Monday, April 20, 2009

WASTE IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE

As the economic crunch starts to set in, everyone is becoming far more aware of the need for government to cut waste and become lean and mean.Unfortunately, when most people talk about cutting down on the bloated bureaucracy, they tend to think of Central government. However, the reality is that employment in central government is mainly concentrated in security, health and education, all of which are understaffed if we are to believe the figures.

Quite frankly, I think where we can cut expenditure is in the area local government, statutory bodies, government companies and fringe agencies.

For really, what does a small country with less than three million people need thirteen parish councils and thirteen mayors for? Heck man, we have enough politicians to give pensions to without adding another thirteen layers of government. Why not move to Country Councils as has been proposed for decades?

And has the prime minister in his so-called quest to change course instructed his many minister to take a hard look at the number of statutory bodies and departments that proliferate in their ministries with a view to merging those that overlap and phasing out those that no serve no useful purpose.

For example,has anyone really noticed how many different agencies there are that are supposed to look about the welfare of children? (while the children perish!) Are they all serving useful function or just tripping over each other?

How many of the agencies now in operation able to only pay rent and staff and have nothing left for operation? So obviously they are not carrying out their mandate so isn't obvious that we can do without them?

The last figure I heard concerning statutory bodies and agencies was in excess of 300. How many are really functioning in the interest of taxpayers as opposed to creating employment opportunities for persons with political contacts?

Also, when an agency is no longer relevant, why not phase it out? The Rent Board comes quickly to mind for it was set up in the days when free enterprise was a bad word and their function was to deal with "wicked Landlords". They effectively crippled the low cost rental market, leaving the few landlords in that category to be freely fleeced by "wicked tenants". As we evolve into a market economy, surely the issue of rent should be left to private contracts between landlord and tenant?

Another agency whose usefulness one has to wonder about is the Fair Trading Commission. As I understand it, their core function had to been to deal with false advertisement. I took them at their word once and reported a case where the product did not match up to the promise. Guess what, they sent me a very expensive looking brochure outlining their functions (one of which was to do with false advertising) and told me to refer my complaint to the Consumer Affairs Commission. Now that is one excellently run government agency . The public would be far better served if the Fair Trading Commission was phased out and half the budget given to the Consumer Commission!

I am sure that everyone who reads this could come up with their own recommendations about several government agencies which are either overlapping or downright irrelevant.This is the type of analysis that expected from a government intent on "changing course" and giving taxpayers a break.need to be done in an effort to cut government expenditure, but i guess I should not hold my breath that any such exercise will ever take place, for I guess they too are required to provide "jobs for the boys" (and girls).As to the issue of having to go through fourteen different agencies to do a basic sub division of land. I go no further.!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

WHERE IS THE CHANGE OF COURSE?

While the government is calling on everyone to tighten our belts in light of the current international financial meltdown, the question begs, what are individual Ministries doing to ensure that taxpayers get value for money?

Ever since the Public Works Department (PWD) was replaced by the National Works Agency (NWA) some years ago, the new entity has been nothing but a millstone around the necks of taxpayers because they forever refuse to take the cheaper route of maintaining the infrastructure, instead opting to dig money out of taxpayers and increase the national debt by having to rebuild when the unnecessary damage caused by the neglect, is done. Of course when the huge contracts are given out, what follows is the nebulous and perennial “cost overruns” which taxpayers must hug up but for which we can never get a proper explanation.

I am now getting a bird’s eye view of how this agency continues to sink taxpayer deeper and deeper into the mire, despite the Golding’s administration’s promise to change course.

For despite numerous calls last year to the NWA about the deterioration of the floor of the section of the Sandy Gully that runs between Constant Spring Road and Upper Waterloo Road, nothing was done, so naturally Gustav created mayhem.

The result is that the country has been forced by the same NWA and Ministry of Works which had no money to do minor repairs, to fork out millions of dollars more to repair the damage done because of their neglect.

The repairs in this section started in the beginning of February this year and we are told they would complete the small project by the end of the month. The drought conditions made the timetable feasible, but that is assuming that they would get sub-contractors who have a track record of performance. For example, the ability to one start one section, finish it and move to the next!

Instead what that have done is to dig up the entire stretch and leave it untouched for weeks at a time. I can see no other reason for this type of performance except to accumulate cost over runs!

