Jamaica's Snap Election
Yesterday, Jamaica entered a crucial election period that has nothing to do with either of our major political parties.
Instead, the battle has begun between the PNM and UNC/COP over who will rule Trinidad and Tobago, courtesy of a snap election called by Prime Minister Patrick Manning yesterday.
Last night, this fact was ignored in our television newscasts. This morning, only a single newspaper bothered to mention it in a report lifted verbatim from the news-wires.
Why should Jamaicans care?
Well, we need to remember that the person being elected is also the de facto CEO of some of our most important companies.
And, more importantly, that it appears that the person at the top is likely to change (according to the polls.)
Before getting into who that person might be, let's look at the stake that the Trinidadian government has in Jamaica's economy.
First of all, the Trinidadian government owns Lascelles de Mercado, the second or third largest Jamaican company (depending on how it's measured.) This gives it control over subsidiaries such as J Wray & Nephew, AJAS, Lascelles Division, Federated Pharmaceuticals and Globe Insurance. With this recent acquisition comes ownership of brands such as Magnum, Appleton and Sangster's Rum Cream.
Secondly, it also owns more than 40% of JMMB, our third largest financial institution.
It's influence over these entities may have happened quietly, but its role as the absentee master of Air Jamaica's future has been loudly debated both here in Jamaica and in Trinidad.
Well, to be more accurate, it's hardly been a debate. The governments of both countries have promoted the marriage, while Trinidadians and Jamaicans have fought it tooth and nail.
Now that elections are upon us all, what's the deeply unpopular Patrick Manning likely to do?
Will he defend the equally unpopular Air Jamaica deal as he fights for his political life? Or will he abandon his aspirations to rule the airways of the region, leaving the Government of Jamaica with empty hands?
How much does he value the deal? How much does he care that the IMF is quite likely to hold Jamaica to its promise to get rid of the airline by a certain, non-negotiable date?
Is he willing to take a stand for the Air Jamaica acquisition on a point of principle, and fulfill his part of the bargain?
Trinidadians will tell you, with a laugh, that they know the answer to that question.
Even if he does stick to his guns to fulfill his vision for the barely profitable Caribbean Airlines, what is the opposition likely to do during this election period? Will the leader of the UNC/COP, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, ignore this particular issue that Trinidadians feel so strongly about, and pledge to go ahead with the expansion of Caribbean Airlines?
Or is she more likely to exploit the unpopularity of the deal, and promise to kill it once she gets a chance to become Prime Minister?
Once again, most Trinidadians I know would laugh, and make a joke that they hope that she has the common sense they expect of their leaders... and "kill it dead."
What are we to make of this as Jamaicans?
At the very least, we need to pay attention to the rest of the Caribbean region, so that we can start to learn how to do business with countries that know much more about us, than we know of them.
When we don't pay attention and can't see a big picture that includes what's happening south of Kingston, we end up with rude surprises, such as an IMF-led austerity programme. We also might discover that the charges of corruption in Trinidad being leveled against leaders of the PNM government have some substance to them.
I doubt that the IMF cares who is in power in Trinidad, and whether or not they are corrupt, but... (Hello!!) we MUST.