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JEEP: old chassis but orange paintwork?

Published:Sunday | February 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Orville Taylor, Contributor

I waited a week after the news broke before commenting because sometimes one must take his cue from Government. This might not be Parliament, but I can dig up the Standing Orders, dust them off and use them now conveniently. Tsk tsk to the People's National Party (PNP)-led Government for taking a retrograde step in now preventing the prime minister from having to answer questions tabled the same day.

Not everything from a previous administration must be discarded and, indeed, some of it can be incorporated. After all, a more competent PNP ought not to hold itself to a lower standard than the booted Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). However, there is no shame in maintaining some things which work.

Michael Manley, in 1989, threw out the catchword 'continuity' after routing Edward Seaga and the JLP. Good governments know what to keep and what to ditch, but 'good' politicians know how to take credit for good programmes and blame bad ones on their predecessors.

When Manley first won back in 1972, he did not scrap the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). Nor did he throw out the 1971 Industrial Relations Bill, which his party and union had opposed, nor did he jettison the Termination of Employment Bill from the same year. Had he done so, he would not have been heroically credited as the prime minister who loved workers more than any other, before or since.

Playing politics

Doubtless, the bright orange 'duco' on the Labourite prototype looked more outstanding than the bland green. Amusingly, as the bills were being put forward by the PNP, the JLP opposed some of the same clauses they introduced. But politicians do politics.

Similarly, the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) was a PNP initiative from 2002, but last year the JLP added a Steps to Work component, with much fanfare. It goes a step further than PATH, which targets children and the elderly, and focuses on adults who are responsible for PATH beneficiaries. These get assistance to become less dependent on the social safety net and become more economically self-sufficient, while learning skills and entrepreneurship. A sensible PNP will keep it.

Nonetheless, after months of waiting, tweaking and false announcement of the launch date, the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) is now fully fleshed out. With at least $4 billion, and another $6 billion for midterm employment coming from public bodies, it means that some 5,000 plus jobs will be 'created'.

Pushing JEEP

The dauntless JLP was quick to point out that some of the parts for the JEEP were hijacked. Indeed, the advertised launch of JEEP in St Ann last month resulted in egg being quickly wiped off the Government's face after the Labourites had complained that the programme being inaugurated there was, in fact, a JLP introduction. Therefore, commendations are in order to Dr Omar Davies, who admitted: "In addition to the JDIP (Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme) funding, the administration has identified projects - some new, some existing ones which have been brought forward and expanded, while others are at the concept stage to be implemented in the medium term."

Interestingly, here we are with a Christian prime minister and Christian leader of Opposition going through Lent, the holiest period of the Christian almanac. Yet Lent and Easter are simply blends of old pagan rituals and belief with Christianity. The Early Church took advantage of the pagan holidays and turned them into 'holydays'. Thus, if the PNP is using existing parts from the JLP scrap heap - assuming that Danville Walker did not export them too - then it's really no big deal because even my beloved kin in the Church celebrate, with great devoutness, days which were the hallmarks of idolatry and carnality as days of veneration. My wish is that the politicians give up disingenuity and hypocrisy just for the 40 days of Lent and collaborate on pushing JEEP.

Nevertheless, some of the proponents and detractors of this not-very-well-thought-out programme make such ludicrous comments that the short-term workers could very well be deployed to stem the never-ending effluent they produce.

Handout myth among blacks

Any programme which provides jobs for Jamaican citizens, even for a few hours and allows them to spend their own money, is laudable. Although the politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s created a sort of 'licky-licky' persona dependent on the politician for sustenance, black people really don't like handouts. Carl Stone referred to the practice of clientelism, wherein grown, rusty back men and women were supported by members of parliament (MP). These MPs became ministers of 'minding', but only the most morally depraved of African descendants could have felt comfortable being treated as a dependent by another adult.

It is the same kind of racist myth in the United States, which presents the image of the welfare queen as the lazy African-American sitting around waiting to exhale when the cheque comes. Normal persons who are not junkies don't wait on handouts unless forced to. In America, blacks and whites received, respectively, 34 and 32 per cent of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or 'welfare' funds. While it is true that that blacks are only 13 per cent of the American population, their poverty rate is 26 per cent, compared to nine per cent for whites. Simply put, more whites are getting the dole who don't deserve it than blacks. Yet, the lies about 'wutliss' niggers continue.

Work inspires self-pride

Thus, the Special Employment Programme of the 1970s gave to the recipient a sense of pride in carrying out economic activity and thus being paid for doing his 'rerk'. True, it was a crash programme, but it made the workers feel as if they counted. Make fun of it if you want, but that sense of having worked, even for a short period, and giving money to one's child and babymother is an even more immense source of pride and manliness.

Contrary to the myths and self-deprecating notions that some of our do-gooders, including politicians, and civil and church leaders, spew about lower-class Jamaican black men, the majority of them are not absent from their children's lives and do not relish the role of delinquent father. Furthermore, peer pressure among inner-city and rural poor males militates against the wutliss 'puppa'.

'St' Professor Barry Chevannes did studies in the mid-2000s which showed that the majority of mothers didn't father, and believe it or not, Edith Clarke, who wrote the maligned My Mother who Fathered Me, said that 70 per cent of families had fathers.

Providing money for men to feed their children for even two weeks keeps them out of gangs and on the right side of the danger line. It is for the economists to explain the benefits of pumping money into an economy. However, we know that the youth unemployment rate is 31 per cent, or almost three times the national average. JEEP is a must, even if the mechanic is a Labourite.

Nonetheless, I hope that this time the PNP pays more attention to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and its National Emergency Employment Programme. The ILO is about 'decent work', and given the atrocities regarding contract work, our laws must be amended to protect the most vulnerable. Between 2000 and 2004, I made several published warnings regarding this, which were ignored, and all my negative predictions came true.

Let's support JEEP, but if driven by the wrong driver or off the correct path, Portia and Punctures could become one.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.