Tue | Sep 25, 2018

Ripe oranges turning green?

Published:Sunday | October 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Orville Taylor, Columnist

Ask the People's National Party (PNP)! Seriously, I am not making fun of the utterances by the Comrade leader almost eight years ago. I literally want you to ask the ruling party what it has done to give flesh to its tag line about 'putting people first'.

Tag lines must, like one that I am associated with, be 'not just talk, but substance'. Except for the two zealots who keep calling me on air and try to make this seem like the golden age of Jamaica's development, there are few Jamaicans on the street who truly feel that Jamaica is moving in the right direction.

Recent Bill Johnson polls have suggested that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has lost much popularity to Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. Asked who they believed was best suited to run the country, a whopping 46 per cent responded Holness, compared with 26 who said Simpson Miller.

Other polls indicated that the people believed that the Government was doing a poor job, with 73 per cent of respondents complaining that the country was headed in the wrong direction and its major failings had to do with crime, unemployment and road maintenance. Indeed, even among the small minority of diehard PNP supporters who said that they would vote PNP, only 10 per cent felt that the country was being run properly.

Jamaicans on the whole now are unhappy with the Government. More than 70 per cent of us feel that it has failed in job creation. This is not just perception, because unemployment is at a high 14 per cent and youth unemployment, in particular, well over 30 per cent. This does not account for the underemployment caused by workers engaged under improper contracts. One doesn't need a poll, although he might need a pole to navigate the potholes which have lots of roads in them. Some 60 per cent of Jamaicans are unhappy with the way Government is maintaining them.

The ubiquitous crime is the country's major challenge, with 65 per cent of Jamaicans not feeling the Government. Only 15 per cent believe that a good job is being done in fighting crime. Nonetheless, major crimes have been declining, and September 2014 had the lowest homicide rate in years. Moreover, the number of police killings has also declined, as well as the number of policemen and women killed per year by criminal elements. Unfortunately for Security Minister Peter Bunting, reality and perception don't match.

Voting for labour

In fact, the most telling poll asked the 63-member question, which party would the Jamaican people vote for if an election were held now? In Jamrock, 'PNP country', 15 per cent indicated a likelihood to vote for the ruling party. On the other hand, some 27 per cent were ready to vote for the Jamaica Labour Party.

Still, the most imposing statistic was the percentage of voters who were uninterested: a massive 41 per cent of the surveyed, who said they would not; and another 16 per cent were undecided. Work out the maths: 60 per cent of Jamaicans don't care much for the politics now, and the numbers that the Labourites are polling are just about where they were in 2011.

Be that as it may, what in my view is the biggest failure of Government is the fact that its leader is "working, working, working". The prime minister speaks of her confidence in her ministers as she allows them to do their jobs. We also know that she is not a technocrat. Rather, she is the fabled 'people's champion'.

Let me remind Portia what her job is. It is to connect with the core grass roots and to make herself available enough to those non-PNP Jamaicans who think outside of the rabble, listen to the newspapers, read the television and watch the radio, all of which she reportedly ignores. Not to mention that she seems to avoid the press as if we were the 'chick and gunman' or 'abowla'.

Her absence puts pressure on her ministers, and maybe the silver lining in the Ebola threat is that it put a damper on her foreign travel.

My sympathies are with Finance Minister Peter Phillips, because he is doing a decent job with the basket full of water he has carried from the man from the other yard, and I don't mean Jake.

When International Monetary Fund (IMF) boss Christine Lagarde came here earlier in the year, I felt great pride that she spoke glowingly about Phillips, his leadership and steadfastness, as he continued to pilot the economy through one test after another. Given the association that this country has had with the Fund since 1977, when the appropriately named austerity measures caused us to produce great flatulence, Phillips has been the best minister of finance under any regime.

Inasmuch as I am not a believer in the doctrine of devaluation and have yet to see an IMF success story, from my vantage point, Phillips is doing the best in a bad situation. No finance minister has passed as many IMF tests in an equivalent period, and even the vocal and vaunted 'Man a Yard', Audley Shaw, 'skulled' the tests, putting us in a very difficult position.

No trickle down

Nonetheless, the macroeconomic success has to find a way of leaching down, and despite the doctrine of trickle-down economics, it is direct political leadership that has led to income distribution, not economics.

When an electorate is being told that the local currency is overvalued and it should be devalued, it brings feelings of horror and despair. Nobody over the age of 40, except theoretical economists and IMF apologists, have any basis to tell the Jamaican people devaluation will produce real benefits. So while workers suffer, so do the PNP's ratings.

Finally, can we now admit that with a predicted 70 per cent infection rate, the Government has lost the chikungunya battle? As unimpressed as we are about the handling of this, let's see how my dentist friend is going to 'tek chikungunya sleep and mask Ebola death'.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.