedly worse off in Jamaica today than they were before the last election. This is the consequence of a majority being enamoured with sweet but unrealistic promises, the lure of quick money, and the unwillingness to distinguish fact from fiction. The good thing is that over 400,000 Jamaicans voted not to 'change course'. There is hope that the broken promises can be mended. If not, the promise makers could be penalised in a country where there is no fixed election date. That is one promise I am happy was not kept.
Lambert Brown is president of the University and Allied Workers' Union and can be contacted at labpoyh @yahoo.com Feedback may also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.