Ronald Thwaites | None so blind …
Let’s start with happenings in the mining sector.
Please reread Esther Figueroa’s recent op-ed piece in this paper. The future of bauxite and all strip mining will be decided very soon. For if the Supreme Court extends the injunction which is now preventing the rape of sections of the Cockpit Country, the effect will be to preserve the claim of those country citizens who insist that their lives are compromised by those who would dig out the earth and leave the land unusable. An important precedent will have been established.
The facts are indisputable. Bauxite mining has brought great short-term benefit, but long-term disaster to Jamaica. The question is whether the law will give justice to that reality. The moral issue is whether we all are too blind to see that we Esaus have been selling out our heritage for a mess of Jacob’s potage.
Hasn’t the government seen the yawning craters of what used to be arable land? Are they too blind to see the decades-old broken promise of effective land restoration?
My venerable broadcast colleague, Pearnel Charles Sr, often tells the story of the mother in upper Clarendon who had educated her four children from the yield of a particularly fruitful breadfruit tree. She and her powerless member of parliament watched as it was destroyed by the bulldozer clearing land for mining. She got $3,000 grand as compensation.
Weren’t we supposed to get reparations money from the bauxite companies when they failed to restore the mined-out land to agricultural viability? Where is it?
Let the people living on the spinal column of Jamaica tell us about the nasty, ‘what-lef’ water they get to drink. Talk to them about the sicknesses they endure. Pearnel’s son, the minister of agriculture ought to join in the redemption of food-producing acreage from these “scrapers”. Mining makes food sufficiency a mirage. Government is much too soft with the mining companies. They will let them continue to rape us so as to get the little foreign exchange, much of which we splurge on unsustainable quantities of fossil fuel and lifestyles that make us unhealthy.
The best of the post-Emancipation peasant culture has been rendered unsustainable. Are we so visually and mentally challenged that we refuse to see this truth and instead persuade ourselves it ain’t so and want us to continue our peril like the Gadarene swine?
The announcement of free tuition at HEART/NSTA Trust up to Level Four sounds very progressive. But, wait a minute. Is there data that the inhibiting factor for candidates has been the fees? My experience is that the main reason why trainees do not enrol or when they do, fail to progress beyond levels one and two, is because their foundational education, particularly in language and mathematics, is so weak that they cannot properly manage higher studies. Why not spend the money on improving the COVID-19 aggravated decline in primary and secondary competencies before trying to prop up deficient performance further upstream. Failure to do this is more culpable blindness. Semi-literate associate degree-holders don’t build skilled economies.
I still maintain that the expensive HEART/NSTA Trust training superstructure needs to be re-examined for efficiency, significantly dismantled and the task of training cited in apprenticeship opportunities across the economy with the agency’s remit being reserved for supervision, examining and certifying. Afford the trainees a stipend for faithful participation. Bet you that if we did that, large numbers of those presently outside the labour force would engage.
Give thanks for the increase of the price paid for the labour of probably one half of the Jamaican workforce to $13,000 per week. Employers have predictably begun to bleat. All workers wait to see what will be the take-home figure when previously applicable allowances are collapsed into their salary.
At $1857 gross per day, the minimum wage-earner must feed and clothe themselves and their inevitable dependants, pay for transportation, housing, light, water and phone, tithe and throw pardner. And the NIS pensioners say thanks too, even in their barely relieved hunger.
Can any of my middle- and upper-class readers consider living like that? I pray that the age of miracles is not over because this is the inexorable fate of the working poor and retirees, the cruel reality upon which our economy is premised. God help us if inflation spikes, as it most probably will.
THAT’S A WRAP
This is an excellent public affairs programme. But last week, I yearned for the panellists to show understanding that higher reward without higher or more valuable output from public servants can only come from one source, more taxes. The Budget debate is almost concluded and there has still been no serious discussion inside or outside the legislature, about increasing productivity.
The panellists seem to assume that swift improvement of the condition of the disadvantaged in our society would mean extravagant borrowing. But who is proposing that? A bigger budget is not the issue. The efficient use of the trillion dollars is the key question. The political culture cannot countenance this task. I contend that within existing resources we could afford superior education, health and welfare facilities if we systematically cut out the waste, overlap, the expense of undeserved entitlement and petty corruption which ‘nyams up’ billions of expenditure. Who’s up for zero budgeting now?
Denbigh High School has made important strides in quality over recent years, largely due to inspired leadership. Recent reports indicate their resolve to improve athletic performance. That is good, but only by nurturing their existing students and in the context of exceptional academic and behavioural standards. Please make sure that aspiring to do better at Champs or daCosta Cup does not mean ‘inducing’ (aka bribing) outsiders to enrol. Teaching children that life is about winning at all costs is the worst kind of moral blindness.
Rev Ronald G Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.