A new year's letter to Santa
You must think it is kind of strange to be getting letters this early in the year. Actually, I started out writing resolutions for a whole set of different people and organisations. (I try to avoid making resolutions for myself, I never keep them anyway). Then I started thinking that they probably don't pay any attention to New Year's resolutions either. So, I decided to write to you.
They say the saint you got your name from was a real miracle worker (he saved women from lives of prostitution and children from slavery). I figure it will take a few miracles and probably the whole year to get me the things on my list. So here goes.
Let's get real about child protection
First, the children. (You knew I was going to start there, didn't you?) Of course, you know about all that happened in 2009, so I won't go over that again (although I must ask you to see if we can get the report of the Armadale enquiry before Christmas 2010!).
Santa, can you please get the people who are always making noise about our children, especially about the children who are in homes and institutions, to be more specific about what is needed? They talk a lot about how badly children are treated but they don't say very much about how to fix the problem (except, of course, to call on 'government' or 'parents' to stop failing in their responsibilities).
For example, do you think you could get them to investigate how much the workers in children's homes are paid and how many hours a day they work? (Since it's mainly women who work in these homes, I suspect they work long hours for low wages). They could throw in an examination of the level and type of training these workers have received. Then they could make some useful recommendations about staffing levels, qualifications and salaries.
While we are on the subject, do you think you could get one of these groups who love to criticise the Child Develop-ment Agency and the Office of the Children's Advocate to take a close look at the resources they have been given to do their work? In fact, if it isn't too much of a strain, I would love to see them do an analysis of the national budget in terms of what percentage of the little bit of money the government has is actually being spent on protecting and improving the well-being of children.
They can ask Dr Michael Witter at University of the West Indies to help them; he has a method for doing this. Then they can educate the rest of us, so we can add our voices to the chorus of those critiquing government spending. Why should only economists, trade union leaders and private-sector bosses have a say about what the Government does with our taxes?
Could you also get the churches which run quite a few children's homes, some of which are not exactly examples of the right and the good, to take a critical look at their own operations? Perhaps they could get more of their members involved and take some of the load off the shoulders of the State. (Of course, many of the professionals in the system will have to learn how to make effective use of volunteers). While we are on the subject of children, do you think you could get me a copy of the current National Youth Policy? I have tried but it's a rather elusive document, so I would appreciate your help.
Poor people deserve more respect
Santa, I know you have a lot of other wish lists to deal with and this next item might be hard to find, but do you think you could find a way to get those in authority to treat poor people with more consideration and respect? It is so obviously lacking in big and small ways.
Take the work being done along the road to the Norman Manley airport, for example. There is a small group of men who have been selling coconuts at the side of the road on the approach to the 'Air Jamaica' roundabout for years. Many weary travellers have quenched their thirst at this spot. The site is kept clean; there are no piles of coconuts husks, empty bottles or other debris.
Did anybody in the City Engineer's Office even think about the effect that constructing a barrier along this stretch of roadway would have on the lives of these men? Of course, somebody is going to tell me that they are protecting the stretch from erosion. But how much would it have cost to have created a lay-by so that we could have allowed these men to continue to earn a decent living, deal with the environmental considerations and not create a traffic hazard? If we are so concerned about the environment, why aren't we pursuing the protection of habitats like the Cockpit Country or the heritage of Falmouth with the same amount of vigour?
Then there is the issue this past week with the vendors outside the market in Ocho Rios. The market is filthy, so they sell on the outside (creating another health hazard). Two wrongs don't make a right, but why wait until a couple of days before a major holiday, a time when these women and men are most likely to make some money, why wait until then to bring in the special constables to clean up the place? You see what I mean about a lack of consideration, Santa?
I don't see the parish council bringing in the wrecking ball and bulldozer when a developer breaks the rules and puts whole buildings where they shouldn't be. I have yet to hear about even one manufacturer being prosecuted or closed down in recent times for discharging untreated effluent into Kingston Harbour or the Black River.
Santa, truth be told, this is the tip of the iceberg. If I can give you just one more example of the problem: that is the way the so-called powers that be seem to think that improving the quality of life of the poor, be they working or unemployed, is mainly about crime prevention. It seems that almost every programme targeting inner-city communities is funded under one anti-crime initiative or another. But how many young people are graduating from the training programmes that are organised and yet are still encountering limited job prospects, despite their excellent performance and the good intentions of the programme organisers?
In another context, in the last 10 years, how many permits have been granted to build yet another hotel with no provision for worker housing, even though one reason for all this expansion is the jobs it will create? Then we act surprised at the explosion of unplanned housing and worry about the threat this will pose to the tourist industry. Of course, no one hears the communities' pleas for improved roads until someone is murdered while trying to navigate the potholes. Not even this yields the desired road repairs, however.
So, Santa, do you think you could somehow rewire these policymakers' and planners' brains so they pay attention to what is happening to the majority of people and not just the same small (other adjectives deleted) group that they usually do?
Well, Santa, you can see why I made up my list early this year. This is going to be a tall order to fill and I haven't included all the things I want. By the way, I don't mind if you don't get it all done in 2010, just show me that you have made a start. That will be enough to keep hope alive. So best wishes and good luck, Santa, I think we will need it.
Peta 'I still believe in miracles'