The other day a friend told me about an engineering job he had been hired to do in India. He was keen on seeing a new part of the world. But the war talk between India and Pakistan was making him think of cancelling his trip. Isn’t it amazing, we laughed, how safe Jamaica seems nowadays?
It might seem astonishing to talk this way about a country which has the world’s third highest murder rate and last year saw a 27% increase in murders to a record 1,130 plus. But this is how a lot of Jamaicans see things these days. At least, they say, we don’t have to be afraid of terrorists attacking us, or psychopaths poisoning our mail. And even after last week’s 100 Lane massacre many people would agree with another friend who keeps telling me that Jamaica is quite a safe place for law abiding citizens.
“Look, I have been here through all the bad times from the 1970s onwards and I have never been afraid to go about my business at any time of night or day. You see 99% of the people that get murdered here were either doing something they were not supposed to be doing or were somewhere they were not supposed to be. Just make sure you and your family don’t get mixed up with drugs or gangs and don’t try to ginnal anyone, and you can walk anywhere and live to a 100!”
Now either Jamaica is a nation of masochists who enjoy suffering or we are just easily pleased, for people here certainly don’t seem as angry with their political masters as the facts suggest they should be. Argentina for example is far richer and safer than Jamaica. Yet fed up with suffering through a five year recession and crooked politicians who piled up huge foreign debts with nothing to show for it, Argentines recently took to the streets and forced their government to resign. Not happy with seeing the same old bunch of cronies presented as a replacement, the people rioted again and started burning the senate while chanting “Thieves! Thieves!”. The message was unequivocal – we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more.
Well Jamaica has also endured half a decade of negative growth while corrupt officials fattened the national debt. But the only thing that seems to warrant mass protests here are no show dancehall artistes. Already the NetServe scandal is being forgotten. Minister Paulwell was apparently right in judging that a compromised opposition would quickly shut up and the whole affair would be a soon forgotten nine day wonder. And the two cousins who cooked up the luscious deals can go back to licking their chops in private. Does anyone think we taxpayers will ever see any of that 182 million dollars again? Talk about bipartisan rape.
Though of course one only talks of rape when a woman is forced to give up her favours. The Jamaican electorate parts so freely with its tax dollars that our politicians have at worst participated in consensual sex. Remember the $2 billion dollar overcharging by the Jamaica Public Service Company a few years back? One would have thought the public would have been irate over having such huge sums stolen directly from its pockets. But everyone was quickly placated by a few promises about rebates. I wonder what happened to those?
An ex-NDM candidate recently moaned to me that most Jamaicans really don’t want to change their corrupt political system, they simply want a bigger piece of the pie. And it’s hard to disagree. Having seen all 60 MPs collude in mortgaging this country’s financial future through FINSAC to save themselves and friends from bankruptcy, one would think that enraged voters would be ready to turf out every single elected representative. Instead they have so unconditionally rejected the NDM that it is now all but dead as a political force. Meaning that the PNP and JLP can continue feeding shamelessly at the public trough, chortling to themselves between slurps that “Dem haffi vote fi one a we!”
Why do Jamaicans settle for such pathetically low levels of public services and tolerate weekly power cuts and daily water lock offs? Personally every time I drive from Mandeville to Montego Bay I spend the entire journey cursing the incompetent crooks responsible for the potholed riddled roads that are an atrocious disgrace by any standards. And I was absolutely astonished recently to hear of a cut back in the planned thickness of asphalt in a recent highway project, an official explaining that “the new level is consistent with that used in roads throughout the island”. A brilliant Clovis cartoon showed a government minister feeling the asphalt and declaring “It too thick! It going to last too long!”.
My first inclination was to rail at the government – can’t the useless morons who decide these things see that the current levels being used are completely inadequate? But the real morons are we tax payers who put up with our ridiculous roads. In fact I continually marvel at what is either the incredibly short sighted stupidity or the indomitably optimistic outlook of my fellow countrymen. Just before Christmas someone came up to me raving that “Bwoy, anybody who drive on the new Old Harbour bypass haffi vote PNP! The road feel sweet!’ Now this new highway is an indictment not an absolution of our politicians. Why can’t every road in Jamaica be of comparable quality? If they can do it there, why can’t they do it everywhere? But our officials have so massively lowered expectations that the least glimmer of adequacy is seen as a reason for celebration.
To be honest writing about Jamaican politics can get pretty boring, because you keep ranting and raving about the same things over and over again. An old newspaper cliché says “The dates and names and faces change, but the stories remain the same”. Well in Jamaica even the names and faces seldom vary. Were not both our Prime Minister and Opposition Leader involved in politics even before we became independent?
By now we should all be “tired fi see dem face”. And my New Year’s wish for Jamaica is for even one Member of Parliament who is not a member of the JLPNP, whether it be from the NDM, UPP, or Joe Fry Fish Party. Because our JLPNP oligarchy will never change their way of doing things until they feel their cushy “You run out I run in” goldmine is under threat.
Naturally our lawfully elected MPs will laughingly dismiss me as an out of touch elitist, arguing that on some basic level the Jamaican electorate must be contented with their quality of governance. For if the JLPNP had been doing that bad a job, wouldn’t voters have gotten rid of them by now and found new parties to run things?

Well, wouldn’t they? changkob@hotmail.com

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