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Aubyn Hill | Stalled poverty reports and the hapless Dr Ferguson

Published:Thursday | October 29, 2015 | 12:00 AMAubyn Hill

Jamaicans will remember then opposition leader Portia Simpson Miller promising often and loudly during the last general election campaign that she would balance people's lives while balancing the books.

She also made the promise, among many others, that she would be transparent with and listen to us Jamaicans.

She and her finance minister now claim progress, often in tones that would lead one to believe that passing IMF tests is practically the most wonderful thing that has happened to the country. No doubt, they see that as qualifying for balancing the books.

But not even if the prime minister were delusional, could she voice the claim to Jamaicans that she has balanced our lives?

Poverty is rampant across the country. Economic distress grows in our communities and society every day. Many, many more Jamaicans are very much poorer today than they were at the end of 2011 when Mrs Simpson Miller led the PNP into government. And the Government and its agencies are hiding the data that will give empirical and research statistics that show, in tragic detail, the extent and spread of poverty in the last four years.

Mind you, when the Government wants us to have and share information that they believe shows them in a good light they get it out to us fast. Take, for instance, the World Bank Group's Doing Business reports. As soon as the press embargo on the reports' timelines passes, various ministers take to the airwaves, business and public platforms to trumpet that we have moved up in some particular ranking. So, too, any compliments from multilaterals or rating agencies.

The Doing Business 2016 report has adopted a changed methodology, but comparing like with like, our rank has improved on paper, even if it is largely unfelt in everyday business transactions by most Jamaicans.

Ministers and their spokespersons will gloat a bit about Jamaica's ranking being ahead of Trinidad & Tobago's and Barbados', but we won't hear a whisper that economically battered Greece and shattered-by-genocide Rwanda are ahead of Jamaica.

Living conditions survey

The Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions (JSLC) report carries a comprehensive bunch of data about the status of social and economic living conditions in the country.

The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) is the publisher of the survey. The problem is that none seemed to have been published with data for any period after 2012. In fact, a visit to the PIOJ's website up to Wednesday of this week led one to see reports from 2006 upwards - and they were not even in good chronological order, with 2007 appearing before 2006.

One hears from reliable sources that a main reason for not publishing subsequent JSLC reports is that the survey data paints a bleak and even disturbing picture of the increasing level and the broadening reach of poverty among Jamaicans.

It is understood that poverty is no longer confined to those usually perceived as poor. It is climbing fairly speedily among the higher social strata that were usually regarded as the middle and even upper classes.

Government policies of rabid taxation which saps cash from the economy generally - and households and individuals, in particular - are ensuring that poverty is marking up significant successes among a rapidly increasing number of Jamaicans.

The Government and an apparently compliant PIOJ sit on the data that shows poverty increasing significantly under the current PNP government. And if JSLC collaborators Statin and PIOJ have not done any surveys since 2012, then that is serious negligence on their part. My call to the PIOJ Executive Director Colin Bullock was not returned.

Undisclosed baby deaths

This government, led by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has a fondness for not disclosing vital but negative information that it thinks will put the PNP administration in a bad light.

There is a terribly obvious disregard for Jamaicans in the way the prime minister disses us with her very protracted silence nearly all the time, but most noticeable in times of crises. She refuses, for almost four years, to meet our local press corps and answer their unsubmitted questions.

The death of 18 babies by bacteria, in what appears to be two quite unsanitary hospitals, remained undisclosed for far too long. The increase to 19 mentioned in Parliament on Tuesday was practically a forced acknowledgment, rather late, and given very reluctantly by the health minister, the now quite hapless Fenton Ferguson.

Ferguson appears to have also lost control of his faculty of speech when he referred to premature dead babies as 'not real babies'. Is the minister oblivious to the storm that threatens to sink Planned Parenthood in the United States over the treatment of unborn foetuses - never mind the preemies born in Jamaica to which he refers so callously?

Still, the gravity of the extremely sad and very unfortunate deaths of so many innocent babies would never have been disclosed and addressed by Ferguson or his subordinates, or Simpson Miller, or possibly anyone else in Government if Nationwide News Network did not break the story about two weeks ago.

As reported by Nationwide, Simpson Miller spent a whopping one minute and fifty-two seconds of her time on the tragedy of the 19, officially reported, dead babies.

Maybe we need Nationwide to pull the poverty numbers and their significance out of the PIOJ and the Government.


Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies Ltd and chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the Leader of the Opposition.

Twitter: @hillaubyn