FLOW Giveth and FLOW Taketh Away

Blessed be the name of FLOW? Hell, no! FLOW isn’t giving the Jamaican consumer a damn thing. We are paying premium rates for a less-than-premium product. And something has got to be done about it. Last Wednesday, I’d had enough of FLOW’s bite-and-blow customer disservice.

I called the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) to find out how dissatisfied customers could file a class-action suit against Liberty Global. Many of us don’t seem to know that it was Cable & Wireless that bought FLOW, not the other way around. I suppose some sensible executive realised that FLOW was a better brand than sour LIME and retained that name.


And Liberty Global bought Cable & Wireless. A Gleaner article published on Friday, March 31 reports that, “Large cable operator Liberty Global, the owner of FLOW, wants its regional businesses to generate more cash, and has set them a target of US$1.5 billion.” We had better watch out. Liberty come from carelessness. We might soon be paying far more for even less.


Both the general counsel and the director general of the OUR were in a meeting. I left my old LIME number, which is now working. Believe it or not, bright and early Sunday morning, I got a call from FLOW. It was my fairy godmother who said that a technician would be coming to fix my phone later that day.

I suppose I should have been happy that, after a month or so, the service was going to be restored. Instead, I was outraged. It seemed as if I was being given preferential treatment because of my column published that same day, ‘FLOW’s stagnant channels’.

I asked about all those other customers who are being exploited by FLOW. When are they going to get back service? And I referred to a tweet in response to the column: “All across Jamaica, sounds of ‘um huh’, in agreement with @karokupa.” The technician did come and left this note: “I found the problem on the pole and repaired same. Please call me if you have any queries. Thanks for your continued faith in us.”


Faith in FLOW? What’s faith got to do with it? FLOW is not a church. And many churches place a much higher premium on customer satisfaction than FLOW. They ensure direct access to God, who answers prayers.

According to the New Testament, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It seems as if it’s FLOW that has faith in us. The company seems to be hoping that in the absence of evidence that it is actually giving us what we pay for, we will stick with it until the end of time.


On Tuesday, my fairy godmother sent another technician to restore the channels that were temporarily off the air. The first question I asked was if the van was leaking oil. He said no. By the time he finished fixing the channels, there were patches of oil in the driveway. About a one-foot square! And talking of square, I must correct an error in last week’s column. I omitted ‘square’ in my summary of Einstein’s famous equation.

My ‘faith’ in FLOW didn’t last long. By Wednesday, there was a new problem. I had paid for a package on my old FLOW line that allowed me to make flat-rate land and cell calls to the US. When I tried to make a call, I got this message, “International calls are not permitted from this number.”

So now my options for making calls to the US were to pay extra from either my old LIME phone or my cell phone. How could this possibly be acceptable? After mi cuss two bad word, I called my fairy godmother. She promised to investigate the matter. Service was restored by Friday. Why should I need a fairy godmother?

That’s how I ended up calling the OUR. The director general returned my call and I followed up with an email in which I asked four questions: Can dissatisfied FLOW customers file a class-action suit against Liberty Global? If so, how? Are there any laws that protect consumers against utility companies that fail to deliver the services for which they are paid? If not, what is being done to put such laws in place? I haven’t got any answers as yet.

Then, I discovered that the following notice from FLOW does not tell the whole story: “Due to broadcast restrictions, we are unable to air the current programme on this channel. Please check your local listing to determine the availability of this programme on another channel.” You can certainly get programmes like ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ and ‘Modern Family’ on another channel. But definitely not on FLOW! Digicel bought the rights. Right under FLOW’s nose!


By the way, Digicel is purchasing its off-island capacity to provide Internet service from FLOW. Since the companies are wrapped up in bed, you would think they could be generous enough to include all their customers in the happy union. And allow us access to all programmes! But, no! It’s all about competition. And the biggest loser is the customer. It seems as if the OUR needs to set up a Special Victims Unit to protect us from both Digicel and FLOW.


Selling Jamaica To ‘Mr Chin’

mr-chin-marqueeFor many black Jamaicans, ‘Chin’ is still the generic name for all Chinese people. It doesn’t seem to matter that Chinese Jamaicans have many other names such as Chang, Chuck, Chung, Fong, Kim, Kong, Lee, Leong, Lim, Lue, Mock, Shim, Tenn, Yap, Yee, Yen and Yeong.

