Jamaica LANDS
Left Alliance for National Democracy and Socialism

Opinion Pieces

These are opinion pieces, written by members of the party. They may or may not reflect the official position of the party.

Privatisation of the NWC

 

The Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, hinted at the possibility of privatising the state-owned National Water Commission, which provides water to most Jamaicans. We are weary of such plans, as they come with a lot of concerns which the government should publicly address before moving forward.

We are really sorry for not having posted an article last week, on January 19. We try to post an article every Friday. There is a lot that has been done that we need to update everyone on, as a lot has been happening. We were going to wait until the new site was up before we continued to make releases, but the issue with the privatisation of the NWC is urgent; we had to write about it as soon as possible.

Holness had brought this up 2 years ago when he was Leader of the Opposition, and he recently suggested it again as Prime Minister. He has made multiple statements, and there are a lot of things in them that need to be unpacked and assessed. Essentially, he wants to privatise the NWC and possibly some other state-owned entities. He believes that competition will keep prices low. He is encouraging poor people in Jamaica to buy shares if the entities are privatised. He even said that they should buy shares "instead of investing in Brazilian hair" - we were shocked by this comment from our self-labelled "feminist" Prime Minister.

Privatisation of the NWC

In general, we take issue with the idea that the NWC should be privatised. One thing that Holness brings up is that the NWC operates at a loss; if the NWC is privatised, it would mean that it would raise its prices to start operating for profit. This would mean that water would be more expensive. Not only will average people have to pay more money for water at home, but some goods and services would become more expensive because of the higher water bills that producers will have to pay. Think about some farmers, restaurants, healthcare facilities, schools, etc. - they all use water.

We are honest. We will yield that the government would be able to lower taxes if it doesn't have to keep covering the NWC's losses, so the people would save money in that regard. Theoretically, the money that they save from paying less taxes could be used for their water bills and more expensive goods and services. Of course, we should also talk about our currency value. If our goods and services become more expensive, it will become more difficult to export goods or attract tourists, and we would be further pressured to devalue our currency so that our prices can be more competitive; this means that the goods that we import (and please remember that we import most of our commodities) would become more expensive for us as well.

Another issue with privatisation is that a profit-driven company would not supply water to areas where it would not make a significant profit. Some rural Jamaicans know the struggle of waiting for a very long time to get certain services (cable/internet) because the service providers whined about the cost of installing the lines, and the fact that they wouldn't make enough money from the few customers that it would supply. It would be even worse if there are multiple companies, as no single company would have the obligation to provide water services to everyone; some citizens would continue to be left out, or be forced to pay ridiculously high prices if they want service. We are aware that the NWC fails to serve some persons as it already is, but the prices will at least be affordable if they get around to serving those persons; a profit-driven company will not serve those persons if it is too much of a bother, especially if they will not be making some serious profits from it.

Competition and Prices

We are not sure how competition would work with this. The NWC already has a monopoly, and privatising it would probably lead it to become like the JPS. It is not uncommon for people to complain about their high electricity bills.

If it so ends up that Jamaica will have multiple water companies, we are still not sure how competition would work. If the NWC is privatised, we expect its delivery systems (the pipes) to continue to be owned by it; Andrew Holness said "some aspects" may be privatised, but we need details on what would or wouldn't be privatised, and how this would work.

If there are multiple water companies, how would someone switch their service from one to the other? Switching your internet or cable provider is simple; each company has its own infrastructure (cables and wires), and they can extend them where they need to. How would this work with water? Would a road need to be dug up every time a household or business switches its water supplier? Will all the water companies just use the same pipes? How would that all work out? We are not saying it is impossible, but the people need to be provided details on this.

If there are multiple water companies, the case would most likely be that they operate in different areas, but the idea that someone can switch their water supplier at will just seems unrealistic for now. The water companies would probably not really 'compete' with each other in the way cable/internet/phone service providers compete. It would probably be a case where an entire neighbourhood or parish council would have to agree to change their supplier, assuming the supplier doesn't own the pipes.

Shares & Investments

Another ridiculous idea, that Andrew Holness has is that poor people should simply buy shares to take advantage of the privatisation of the NWC. Poor people have the least capital, i.e. they have the least money available to be used to buy shares; that is why they are called 'poor people' - they don't choose to be in their situation. A lot of poor people have big ideas and big dreams, and would probably be able to make them come true if they had the capital to do so, but they simply don't. Investment requires capital; the people who would be most able to take advantage of the privatisation of the NWC are the people who have the most capital, i.e. the people who are already wealthy.

Privatisation of the NWC would lead to a simple phenomenon; the people with the least money would need to pay for higher water bills and higher commodity prices, while the people who are already well off will become wealthier. This is a measure which will definitely see more money flowing from the poor to the rich. The JLP can't even claim to have some 'trickle-down' economic philosophy any longer - as if this wasn't hard enough to make sense of, they are openly embracing a trickle up policy.

Andrew Holness is out of touch with the Jamaican people. We wonder why it's still called the "Jamaica Labour Party" if it doesn't understand labour. Does he really think that all people need to do for money to go around is simply buy shares? Most people in this country are accustomed to working, and that is how they expect to earn a living. Working people need to be able to afford water, not told that they should simply "buy shares" if they want more money. Maybe most of Andrew's friends are rich people who earn their money by ownership instead of doing actual work.

Women & Brazilian Hair

Holness' comment on Brazilian hair is classist and sexist. It comes from the idea that poor people and women are incompetent to manage their finances; it is an attack on poor women more than anyone else. When middle class Jamaicans spend $15,000 or more to attend some parties or events, they have the audacity to whine about poor people spending $2,000 or less to do the same. Everyone wants nice things, and to enjoy life, but only poor people get criticised for it.

On the specifics of hair, we would expect the self-appointed Minister of Economic Growth and Job Creation to recognise how the cosmetics industry has led to many women being self-employed in Jamaica. His government would rather have our people pampering white tourists and working in call centres for low wages, just to get the unemployment figure down, but women have created solid economic opportunities for themselves by doing cosmetics.

It is a relatively low-input sector to enter. Some persons choose to get certified, but they don't need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at a university to do so. It has been a way for many poor women to earn a decent living; the money that they make from this is then spent on food and other consumer goods, which creates activity in our economy.

We can criticise the fact that a lot of the goods (hair, hair products, beauty products) are imported, but that is not something that is specific to the cosmetics industry. Importing hair creates jobs for stylists in the same way that the import of cereal brands creates jobs for people who work in supermarkets and shops.

Andrew Holness needs to calm down and think things through before making certain statements and decisions.

 
LocalChristophe Simpson