Tue | Jan 18, 2022

Ronald Thwaites | A woman’s dignity

Published:Tuesday | March 30, 2021 | 12:54 AM

“I will gladly be a guarantor for your student loan but not for your car loan,” I told the earnest young lady clerk at the workplace recently. My reply distressed her. Already two years into a degree programme, living with a relative in St Catherine, taking bus and taxi to school at Papine in the evenings and to work in town, her plan was to drop out of school this academic year and save and borrow whatever she could to afford her own car.

“Even a ‘sketel’,” she pleaded. “Just so I don’t have to tek taxi regular any more.”

“But why?” I frowned. “In another year, you will have a degree, qualify for a better job, then you can think of buying a car. Your priorities are upside down,” I pontificate.

“You don’t know how it stay out there with the transport. By next year, I might have a degree but be dead!” She is trying to be respectful. “Don’t you see what happened to Jasmine? They can’t even find her body and ‘they’ make Khanice rot before they found her. You know how much people catch COVID in the back of taxi where dutty man just want to feel you up or rob yu phone and the driver just flashing through traffic, cussing and smoking spliff? And then you quarrel when I come to work late or reach looking mash-up? I need a car!” Her pout was turning into tears by now.

I had agreed to join with another relative to stand as guarantor for the student loan. Since two guarantors are no longer required, the other guy plans to chicken out, leaving me with the entire obligation should she default. That’s the other side of the recent budget announcement which I don’t think was thoroughly considered.

But a car loan? That was another matter. She has no licence, little capacity to afford insurance and a crazy plan to engage a guy to run the vehicle as a taxi during the day when she isn’t using it.

While the Parliament quibbles with the minutiae of what constitutes sexual harassment, young women’s dignity and their lives are under siege from a deliberately indisciplined and ramshackle public transportation system made worse by unremedied traffic disorder.

LIVING IN DREAD

The JUTC has been cannibalised by the issuance of hundreds if not thousands of road licences which robs their business and leaves people like my girl with no alternative but to live in dread whenever they follow a ‘loader man’s’ screechy into a taxi.

But she, like the rest of us, still have to pay $5 billion to keep JUTC going this year with another $5 billion and more of losses for us to pick up later, year after year.

The chaos is compounded. Who don’t get licence still run. Just make sure you have a money if police stop you – or to pay the stupid fine before you tear off down the road again. If you running road, you can dress anyhow, smoke anything, buy your permit and never be tested to know if you are an addict, a psychotic or a serial abuser.

And since gas prices are going up every week but there has been no fare increase for years, operators shorten the route, pack in another passenger and run jostle everything to increase trips.

So no wonder females, and young females particularly, feel out of control and crave the independence of their own transportation. And since even the credit unions offer the best terms ever known in Jamaica’s financial history for car loans, owning a vehicle trumps getting a degree.

It is I who have priorities upside down.

“So please help me with the deposit then.” Of course, the credit union obliged and to meet her great need, just like tens of thousands others, more of Jamaica’s foreign exchange has been mortgaged to compensate for the wilful absence of a decent public transport system. And as a leader of the used-car industry told Ralston Hyman recently, it is the responsibility of the State to find the hard currency to support legitimate business. My girl agrees. Poor Nigel. Poor us!

What a ‘bam-bam’ when the US$70 a barrel for oil licks us later this year. Not a word about that in the recent budget tirade centred around everything the PNP didn’t do.

My girl thinks she is okay for now. Happy for her but the deeper issue is the entrenching of indiscipline on the roads, the stubborn refusal to enforce proper driver testing and retesting, and the silent spread of distorted personal and national priorities.

It isn’t that she does not care about a system which embeds vulnerability for women and weak folk. It’s just that she has got through for now and that, sadly, is all her mental bandwidth can manage.

She is already a month behind in her car payment. And this is supposed to be the road to prosperity?

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.