Orville Taylor, Contributor
Ni hao mah! There is an awful story about a young girl who is unable to meet the economic dictates of her king, until she meets a little ugly man who teaches her to turn straw into gold. Thinking that she had woven an unbeatable deal, she agreed that her precious, yet unconceived firstborn would be handed over to this benefactor, in some unforeseeable future.
For months it was bliss, as the poor girl churned out more gold than used to be found in Ninja Man's mouth, and all was good. Then came the day of judgement and the little imp started dancing because he knew that his prize was at hand and he was getting ready to feast on the baby.
Another story like that is a Shakespearean drama, where the protagonist is loaned money from a man from the east, a Jew, but one whose reputation for shrewdness and loan-sharking was well deserved. Not only was the money loaned under difficult-to-fulfil terms, but, more horribly, the penalty for default was a pound of flesh from the chest of the borrower.
In yet another epic, a mother lives in a community in which the official government agency cannot provide security for its residents. Worse, neglected by its elected officials, who might lack both the economic resources and political will to care, these inhabitants are 'taken care of' by a home-grown 'area leader', a 'don', who runs the locale with an iron fist or a pair of iron fingers.
But it also comes at a price. Not only is absolute loyalty required, but at some point, the pubescent female child, still below the age of consent, has to be delivered to be deflowered and seeded with pestilence and offspring alike.
WORKS OF FICTION
The first two tales are works of fiction. First, the cannibal dwarf, Rumpelstiltskin, is thwarted by the girl being able to say his previously unknown name. In the second, it is a wise Portia, with a legendary speech, who splits justice and punishes the Jew, who was hell-bent on ripping his meat reward from the chest of the defaulter.
However, the third is pure fact and an oft-repeated drama. This is 21st-century Jamaica, and Portia is not a judge; she is the appointed and elected representative of the peasant girl and the poor merchant-debtor, and Rumpel might very well be on her side. One lesson is to be learnt from all of these stories: Monetary help always comes at a cost, and we should be careful of what we agree to sacrifice for the short- to medium-term investment, which purports to solve our dilemma.
Of course, I am cautious of the advent of the Chinese, and it is not because I am xenophobic. Indeed, since I have been a teenager, I have been totally fascinated with Chinese culture, and all St George's College boys were either associate or racially Chinese. In fact, consuming a fare of dried salted plums, sow bow and lychees was not uncommon, and I developed a deep
Even the life of Mao Tse Tung was a source of inspiration for a poor black boy who had seen the vagaries of capitalism and romanced the notion of an egalitarian society, in which the worker held centre stage. Nonetheless, for all my appreciation for 'Cathay', my Jamaicanness always came first.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's recently expressed annoyance over the questions regarding the impending Chinese incursion: "When I hear people running up their mouths about Chinese investments in Jamaica, before anyone criticises, they should show their level of investment in Jamaica."
As a self-proclaimed defender of the poor, the remark sounds surprisingly pro-capital and, worse, does not sound very nationalistic. Is she, the lover of the poor, saying that if you have no money, you should shut up, grit your teeth, bend forward and bow to who has it, and take whatever they are giving?
My word straight to the PM is that she is elected by Jamaican people to protect our interests, and money, however much is being offered, does not give the investor the unrestricted right to do as he or she pleases.
This is a time for truths and the rejection of old wives' tales. The PM, looking askance at former Labour Minister Pearnel Charles, raised a rhetorical question to him after he asked about labour implications of the Chinese investments. Her response suggested that she would not preside over unfavourable labour clauses in any bilateral agreement.
'Rhetorical' and 'rhetoric' are not the same, and apart from the flawed amendment to the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act in 2002, she should tell the nation what labour laws the People's National Party administration, between 1989 and 2007, passed to improve the overall conditions of workers in this country, despite the recommendations and concerns expressed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Moreover, the ILO's Convention 94, Labour Clauses (Public Contracts) Convention, which the Government has ratified since 1962, has been consistently breached. Under this instrument, Government is required to ensure that in all its public contracts, both local and international, certain minimum labour standards are maintained. However, the ILO's Committee of Experts, in its own words, "... has been commenting for a number of years on the absence of any laws or regulations implementing the provisions of the convention."
DOESN'T INSPIRE CONFIDENCE
On the other hand, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness does not inspire confidence either, with his admission, that "... foreign direct investment comes with some conditions. Some of them are known upfront and some of them are discovered as you go along."
Given all the embarrassing anti-labour developments which have shown up the impotence of the trade unions that are affiliated to political parties, especially in the sugar industry, one questions whether the deal to sell the factories under the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) does not make Holness the kettle and Simpson Miller the pot.
Nonetheless, the concerns with China are well founded. Its unemployment rate is 6.5 per cent; meaning that more than 87 million Chinese are out of work and the government must find work for them. We also don't know how many of the employed in China are underemployed. One key is that despite its impressive economic strides, it has a poverty rate of 13.4 per cent. Simply put, more than 182 million Chinese live under conditions where they can't feed and clothe themselves. With an average life expectancy of 73.5 and human development index (HDI) value of 0.699, the average Chinese is living worse than the average Jamaican, whose life expectancy is virtually the same 73.3 and the HDI of 0.73.
When Portia and crew remove visa requirements and slacken the work-permit regimen in this country, does China have anything to fear from an invasion of Jamaicans? Or is it vice versa?
Add to that an environmental record which includes major pollution of the Yangtze and amusingly named Yellow River, and a smog-filled Beijing and other cities, one has to ask whether or not this nation will seek to treat non-Chinese people and environments better than it does its own. There might not be too many pastors in China, but I am sure that there is an equivalent about them christening their children first.
It must be noted that there is at least one project by the Chinese here that still defies logic as regards its use and appropriateness. We can take sleep from the Chinese mega-investment in the Camerouné port of Kiribi, which employs 1,125 people, with less than half, some 609 being mostly Camerouné labourers.
Thus, in concluding, we need foreign investment, and lots of it, but to our beloved 'pauperphile' Portia, whomever she pets, make sure she pets the Jamaican people first and not simply open up for China.
Huí tóu jìan!
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.