Gleaner column of 10/1/18
There was something cruelly symbolic about the gridlock that shut the country down on New Year’s Day. Did it portend an unhappy future where everything slowly ground to a halt and the last person to leave the country couldn’t even reach the airport let alone turn out the lights behind them? What about the key components involved? The spanking new, recently widened airport road, a new year’s beach party, a police force on go-slow one or two of whose members were principals in the company hosting the beach party, the ‘unruly patrons’ who parked their vehicles along the thoroughfare rather than park at the party location, Gunboat Beach or Seventh Harbour where the parking was ample.
Then there was the incredibly resonant name of the party—#Sandz (Kindly leave the em dash alone). The #Sandz of time wait for no man. Could the country be likened unto a castle built on #sandz? A #sandzcastle? Or was it just a patty shop after all? Ladies and gents get your outfits ready and pack your coolers we are going to #Sandz ALL White on January 1…Get a lil #Sandz between your toes on New Years Day at Sandz Caribbean Music… Walk into New Years 2018 with #SandZ the promotional tweets had said.
Meanwhile “#NIGHTECONOMY TIES UP NM INT’L AIRPORT“ read the headline on Diana McCaulay’s new blog, Inroads, on January 2nd. One of the earliest reports on the fiasco, it described the nightmare scenario succinctly. People going to the airport to collect travelers on incoming flights were unable to get there, leaving friends and family stranded for hours. Flight crews and therefore flights were delayed. People missed their flights completely. Others had to walk or pay exorbitant sums to bike men to transport them to the airport with their luggage. And some got there only to find out their flight had been cancelled because the flight crew was stranded somewhere on Palisadoes road.
Talk radio and social media were abuzz with discussions about the likely causes of the Palisadoes gridlock. @Jherane tweeted “Jamaican news is starting to mimic CNN. Hours upon hours of discussing #Sandz. No actual investigation happens, just opinions, “he said, she said”, and I’m left wondering if nothing else is happening in Jamaica.” @TeeOPatra_ captured the absurdity of the situation: “They started to threaten to tow the cars illegally parked at #Sandz but the wrecker was stuck in traffic.”
“Billions of dollars spent to upgrade the Palisadoes road to prevent the airport becoming inaccessible due to a hurricane. But what a hurricane now can’t do, poor governance can,” tweeted the irascible @DamienWKing. Tweeted another: “Am done after this. #Sandz is a mole hill, not a mountain. Plus Mr. Quallo have nuff tings to do other than this. We not like the Japanese police weh a twiddle them thumbs cause crime gone down. Stop it man. Cho!” Police Commissioner Quallo certainly does have more serious things on his plate post-Palisadoes with rumors of his impending departure being bandied about. If only our police had the luxury of twiddling their thumbs.
Meanwhile, the blame game was on in earnest. It was ‘indiscipline at its finest’ and ‘Errant, indisciplined motorists’ and ‘#Sandz unruly patrons’ who were responsible. Others thought the blame lay squarely at the feet of the traffic police who were missing in action. The party promoters it turned out had got all the necessary permits (how is another matter, but do keep in mind that one of them was a policeman himself) so where does the blame lie?
“Sometimes I think the only rules we’re serious about are the ones governing the bare arms of women,” quipped Diana McCaulay pinpointing lack of enforcement of rules as one of the primary culprits in the Palisadoes matter.
It was Deborah Hickling-Gordon who put her finger on the problem in my opinion. According to her policy and operational oversight for elements of the creative economy are dispersed among twelve ministries! Imagine if that were the case with tourism or the financial sector. At what point are Jamaican government and business interests going to wake up to the fact that the new goose laying golden eggs in Jamaica and elsewhere is the entertainment industry and its concomitant creative sector?
Shaggy demonstrates this year after year, yet even now, in 2018, according to Hickling-Gordon, the sector is not a focal point in the Growth Strategy and continues to be treated as incidental. I completely agree with Hickling-Gordon that it is clear that the Gunboat affair was due to regulation gone wrong, or just insufficient governance at many levels. We need to stop scapegoating the Entertainment industry for the failure of regulation to keep up with its growth. What is needed is a drastic revision and rearrangement of the countries’ priorities. That should be the takeaway lesson from the #Sandz fiasco.