Now, for all intents and purposes, the project seems to have been abandoned mid stream and the gully is in the worse state I have ever seen it in my 27 years of living in the area. For it is now blocked by dirt and garbage. With the water being unable to run freely, stagnant water is being accumulated leading to an infestation of mosquito’s and rats. And lest you dear readers think this is a local problem, it is all of us who will have to hug up the huge cost overruns if the project ever gets moving again as well as possible health costs that will arise as a result of the infestation..

The questions I would like to ask the Minister of Transport and Works are:

a) How does the NWA choose sub-contractors, is it on the basis of their ability to, perform or what they can do for politicians? (I saw a report in the press that the sub contractor (Surrey Paving) is building a airline maintenance school in the constituency of the Minister! According to the news, surrey Paving was doing this free of charge, but who is you think is paying for it?)

2) Does the NWA not put performance clauses in their contracts or are such ideas alien to that agency?

3) Does the Ministry have a time table to change course and make the NWA into an effective agency instead of a drain on the beleaguered taxpayer? If yes, why is there no move to make them into a useful entity that maintains the infrastructure and effectively monitor the contracts that they so freely award?

4)How much “cost over runs” have taxpayers so far accumulated on the repairs of the Sandy Gully?

And I am wondering out loud if the Member of Parliament Mr. Delroy Chuck is happy with the level of work being done in his constituency! And I don’t suppose the opposition has a live spokesperson who monitors the performance of this government ministry!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

REGGAE FALLS, ST. THOMAS, JAMAICA




On Easter Monday, 13th April 2009, "Fun and Thrills" organised a family fun day at Reggae Falls (called Dam Head by the local folk) in St. Thomas in the form of a not too difficult ride and picnic. As usual, we planned to leave at 6.30 am and as usual, everyone except Donna, Andrew and Joan were late. Anyway, that's the way we run tings in Ja! However we were all on top of the world as we set out to have a wonderful ride and picnic by the river.

We drove for about an hour to the outskirts of Morant Bay where we started the nine mile ride through Seaforth and near the famous Stony Gut to Reggae Falls. Young Blair Henry was a new recruit,but she rode a good 5 miles before the sun did her in. The veteran Tashna took a spill while riding through a dry river bed just as we passed the district of Hillside and although adequately attended to by nurse Betty, packed it in.

It was a wonderfully scenic ride as the view of the valley is absolutely breathtaking as are the mountains surrounding Reggae Falls. Unfortunately we have been having a prolonged drought island wide so the surrounding hills were not as green as I remembered them, neither were the falls as robust as when the river is really roaring, but the water was invigorating.

Reggae Falls, is not a natural water fall but in fact the water from the Johnson River was dammed many many years ago to make a hydro electric station. No one can tell me why it was abandoned, but I did learn that in the 1980's there was talk of resuscitating the power generating system but for some reason it did not happen (I guess oil price was too low!).

However these scenic and magnificent falls and and rapidly flowing river now provide another excellent place for us God blessed Jamaicans to hang out and have a wonderful time. Yes we did and unlike last year when we had to abort the picnic because Chadwick, (a neighbour of mine) dived off a rock and broke his jawbone, this time it was accident free and wonderful.

See the pictures at;
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=102612&id=763366822&saved

Monday, April 6, 2009

A MEMORABLE RIDE FROM KINGSTON TO MONTEGO BAY


By God they did it!

When some crazies(aka. MTR....mad to rass) from “Fun and Thrills” (our esteemed riding club)decided that they wanted to ride all the way from Kingston capital to Montego Bay city, a distance of over 100 miles, I scoffed at the idea.. Amazingly however, some fourteen crazies said they would participate in that ride. Those of us who hate the burning sun said we would ride until it got hot, using markers such as Manor Park or Port Maria as their goals. However, Howie, Michael, John, Heather and Damit decided that come hell or high water, they were riding the almost the 120 mile distance.

I actually started to invite bets privately with friends outside of the club, banking on no one completing the trip. One of my friends who had no respect for the stamina of our club members, actually took up the bet, putting $500 down that no one would complete the trip, so in defense of my colleagues, I changed my bet, greatly perturbed that I was going to become $500 poorer!(My biggest problem in life is that I can never collect from my cheap-stake friends when I win but I guess they have the same complaint about me!)

