Wed | Mar 22, 2023

Ronald Thwaites | Challenges we evade

Published:Monday | February 6, 2023 | 12:54 AM
These Jamaica Hope calves gather around a milk bucket fitted with nipples to accommodate mass feeding at the Manchester cattle farm operated by UC Rusal.
These Jamaica Hope calves gather around a milk bucket fitted with nipples to accommodate mass feeding at the Manchester cattle farm operated by UC Rusal.

Help me with some big issues we are afraid of confronting. Last week, the finance minister announced what he considers to be a decisive blow against rollover employment contracts in the public service. Sounds good. So will all contract workers be appointed to permanent posts?

Thousands of workers have been slighted over decades, bereft of the benefits of sick leave, no statutory deductions or retirement benefits, to the extent where most of our economy, private and public sectors, is premised on low-wage, temporary workers. Prosperity?

The Supreme Court judgment last year in favour of the security workers marked the beginning of the end of all that. If full-time guards are really staff and not own-account contractors, then the same has to be true throughout the whole economy, doesn’t it? Check tourism and the BPOs, what happens with their contract staff now?

Once again, it is the courts and the media which are securing citizens’ rights and exposing abuses of them. It’s not the political directorate.

WHO WILL PAY?

Incorporating all the contract workers into posts in the public service will mean a ballooning of the costs of government, already bulging at close to 12 per cent of GDP, absent increases to the teachers and police.

Where is the additional money going to come from, or will the classifications offered to the contract workers be so below expectation (check the concerns of JIS workers) that more will move on to fill some of the estimated 11.5 million jobs on offer in the United States, or, reluctantly, stay here but behave as time-servers?

As always, the lines in front of the foreign embassies give us a fair reading of the health of the economy and society. They are growing longer and longer with every passing month. Who asks about the consequences?

REWARD CONNECTED TO EFFORT?

The big, unanswered question is the disconnect between productivity and remuneration. In all the wage negotiations and realignments, what more value are the taxpayers getting for the additional money which is taken from their pockets?

The Government is afraid of this issue because, subliminally at least, it buys into the half-truth that underpaid people are entitled to more money without reference to their output; their value proposition.

Demanding just treatment is something different from claiming entitlement to more based on historical deprivation, political promises or anything else. What stimulus will move Jamaicans, in critical mass, to connect reward with effort?

The prevailing ethos is that I must get what I want, even at the expense of others. Check even the advertisements on news time on television. Most involve some gamble connected with purchasing a basic service. This sends a message as to where our heads are. The 60 per cent of the workforce earning around the minimum wage are encouraged to ‘invest’, when they can’t afford dinner. Philip D. Curtin’s Two Jamaicas becomes more true by the month.

SUPERFICIAL STRATEGY

The Government’s strategies are public relations and constraint. Both are wearing thin. Last week’s waste of time at the traffic courts is a case in point. How much productive time was lost in requiring judicial process for the majority of offenders with less than five tickets who acknowledged their offence? People came prepared to pay. They left with a court date and the money still in their pockets. That’s neither efficiency nor justice.

MINISTERIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Last Monday, we had evidence of the selectively applied principle of ministerial responsibility. If a minister of finance can exempt himself from responsibility for what goes on in his portfolio, then who is the public to rely on? How does this case differ in principle from that of the minister of health some years ago who was held responsible for the deaths of the neonates? It is time we reaffirm the tenets of ministerial responsibility and apply the standards consistently.

Minister Clarke has been heard to say that when minister changes, all files and records connected with his or her incumbency are destroyed. What kind of irresponsible practice is that? My understanding was that personal files were eliminated, but not official records or reports such as the FSC/SSL trail, of which this minister asserts no longer exist.

And please, an individual or a political party expressing criticism or disagreement with those in authority does not equate to ‘politicising’ a serious national crisis. You only claim that when your slip is showing badly.

STARVING COWS, WASTED LAND, FLEEING TEACHERS

Three other egregious national events last week lay open major undigested questions. What credible commitment to food security do we have when hundreds of what used to be the finest of Jamaican pedigreed cattle at Windalco are left to starve by people whose only interest appears to be to scrape off our topsoil, mostly for their own benefit? The legacies of Dr Lecky, Dr Wellington, Mr Motta and so many others are being betrayed. Significant punishment is deserved for those who let it happen.

Then there was the expected howl from the government-controlled bauxite mining company against the court injunction handed down in favour of people whose health, livelihood and communities are being ravaged by mining. Check the man-made canyons and gullies pictured at Harmons which will never be satisfactorily reclaimed. Why do we continue to avoid the irreparable damage bauxite mining is doing?

We compromise domestic food security by forfeiting fertile topsoil to earn a dubious amount of foreign exchange from a wasting asset, to forever pay for imports of the very commodities which, without mining, we could produce sustainably for ourselves.

At the excellent primary school with which I am familiar, four more of the best teachers resigned last week to take up posts abroad. That’s one more of the challenges which we persistently evade.

Is the politics fit for purpose?

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