Giving Away Our Birthright for a Bowl of Pottage

As the Government looks to seriously push through on the idea of privatizing the National Water Commission one cannot help but remember the story in the Old Testament of Esau and Jacob.

I am sure that we all know the story, but for those who do not remember Esau was the eldest son.  He would be entitled to a greater share of the family wealth when his father died.   Esau was hungry and in a pique of desperation forfeited his birthright to the younger Jacob in exchange for a bowl of pottage. To cut a long story short, after eating the meal Esau wished to renege on the deal but circumstances and members of his family were against the idea of reneging on the deal.

This story, I feel, aptly represents how our politicians and members of civil society operate and deal with the national question. For the past two decades (but steam picked up in the past 15 years), our governments have been selling off bits and pieces of the nation because, like Esau in the story, they are hungry and only wish to address the immediate problem without thinking of the long-term consequences.

Actual examples can be found with these land transfers and business deals. Think about the fact that we as citizens, through our Government, are set to lose our last remaining shares in the Jamaica Public Service Company  (JPS) thus fully leaving us to the wolves of capitalism. We face constant woes with JPS and yet the company is still able to ride roughshod over reality by demanding price increases.

It is also agreed that should the nation go fully renewable then the JPS should be compensated. Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the actions and behaviour of a utility company (one that the entire state depends on) that not only fails to understand the economic psyche of its customers but also has no real incentive to change because we the Jamaican people (through the Government and policy makers) own nothing of it and can only watch the profits of this company skyrocket.

As it relates to the water and its impending privatization one only needs to look at Ireland to see where that road would lead. After the Irish entered into a Public Private Partnership (PPP) for the operation of their water company, Irish citizens saw their water rates skyrocket by double digit percentages, leaving the average Irish man paying more for the same life sustaining utility. It is clear that the privatization of key utilities leads to companies looking to make the most profit while keeping the same or providing a worse degree of service.

A look at the bauxite scene conjures up even more horrors.  Imagine, we have workers who are constantly living on edge because they know that if the foreign company that owns the plant starts to have financial problems, then they, as the workers, will bear the brunt when costs are cut. We have a levy on the bauxite mined from our shores that is so pitifully small that in the end the State ends up being the loser, as all the profits are sent out of the island.

We see this in almost all sectors of our economy. Sugar has been sold off to the Chinese (along with mining rights); the oil that may be below us is already in foreign hands, and so is the former pride of Jamaica, Air Jamaica. This fire-sale of our land, resources and heritage seems to be unrelenting as even now we debate on just where the Cockpit Country borders are so that the rapacious foreign companies may destroy our environment.

Jamaicans need to hold our Government to account and ensure that they do not sell our birthright for a few trinkets. We must demand that they do not play with our birthright.  We must demand representation. People must wake up quickly to that fact that we own nothing or very little in this island as we become a nation of beggars.

We must take heed of the tale of Esau and Jacob and think about the long-term ramifications rather than find a quick fix solution that in the end leaves our island in a worse position.

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