Well on Saturday April 4th, 2009, the courageous sixteen set out on bicycles at 5.15 am (half hour later than planned.) The ambitious souls were-Howie ,Michael, Damit, Charles, Sasheena, John , Joan, Heather, Orel, Donna and Olivia… a visitor from the US of A who participates in professional riding on the flat plains of Florida. Problem, Jamaica is not flat, so the trip proved a challenge for her but she took a stab at it. Driving in front of and at the back of the group, with their hazard lights on to shield us from impatient motorists, were Mr. Rhoden, Betty accompanied by Winston, Shari and David.

The route selected was not the traditional route via St. Catherine and up Mount Rosser, but rather up Stony Hill, over the Junction and on to the new highway from
Agualta Vale in St. Mary to Montego via the parishes of St. Ann, and Trelawny .

That was an absolutely wise decision as the Stony Hill to Agualta Vale route via Castleton Gardens is one of the most scenic routes in Jamaica, with lush valley, mist covered mountains and the long Wag Water River with its humungous rocks, flowing lazily in the valley below. The early morning ride to Agualta Vale was absolutely marvelous, though to weak blooded persons like me, a bit chilly at times.

Well, despite Donna setting a low goal for herself, that being to ride to Manor Park, she made it to Agualta Vale in St. Mary which is some 26 miles from Kingston, though she did get off the bicycle from time to time and drive.

I had decided to surpass my previous long distance record of 37 miles by trying to make it to Port Maria, but after refueling at Agualta Vale, I could not stand the hot boiling sun, while air conditioned vehicles were available to drive along in, so I ducked out there.

Charles and Sasheena outdid me, riding valiantly to Port Maria in the boiling sun and Betty then gave up the cool air-conditioned comfort of the Prado to join the ride there. She rode to Ocho Rios.

As we drove along in the air conditioned comfort of our vehicles watching the sun getting fiercer and fiercer, we kept saying the rest would never make it to Montego Bay. But they plodded, re-hydrated, fixed punctures, changed bicycles when some became disabled and rested occasionally.

Would you believe that Orel made it to Greenwood at the border of St. James and Trelawny? According to him, when he arrived at Greenwood, he realised that was where our hotel was and was only too happy to throw in the towel for a dip in the sea. Heather was nearby and he tried to tempt her, but she replied "I left to got to Montego May and that's where I am going"....and she did. Her husband John who was far behind her, said that when he reached Falmouth in Trelawny and saw a sign saying Montego Bay 23 kilometers, he wanted to quit but soldiered on looking for his wife. That's the only reason why he rode all the way to made it to Montego Bay he said.

As to Damit, from we left Hope Pastures, he took off like the Green Lantern in his blue shirt and I never saw him again until we caught up with him when he got a puncture in Trelawny. He had actually had a spill and hurt his hand in St. Ann, but before we got there, he again took off like a light, determined to complete the ride to Montego Bay,(which he had initiated, by the way) and he did. He is also full of praises for two motorists who stopped to enquire about his health while he was taking a nap. He said he had a puncture and while waiting for those who had a tool kit to catch him up, he fell asleep (Damit falls asleep at the drop of a pin!). He said he was awakened at one point by the screeching a car brakes and the sound of a car reversing. Knowing our reputation (he is from Sri Lanka), he was a bit apprehensive, but the motorist simply wanted to know if he was hurt, as did the other who stopped.

The stars who made it all the way were Michael, Howie, Damit and John along with the lone heroine, Heather. All rode proudly on to the Montego Bay Hip Strip at about 8 pm on Saturday night.

Had someone told me that we had members who had attained that level of fitness to complete that harrowing journey, I would have laughed (and I did secretly while telling non-riding friends of mine of the mission impossible that "Fun and Thrills” members were planning.)

It was a wonderful feat as far as our club goes and it now appears that the sky is the limit!(Those who refer to us as the "Ring Road Posse" have to eat their words!

Unfortunately the group broke up on Saturday night as some persons had to get back to Kingston but six of us stayed back, determined that we wanted some real fun ….going to the beach on Sunday.

