Wed | Jul 8, 2020

Mark Wignall | Are we coming in from the cold?

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2020 | 12:08 AM
File photos
Party supporters at the Jamaica Labour Party’s 75th anniversary conference at the National Arena on Sunday, November 18, 2018.
File photos Party supporters at the Jamaica Labour Party’s 75th anniversary conference at the National Arena on Sunday, November 18, 2018.

Bad news has never been palatable. News of tragedy and horror is scarily assimilated because not to do so is to live in a delusionary place of fantasy.

COVID-19 has badly brutalised the global economy, and many countries went into lockdown mode in their efforts to slow the spread, which reached just over 5 million cases and 332,000 deaths at the end of last week.

Jamaica has recorded 529 cases at around 179 cases per million people. The country at the top of all cases worldwide is the United States at 1.6 million, a staggering 95,000 deaths and 4,850 cases per million people.

The collective need to see economies up and running again is beginning to trump the need to attain that perfect curve on the graph. In being impelled to fully open up their economies, many countries are flying blind into the winds not because they believe the time is right to do so but more out of a need to rescue themselves from economic disaster.

EQUITY EQUATION

It’s always thought that radical social and economic shocks brought on by armed conflict, major ‘acts of God’, or financial earthquakes will always carry with them in the recovery phase a realignment of the social classes where the equity equation will give those at the bottom of the society a better deal than they had before.

At the end of WW2, America had the financial might to rebuild not just the physical infrastructure of Japan and countries affected in Europe, but it needed the markets up and running and the people willing and able to buy American goods and services.

The many recessions seen since those times have merely cemented in place more than the notion that recessions are tailor-made for the very wealthy and the billionaire class.

In all of the concerns that our politicians have openly expressed for the economic plight of Jamaicans most affected by the fallout caused by COVID-19, never fool yourself into the belief that politics is never on their minds.

Once the reality of COVID-19 dawned in the earlier part of this year and we were unable to draft a plan to repatriate Jamaicans living in the epicentre in Wuhan, China, it was always known that containing local spread once it touched our shores was always going to be easier than dealing with fairly large batches of Jamaicans wanting to return home, especially those working on cruise ships.

In this, the prime minister and the health and wellness minister have been at their most vulnerable, and this has given the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) reason to criticise them loudly.

At this stage, one would believe that political points scoring is not on the agenda of items in the PNP’s arsenal, but I see differently. Let us think of what appears to be the reality facing both the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition PNP.

There will be no election this year, especially if the forced gamble on opening up results in the consequences of a flurry of new cases of the viral infection between June and September. Should that happen, all of the country will be worse off, and all thoughts of elections will be thrown well into the middle of next year.

At this time, I suspect that the JLP has not lost any valuable points in terms of how that party is being judged by the voting public. Certainly, the longer the election is delayed from the early part of 2021 towards the middle of that year, the better the PNP’s chance of clutching at an electoral rejuvenation.

We are effectively into the hurricane season, and that part of the gamble has to be thrown into the mix. But even if the country comes out unscathed and is hurricane-free for 2020, there will be the reality of the drying up of private-sector funds in the coffers of both political parties.

The ruling JLP administration will have now designed its new campaign messaging that includes its big welfare package in assisting those who had lost earnings during the partial lockdown. And it will also earn additional points for the reopening of bars, even as those very bars have been struggling in getting its patrons to abide by the protocols.

“If dem shut wi dung again, we gwine tek to the streets,” said a bar operator to me last Thursday. “Enough is enough. No COVID-19 round ya so.”

It has always been thought by the man and woman at street level that big private-sector interests can never run out of funds and that their pockets are deeper than sinkholes. On that basis, many believe that at the next elections, those with the deepest pockets will line up behind the JLP and fund it without too many complaints.

GOVERNMENT’S OVERALL HANDLING

“There are some really solid companies in this country, and from where I sit, those are looking favourably at the JLP,” said a friend of mine, a veteran lawyer. As we spoke last Thursday, he said, “On top of that, they will have viewed that Government’s overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis and are more likely to give it a passing grade than handing out a D minus.

“Plus, I cannot see what the PNP has done throughout all of the last five months to have increased its stocks among the general electorate and the big-money class. Both Peter Phillips and the PNP need something big to cause them to move the meter favourably.”

For now, all eyes will be on this new reopening. Many small-business interests are anxious to reopen.

“Mark, part of the economy can’t open and part close. If my bar open and the patrons have no money, I will suffer,” said an acquaintance of mine last week.

In similar fashion, Jamaica needs the American economy to bring its COVID-19 crisis to a state that will make the full reopening of our tourist industry a reality.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.