Disclaimer: This week is a commentary (mini rant) on the current socio-political and economic state of Jamaica. Non-Jamaicans may not care or understand and that’s OK. But I need to say this because the way things are have me feeling quite unsettled.
On Thursday February 25, 2016, Jamaicans will vote in the 17th general parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced the date of the general election on January 31. Since PM Simpson Miller’s announcement, my country has been in a frenzy of shower-power and green vs orange. Nomination day was last Tuesday, February 9. The ruling People’s National Party (PNP) declared last week that its candidates would not participate in any political debates, after the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), labelled the Prime Minister, a “con artist.” Jamaican political campaigns have always been fraught with crass and spiteful gabs at the politicians’ personal lives or flaws and hardly ever, has the campaign been about policies and programmes.
Last general elections, in December 2011, the campaigns were built around grandiose promises of jobs, jobs and more jobs. And I can understand the pull that such promises have, because so many persons ― young, old, middle-aged and in between ― are unemployed and underemployed. In 2015 unemployment rate was 13.5 % with youth unemployment at 38%.
Presently, Jamaica is performing well at the macroeconomic level, everyone says so. The Government officials tout proudly their fiscal prudence and responsibility through passing the ten International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) reviews to date. And it is expected that the country will pass the 11th quarterly review that is due in March. In 2014 and 2015, Jamaica was listed in the United States of America based business magazine, Forbes, as the best Caribbean country to do business in. (Jamaica as far as I know, has always been warm and welcoming to direct foreign currency investment, foreign businesses and tourists). Just last week, American statistical ratings organisation, Fitch upgraded Jamaica’s credit ratings to “B” from a “B-” and deemed the financial future to be “positive.”
All this sounds positively marvellous. But on the ground and in my pocket, not so much. The current USD: JMD exchange rate is roughly USD 1: JMD 120. And the largest JMD currency note, the $5000 can hardly cover weekly food expenses for two persons. This democracy, as far as I have experienced it, is nothing but a game, wherein, we are all considered and invited to play, but the politicians are the only ones who can ever win.
The PNP are urging Jamaicans to “stay the course” on their road to stability and prosperity, while, the JLP are promising prosperity plans that appears to be nothing short of a scheme that at some point, the bottom will fall out. And then there are the independent candidates, who are simply quacks and jokers. The independent candidates only pop up after the election dates have been announced. But these passionate independent messiahs are never around in the years in between votes, they show no interest in the communities, they seek to serve and represent. They never meet, plan, lobby for or work on behalf of these communities.
The truth is, I am an undecided voter. In my home community in St. Mary, the political constituency boundaries are so ridiculously constructed, that I live in one constituency and my neighbour directly across the street is in another. This absurdity has existed for as long as I can remember and the lack of any development is evident from whichever side of the road or political divide you fall into. Rural Jamaica is plagued with deteriorating infrastructures, shrinking pools of businesses, high unemployment and next to nothing in direct investments. I have never voted. I have been eligible to vote in two elections so far, 2007 and 2011. This time around, I want to participate but I am underwhelmed by the options I see.
I have no interest in voting strictly along party-lines, I need to see, hear and believe in actual detailed programmes that will benefit me, my family and my community. I want to be within a space where genuine growth on the micro level is happening and is truly felt. I want to see community cooperatives, small businesses, social entrepreneurship endeavours, blossom and flourish. I want my Jamaica, my island home, to be a place where it is possible to work passionately, honestly, creatively and thrive.