Fri | Nov 17, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | Riding out disaster

Published:Monday | September 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Every one of us should pause a while to give thanks for being spared from the ravages of the natural disasters that have come so close to us in the past week.

Two or three vicious hurricanes and a massive earthquake in nearby Mexico should jerk us from complacency and remind us of our vulnerability.

More than that, there ought to be an unbearable sense of pity for those who have been devastated and a reaching out to them, no matter our own needs and limitations.

Note the unfailing generosity of the now-suffering Cuban government and people whenever we have been affected.

Don't forget the consistent stream of charity coming from church people in Florida and elsewhere in North America to us through Food For The Poor. Ponder the significance of the Venezuelan aircraft bringing relief to destroyed Barbuda, even before the winds and waves had subsided.

We should use this time of our own reprieve to pause a while and assess our own preparedness for calamity. In Florida, notice the completeness of communication. Citizens have been deluged with information in a direct and calm fashion. So far as we have heard, all the raw partisanship that often scars our polity and theirs has been superseded. Even Trump seems to have been able to get over himself and be helpful rather than obnoxious.

In Cuba, the level of local organisation and the predictability of effective state response always makes up for the modesty of their available resources.

Once Parliament resumes, I intend to ask the minister of finance to tell the nation how much money has been put aside in the Budget for disaster contingency. The public needs to assess whether it is the best we can do to prepare for the inevitable.

The gangs of construction that I have been promoting to replace the gangs of criminality ought to be trained and mobilised to be first responders in any disaster rather than first looters and marauders. My experience in Central Kingston, the fire capital of the country, is that young men are willing to risk themselves heroically in the face of danger and need, once they are effectively led and motivated.

Beyond all this, pause a while and use the moment to check out whether we are really going in a right direction so as not only to be able to cope with the unavoidable natural disasters, but to earn and save enough to be able to recover strongly after a setback. And to do this largely on our own steam rather than depending on the charity of others.

 

FRIGHTENING TRADE GAP

 

How, for example, can we continue to ignore the frightening growth of our trade gap this year? Just think, if Jamaica continues to double the quantity of petroleum products we use - not so much for production of goods and services as for consumption - the value of our dollar must continue to be under pressure. This as our uninformed craze for foreign goods outstrips by a factor of about 5:1 the value of the exports that earn foreign exchange.

More fundamentally yet, use all that is happening around us to realise that we are following an economic model and nurturing a political culture, neither of which can take us where we want and need to go in our time.

Notwithstanding the unpredictability of the weather and the vagaries of natural condition, this past week has given the nation much to be thankful for. Schools appear to have commenced the new academic year reasonably smoothly with a place, however modest, for every Jamaican child. Recalling our own history of exclusion, and even by international comparison, this is no mean achievement.

Observe, too, the much larger number of young people from the lowest quintiles of the population who this year have matriculated for college and university training. Their families have no way to pay the required fees. But not one of the deserving ones should be turned away.

Within the next month, all the tertiary institutions should provide a list of their matriculants who are in financial distress. Government and the nation must then reassess priorities and do all that is possible by way of student jobs, loans and bonded scholarships so that all who are genuine may progress.

Pause a while, too, and confront the clear challenge posed by those, double the number of successful graduates, who are at large, illiterate, unskilled, impatient and hopeless.

There are still those who, in their delusion, refuse to believe the truth about climate change or to heed the forecasts about natural disasters. No less deluded are our governors who bleat about the process to prosperity while International Literacy Day last Friday found us with fully half a million of our people unable to read and compute adequately.

Get real!

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.