Tue | Apr 20, 2021

Peter Espeut | Planning for indiscipline

Published:Friday | March 5, 2021 | 12:06 AM
In this April, 2020 photo, long lines are seen in Pavilion Mall, Half-Way Tree, as people waited to collect their compassionate care grant paid out by the Government from a Western Union branch. A year on, Jamaica is grappling with increasing number of COV
In this April, 2020 photo, long lines are seen in Pavilion Mall, Half-Way Tree, as people waited to collect their compassionate care grant paid out by the Government from a Western Union branch. A year on, Jamaica is grappling with increasing number of COVID-19 cases, and one of the reasons for this spike is attributed to indiscipline and the failure to adhere to the protocols in public.

I am sure that psychologists and sociologists like myself have legions of reasons for the undisciplined behaviour of many of us Jamaicans. One theory might be that the inequality woven into the fabric of Jamaican society forces people to cut corners to survive.

Schools with low educational outcomes produce poor readers, who have to bribe government officials to obtain drivers’ licences (being able to read English is a requirement to obtain one).

Bus and taxi drivers who have to pay vehicle owners their daily rental before they begin to earn something for themselves, have to break lines of traffic – and red traffic lights – to hustle to make just one more trip to earn that extra dollar. Packing the passengers in is not only illegal, but in these COVID-19 times can make public transportation into a superspreader.

In the best of times, to get where they are going (maybe to work), commuters must push others out of the way as they scramble on to buses which arrive too infrequently and have too few seats to accommodate the travelling public (elsewhere in the world, commuters line up as they await the bus). Aside from the lack of civility, these close encounters can be COVID-19 superspreaders.

Good public order requires vendors to pay a fee and occupy a stall in a public market; but volume of sales is related to location, and so many sellers prefer to be itinerant, or to set up on the sidewalk in front of stores frequented by shoppers wishing to purchase what they sell; usually they can undersell the merchants, who have high overheads in rent, staff and utilities. Good vending space is limited, and the proximity of sellers to each other, as well as the competition for customers, can turn public markets and arcades into COVID-19 superspreaders.

BREAKING THE LINE

After a while, breaking lines at fast-food joints and at the bank becomes second nature as people hustle to complete their business so they can get on with other things. Jostling in lines for service, with people elbowing past one another, can become a superspreader.

All of this may partially explain the explosion of COVID-19 cases during this present surge.

Those less able to push and shove will inevitably be disadvantaged, and may even get injured (and/or infected) in this ‘every man/woman for him/herself’ scenario. Because everyone knows that indiscipline is rife in Jamaica, those in authority must make clear arrangements to counter it in their public areas, and to assist those must vulnerable (e.g., the aged, the disabled) to safely get on with their business with their bodily integrity and their health intact. Making an assumption that people will behave in a disciplined manner is irresponsible, and can cause unnecessary morbidity and mortality.

Will the Government adequately plan for the line-skipping and influence-buying that will take place when the anti-COVID vaccines are being distributed? Impress me!

I am at the age where I value the facility some entities offer of a senior citizens’ line; numbers are given and widely spaced seating is provided so that the inevitable wait is spent in comfort and promotes good public health.

Recently, my branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS) in Liguanea discontinued its senior citizens’ line without explanation. It also discontinued issuing numbers to those waiting outside. Our self-policed social-distanced line of mixed ages snaked around the building, and we stood in the sun and waited for three hours to get to the door; very few chairs were provided.

RIGHT TO GO TO THE BANK

As we turned the corner, we observed numbers of persons being let into the bank without having to wait in line. A friend who received this benefit advised me that if I paid a certain monthly sum to the bank, I could do the same.

I made a lot of noise, and the assistant manager was summoned; she advised me to try online banking. When I eventually got inside, the teller asked me whether I had considered online banking.

I get the message!

I have been banking at that branch since I was five years old – from when it was located across the street under the guango tree. I believe I have a right to attend my bank to conduct my business; besides, not everything can be done online.

Even when the Liguanea BNS had a senior citizens’ line, often there was no dedicated teller, leading to inordinately long waiting periods. Complaining makes no difference.

I consider that it is this indiscipline by people at the top, which matches the indiscipline from below, which makes living, working, and doing business in Jamaica so difficult.

Maybe it just has to do with inequality, which is woven into the fabric of Jamaica’s society.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.