Is prosperity becoming a dirty word?
The Jamaica Labor Party won the 2016 general election with a message of prosperity.
As early as 2016, the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) led by Andrew Holness adopted as one of its main election slogans the mantra “from poverty to prosperity”. Until then, the People’s National Party (PNP), through its Finance and Planning Minister, Dr Peter Phillips, had sought to convince the nation that it needed a new disciplined fiscal management – tightening our belts – to ensure that we could finally say goodbye to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and stand on our own two feet. Essentially charting a positive path to economic independence, which has eluded us since 1962.
Clearly, this was a case of “mission accomplished” as the Jamaican macro economy was showing great progress and moving in the right direction, so much so that the gleaner had declared the astute minister Man of the Year for 2015 due to what was considered an achievement.
However, the country, especially the working class and the marginalized, including the middle class, had to bite the bullet in many cases for Dr. Phillips to achieve his magnum opus.
It was in this context that Andrew Holness deftly set out to burst Dr Phillips’ bubble by shifting the narrative to one that not only sought to instil hope and fiscal prudence, but the JLP leader went on to describe what he called a prosperity program. Like one of his predecessors and mentors, Edward Seaga, he became convinced that it takes money to care and that “money has to jingle in the pocket”. After all, being successful means succeeding or prospering, especially financially.
Well, despite a very short election victory in 2016, the JLP leader’s message seemed to have worked, and so he carried that same theme into the 2020 general election which saw the PNP routed and temporarily sidetracked. political wasteland. Indeed, Holness continued to sing as he did at the time: “The Jamaica Labor Party is serious about growing the economy and creating jobs. We have the Prosperity Plan to grow the economy, create real jobs and improve your lives.
Fast forward to 2022 and, despite not introducing new taxes for several consecutive years, bringing unemployment figures down in the most impressive way, not least due to a booming tourism industry and ‘a booming and expanding business processing sector, things have gone bump, so much so that some JLP critics are now alluding to this popular song from the turbulent 70s, Everything crashes, when just about every government entity went on strike or slowed down. And we have seen a wave of industrial action unfold, and more to come, as the ongoing unrest among workers grows. In this vein, “prosperity” for many disgruntled Jamaicans is quickly becoming a dirty word.
Indeed, this scenario recalls the first paragraph of the famous novel by Charles Dickens A tale of two citieswho says: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of madness, it was the age of belief, it was the time of unbelief, it was the time the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything in front of us, we were all going straight to Heaven, we were all going straight the other way — in short, the period was so similar to the present period, that some of its most vocal authorities insisted that it be received , for good or ill, to the superlative degree of comparison only.
Since the start of 2022, working class Jamaicans have seen their purchasing power sharply reduced due to rising prices for fuel, electricity, food, transport, etc.
Political pundits of the time explained the situation thus: “It is 1775, and life in England and France (London and Paris) seems paradoxically the best and the worst it can be. The rulers and ruling classes of both countries may be having the best of life, but they are disconnected from ordinary people and believe the status quo will continue forever.
“In France, inflation is out of control and an oppressive social system translates into intolerable and extreme injustices committed against average citizens who believe they have the worst of life. The breaking point – riot rebellion – is near, and the people of France are secretly but steadily moving towards revolution. Is this likely to happen in Jamaica? After all, there’s that well-worn French phrase, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Let’s face it, things are going from bad to worse. Indeed, everywhere we turn “macka jook you”.
People in general are shaken by the high prices of fuel, electricity, food, transport and in just about every sphere of their lives. Then there are murders, an increase of nearly five percent over last year; the frequent road accidents caused by the gross indiscipline and negligence of many drivers; a creaky healthcare system that could crumble if the current spike in COVID-19 cases spirals out of control; plus a general feeling of hopelessness which led to a lot of hopelessness, mental stress, anxiety and depression.
This writer isn’t trying to be a doomsayer, but “things don’t look pretty,” and well, it’s been said that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. In that vein, it’s fair to say that the Holness administration means well and is trying to heal the wounds and make things work, but its messages and, in some cases, its posture have gone awry, further compounded by his excessive obsession. with his prosperity mantra running counter to John Public who is far from enjoying a prosperous life. In essence, therefore, this could well be a classic case of Nero playing the violin while Rome burns, or is it “the rooster’s mouth kills the rooster”?
Meanwhile, the reclassification exercise which sparked much outcry and discontent among government employees has left the well-meaning and studious Minister of Finance and Civil Service, Dr Nigel Clarke, in some stalemate, as his seemingly detached attitude (a characteristic of the most competent accountants) has not gone down well with many disgruntled workers who interpret it, and perhaps mistakenly, as arrogance and indifference.
In this context, the government must go back and come back. To begin with, he must infuse himself with a good dose of emotional intelligence. This author strongly recommends that Prime Minister Holness and his finance minister expert, Dr Clarke, obtain copies of the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jan Greaves. Its introduction states that “In today’s world characterized by a competitive work environment and turbulent economic conditions, each of us is looking for effective tools that can help manage, adapt and lead the pack.” A word to the wise is enough.
In the meantime, the powerful question remains: where is prosperity going? Well, that’s a multi-million dollar question.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in the Jamaican media for 45 years. He was also a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from West Jamaica where he is known as the Governor. Send your comments to the Jamaica Observer or to [email protected]