By the time most people reach this end of the year they don’t want to waste time thinking about our dysfunctional institutions or diabolical politicians; they just want to commit themselves to the pleasures of the season (presuming, of course, they have access to at least some wherewithal to enable them to do so). If they have any inclination at all to reflect on the year gone by, they will be hard put to it to identify anything much that’s cheerful which it brought in its train. The problem is that 2017 was simply not a good year, not least of all for the sugar workers.
Of course, much of the population is not naïve; they have the measure of their politicians: all mouth and no substance. And that applies across the board, no matter what the party affiliation happens to be. As a consequence, citizens have long had no great expectations where the political dimension of our little world is concerned; the problem is that that dimension intrudes into so many aspects of everyone’s activities. In addition, the large issues like oil and the economy seem far removed from their power to do anything about. However, they have perhaps harboured a few hesitant hopes in relation to the quality of their lives in a narrower sense.
People have wanted a more orderly, rule-governed existence for a long time. Let us forget about those in the public service for the time being, but are those who serve us in the private sector polite, considerate and helpful? There are some who are, no doubt, but in a general sense things have not changed much. Service is still not a concept much in evidence in this society.
And what about noise nuisance, an age-old complaint concerning which we have carried innumerable letters over the years? That seems worse than ever. Every little rum shop, not to mention private citizen either in their home or driving a car or pushing a music cart believes they have the right to blast their neighbours and anyone passing with noise levels that would be unthinkable in any other jurisdiction. The problem at least in part seems to be that the police themselves do not seem to recognize noise nuisance when they hear it, perhaps in some instances because their preferences and those of the offenders coincide. Many individuals do not believe that they have to take into account anyone else when they decide to inflict their tastes on the surrounding community. If their freedom is expanded dramatically because they are allowed to do what they feel like, by the same token the freedom of everyone else is significantly reduced.
The matter of noise nuisance is not the only environmental problem citizens have to face. People have to tolerate all kinds of factory or workshop operations in residential urban areas, and even chicken farms in the streets of some villages. In the capital city in particular, the Mayor& City Council long ago abandoned adherence to the zoning regulations, and has indicated no inclination to reinstitute them.
But then the city council is responsible for a big slice of our quality of life. Certainly, the capital is a lot cleaner than it used to be under the previous administration of the inimitable Ms Carol Sooba, but it is still not as clean as it should be in some areas and certainly not as pristine as it was when the central government leant its heft in 2015. As in every other department, maintenance is the problem with the M&CC, as is clear from the refuse still clogging some of the canals. We escaped another of those huge garbage dramas a few weeks ago, courtesy of the Ministry of Communities which paid the council’s debts to the contractors, but everyone is holding their breath to see how the city authorities are going to manage next year’s rubbish disposal.
We have not, it is true, been quite the victims of the perennial flooding which has assailed us in the past, but one suspects that that has less to do with the maintenance efforts of the city council, than the fact that we have not had the levels of rainfall this year that were visited on us previously. The little that can be observed is that when it has rained heavily, if briefly, the water appears to have drained off fairly quickly. With a truly unrelenting inundation, however, we would soon find out whether the management at City Hall has kept the kokers operational, has cleared the trenches and drains and has worked to ensure the water is kept flowing in the canals. No one wants to hear any more excuses if it is found wanting.
But there is one issue in relation to our representatives who cluster around the horseshoe table that should give citizens a smug feeling as they toss back their favourite tipple tomorrow: it is the matter of the parking meters. Never mind that City Hall is still contemplating a rearguard action in the courts after NBS won the recent case in relation to the associated bye-laws, the demonstration of people power earlier this year should still be a cheerful recollection. While there were political forces which sought to insinuate themselves into the demonstration, it was not a political action; it was a spontaneous movement and cut across party, class and race. A first, perhaps, for this country since independence.
This is not to say that we don’t need parking order on the streets, but it is to say that it can’t be accomplished under the contract which breached the law, among other things, and was negotiated by only a few members of the council.
The two other immediate matters which would make a dramatic difference to the daily lives of citizens do, in fact, relate to central government rather than local, and more specifically to the police. When will we ever get some order on the roads? Until the powers that be start confronting the corruption which is associated with the traffic police and start enforcing the laws on a systematic basis, venturing into wheeled transport will remain a major hazard to life. Then there is the kind of service minibuses offer the commuting public. Do we have to have touts at the parks? Can we not insist that the drivers and conductors on buses are dressed tidily? Can’t we stop them playing music – especially lewd music ‒ in their vehicles and apply the law in this regard?
Lastly, of course, there is the banditry which to all appearances seems worse than ever. The Police Commissioner can talk blue cheese about reductions in this or that kind of crime, but the populace just simply doesn’t believe it. Will the Minister of Public Security, the Police Chief and the Crime Chief get it into their heads that citizens simply do not feel safe, and it is their responsibility to address the issues associated with the slew of armed robberies in a creative fashion.