That's why peace prevails
Ronald Mason, Guest Columnist
The average Jamaican citizen, male or female, has the innate capability for aggression. This trait has been recognised in the reaction to someone 'mashing yuh kaan'. The response to this has been based on observation only, in a set of phrases with which we have been socialised. 'Seh fe' and 'touch a button' come from the primary-school days of decades ago.
All of this resulted in a display of aggression, but rarely physical altercation. The modern version is 'don't diss me'. The response to being dissed in this day and age is likely to be much more physical with widespread access to knives and guns.
Let us make the transition to the current economic and political tensions across the land. The people have to accept hardships that have tested the social cohesion of Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Spain and other hard-hit countries. The macroeconomic structural adjustment has been 'bitter medicine'. The people are aware that we have spent J$60 billion to pay down debt, but cannot find sufficient money to fix schools, hospitals, roads in this fiscal year.
Jamaicans are aware that the net international reserves are flush with money, yet the Government has not increased the concession of J$11,500 per pupil paid to secondary schools. Parents have had to dig deeper. The Government sells 8-10% increases in inflation as being a good thing, but the financial institutions boast of paying, in some instances, 1% or less as interest on your money.
Smoke and mirrors
The people know that the unemployment figures that officially reflect a decline are reported with smoke and mirrors. Can you find one person who has found a career-type job this year? Remember the request for 40,000 enterprises to each hire one additional staff member. That programme, Jamaica Employ, eventually foundered, resulting in nothing. No one in leadership is telling the population, in explicit terms, about jobless economic growth, but they continue to talk of the projects that are in the 'pipeline', which, until realised, is only speculation.
Given what the people know, feel and live daily, why have they maintained the social peace? The principal factor is to be found in the moribund state of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. Most of the leader's utterances have resonated as bluster, with the hope that the people do not take his words seriously. If they did, one gets the impression he would be afraid.
He will make bold to say he is being responsible, but the indecisiveness which is observed speaks otherwise. Political street theatre is organised, planned and funded to bring it to fruition. The Opposition is sadly lacking in this regard. Spontaneous, political street protests trend to violence, and the people fear the response to violence, Tivoli being fresh in recent memory.
52 years of bad management
The other factor that is accounting for the social peace is that the people do understand that the bad management of the economy of the last 52 years has resulted in this present difficulty. They know we have to pay the cost as the owner man, the IMF, has come to collect all past due accounts. We muddle along. The people hope that it will end with the four years of the extended fund facility. How wrong, but our governing administration dare not tell the people that this is only the first leg of the relay.
There are three other legs to be run. We are not being told that we will only have sufficient funds to address the needs of health, education, infrastructure and efficiency in the security forces when the debt-to-GDP ratio is somewhere around 60%-75%. That target is a very, very long way off. We are still over 135% today.
The other significant reason for social peace at this time is to be found in the public perception of Prime Minister Simpson Miller. The adaptation of the mantra, 'I love the poor', is paying dividends. Not much demonstration of putting the mantra into effect, but its repetition has taken hold. The Cabinet, the bureaucracy and the people are now programmed to believe that her caring will one day soon translate into something for the poor.
I've come to the conclusion she rarely speaks to the press because that folly may be exposed. If the public at large comes to the conclusion that the mantra is just that, the game is up. Reality will have to be dealt with and people told that it will be rough and tough - for a long while. Tell the people the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Tell us that we will have to become self-sufficient, self-reliant as a person, family and nation.
As long as the game is being played in this manner, they have the people willing to suck more salt through the wooden spoon, not knowing when the salt will finish. Poor leadership, no leadership.