I think it’s completely disrespectful to clap the label ‘Chin’ on all Chinese. And I like to ask perpetrators how they would feel if Chinese people called all of us Miss, Mr and Mrs Black. They usually laugh. A no nutten! Most Africans born in Jamaica were forced to give up our ancestral names. So, perhaps, we have no investment in the foreign names we were arbitrarily assigned.

And many Chinese seem to be quite philosophical about being addressed as ‘Chin’. They just answer to the name. It doesn’t appear to bother them that their fellow citizens stubbornly refuse to learn their true-true names. I wonder if it’s because they don’t take us seriously. Perhaps, it doesn’t matter what we call them. As long as we continue to do business with them!


512SDQF910L._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_In 1998, the University of the West Indies Press published a book by the Trinidadian historian, Walton Look Lai, on The Chinese in the West Indies. It covers the period 1806-1995 and pulls together a whole set of fascinating documents.

There’s an 1803 letter from Kenneth McQueen to John Sullivan, undersecretary of state, outlining the arguments to be used in inveigling Chinese to come to the Caribbean as indentured labourers. Racial stereotypes are presented as hard facts.

McQueen proposes: “The most desirable accommodation to a Chinaman is good eating, especially solid animal food, as beef or pork … and a liberal supply of that article is more likely than anything else to reconcile them to their new situation.” As it turns out, ‘solid animal food’ was not enough to keep indentured Chinese labourers on the plantation.

As soon as their five-year contract was up, many abandoned agricultural work. In an account of ‘Chinese entrepreneurs in Jamaica in the 1940s and 1950s’, Look Lai lists the following businesses: “grocery stores, bakeries, aerated water factories, ice cream parlours, restaurants, laundries, Chinese grocery stores, hardware stores, dry-goods stores, bars and taverns, haberdasheries, wholesale groceries, agencies and others”.


In Jamaica, the Chinese still control the distribution of imported food. Whoever owns the keys to the grocery store rules the nation. Our British colonisers knew this all too well. I speculate that they enabled the Chinese to take over this sector as an act of revenge for the emancipation of enslaved African-Jamaicans. After all, they did conceive the Chinese as a barrier. An obstacle to black empowerment!

Before Emancipation, blacks controlled local food production and distribution at weekly markets. Plantation owners who wanted to lower operating costs allowed them to cultivate provision grounds to feed themselves. Surplus food was owned by these farmers and they made good money selling it locally and even exporting to other islands.

Screen-Shot-2012-11-05-at-12.19.51-PMAfter Emancipation, instead of allowing blacks to extend our management of the business of food distribution to include the import trade, the British colonisers deliberately allowed the Chinese to clip our wings. Given a chance, black people would have been able to build food empires high and low, generally taking control of this sovereign sector.

On my morning walk a few days ago, I had an informative conversation with a Chinese senior citizen named Mr Chin. Yes, a real Mr Chin. He told me that in the early years of shopkeeping, the profit margin was very low. The British colonisers controlled the import trade. Mr Chin said that on a case of condensed milk, for example, the profit was one tin! But things have certainly changed. The trade in imported food is a highly profitable business.


There’s a new wave of Chinese immigrants in Jamaica who are certainly not indentured labourers. They are our new colonisers. Mr Chin told me that these recent arrivals even have contempt for the earlier Chinese immigrants. The new Chinese claim that the old Chinese are unpatriotic because they did not return to China after indentureship. And these arrogant new Chinese have a sense of entitlement that is alarming.

images-1I recently heard that a long-time resident of Hope Pastures was driving home when he was stopped by the police for a spot check. He was told that the Chinese had been complaining about strange people driving through Hope Pastures. A lot of new Chinese have been buying houses there. I have no issue with that. But to assume that black people are trespassers in their own community is pure impudence.

Even worse, in supposedly independent Jamaica, politicians are selling off the birthright of the people to our new colonisers. If we’re not careful, they will soon own the best of this country. Unscrupulous politicians are now behind the counter. And the new Chinese are the customers. They’re not buying salt fish, mackerel, rice, flour and cornmeal.

They want the Goat Islands and Roaring River and Cockpit Country. And the politicians are ‘trusting’ away our heritage. In the old-time Chinese shops, there would be a spike on which the names and goods of ‘trusters’ would be placed. I don’t suppose our politicians are even keeping any records. It’s a straight sell-out.