To tek shame outta mi yeyeas we say in Ja., I decided to ride from the hotel in Greenwood, St. James next day to Silver Sands in Trelawny, where we were going to swim. Donna, myself and amazingly, Michael (who had ridden over 100 miles the day before) set out and whereas Donna had challenges with the sun and made the wise choice of air conditioned comfort, we rode against the breeze to the famed resort where we happily plunged into the warm sea bringing to a pleasant end another wonderful expedition.

Each time we finish a trip, we have to heap praises on Howie who had taken the decision about two years ago to acquire a vehicle that could transport the cycles after we have finished riding. If he hadn’t you would see us on the road sides with our bicycles, bumming rides from all and sundry, after tedious and challenging rides out into the beautiful countryside, from which we need weeks of rest to recover.

Look at some photos from this challenging ride at;
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=100683&id=763366822&saved

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

DO THEY DESERVE A PENSION?

According to a recent report in the Jamaica Observer, a number of former politicians are living in virtual poverty as sickness and poor pensions make it impossible for them to meet their very basic obligations.
If that article was meant to cause us to feel sorry for our politicians, it hasn’t. For the simple fact is, we have too many reasons not to think very highly of politicians. The first has to do with their actions over the many of our indsependence, which have contributed to Jamaica becoming a murder capital in the world, if not the first in terms of the per capita murders committed, certainly among the top three.
This is a direct spin-off from the actions of those politicians who in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and probably to some extent even now, armed poor, uneducated, inner city young men with guns to kill and intimidate their political opponents. Naturally, we have concluded that if politicians are willing to commit murder and arson and indeed ANYTHING (as the chairman of the Peoples National Party (PNP) said) to gain power, then the prize must indeed be great. The ANYTHING was again demonstrated recently with what has come to be known as the dual-citizenship issue. The amazing thing about Jamaican politicians also is their brazenness. This was so crassly demonstrated in parliament last week by Jamaica’s first female prime and current Leader do the Opposition Portia Simpson Miller. According to reports, Ms. Miller went to Parliament and declared "I have said to the country over and over that this side will not take power unless it is by way of the ballot.” This statement was made in reply to the Prime Minister’s accusation that the PNP was taking Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members to court to try and get seats in parliament on the basis that some of those elected had dual citizenships with countries not allowed under the Constitution. (The strange thing is that while the PNP is challenging the illegibility of some JLP MP’s, they too have at least two members of parliament on their benches who would be disqualified on the same grounds!) However, while denying that the PNP was using the courts to foist person’s rejected by electors on them, Mrs. Simpson told a blatant lie. For that is what the case by the PNP via Abe Dabdoud had been all about. For readers will recall that in the first instance, the Chief Justice had ruled that Vaz was ineligible based on his dual citizenship but the seat should not be automatically turned over to the PNP but a by-election should be called. DABDOUD THEN WENT TO THE COURT OF APPEAL CONTENDING THAT THE SEAT SHOULD BE AWARDED TO HIM (THE PNP ) WITHOUT A BY-ELECTION!

How then could less than a week after the by-election, a big “Christian”, a former prime minister and current Leader Of the Opposition, have the gall to declare in parliament, "I have said to the country over and over that this side will not take power unless it is by way of the ballot?”

I suppose I am being naive in expecting better since at her inauguration Portia said she would work to eliminate corruption, but less than 2 years later the party that she leads accepted $30 million from Trafigura, a company which was trying to have its contract renewed to lift oil from Nigeria, without being able to give a plausible explanation why Trafigura gave their party the $30 million in the period leading up to the general election of 2007!)


Anyway we do not only get bad impressions about our politicians from how we see them operate as a lot of what happens in Jamaican politics is done under cover. However,their own colleagues fill the gaps, for when you listen to things they say on and off the platforms about their opponents, you would not be incorrect in concluding that there is no such thing as a decent Jamaican politician!

Importantly too, it is because of the devious, corrupt and incompetent activities of our politicians why this well endowed paradise has become one of the most impoverished nations in the former West Indies, only being outdone by Guyana.

Yes, I guess there have been honest, hardworking decent politicians. The problem is, we have no way of knowing which of the politicians that have actually been in office over the years were “decent" for the legacy they have left us since independence is so rotten.

So forgive me if I can’t feel sorry for politicians and am even cynical about the report that some are living in poverty.
In fact, in my mind,the real question is, do they deserve a pension at all?