Role of trust in development

Dennis Chung

Friday, May 24, 2019

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I have always maintained that the underlying issue holding us back is the lack of law and order. Why? Because without order a society cannot move forward.

Without discipline on the roads; without proper zoning laws; without proper garbage disposal and collection; without maintenance of infrastructure and clean streets; without legal and organised vending zones — without all of these things the society will descend into chaos and we will end up with a broken down, unclean, and unsafe environment.

It is no different in an organisation. Without adherence to process and reporting structure, chaos rules and the organisation will find it difficult to deliver on its goals.

Disorder results because there is a breakdown of the adherence to guidelines, which occurs because of lack of enforcement or when there is deviant behaviour, which becomes the norm. So that if there is a violation and the person or the process breakdown is brought back into line quickly, then the deviant behaviour becomes a slight distortion in the order of the society, or organisation.

But if deviant behaviour is not dealt with immediately and decisively, then others will start copying that behaviour because they can benefit from that deviant behaviour without the fear of being caught.

This then progresses to the point where people who would prefer to obey the process and laws realise that in order to survive they also need to break with order, and so chaos happens.

This happens in countries and organisations, and is a primary reason why countries become chaotic for a very long time (such as Afghanistan and Iraq) or why companies get eaten up by the competition and eventually fail. The fact is that no matter how much growth a country or company has, it will not be sustainable unless there is order.

When that breakdown in order occurs, and there is little reliance on the previously strong institutions such as the court, police, government, and in the case of companies, policies, then there is a breakdown of trust. That is when it becomes most difficult to come back from the brink. At that point productivity falls and the country or company cannot operate at its optimal.

Jamaica has found itself in this unenviable position.

This is also the greatest risk that the US and UK faces with their current political situation, but because of their strong institutions it will take a long time for the breakdown to happen. If it continues for long enough, however, there will be a slow and painful disintegration of society.

On the other hand, this is what is making China much stronger globally, as they go around the globe engaging governments and slowly building their trust points.

Back to Jamaica though. One will recall the last Latain Amarican Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) report, which told us that Jamaicans have low trust in our politicians, police, court system, among others. In fact the 2016/17 Lapop report shows us that there is a growing level of distrust for our institutions among Jamaicans, as more people are more wary of liberties, media, politicians, etc.

If we look at the distrust in our police force, for example, when people drive on the road and see the indiscipline by the taxis and buses, or call the police to address the night noise and it persists, or when people are allowed to loiter or illegally set-up stalls on the sidewalk — this obviously translates into low trust for the police.

Or when there is an allegation of corruption, and it takes years to resolve, or coming out of the allegations, those accused get a handsome pay-off, it erodes confidence in the politicians and the judicial system.

It doesn't matter that, if objectively measured, it shows that our institutions are performing better than in the past. The damage over the years to the image of our institutions has been so severe that it will take years to fix it.

In 1979, for example, we started our journey to fix our electoral system with the Electoral Advisory Committee, and it eventually morphed into the ECJ, and more importantly it took us over three decades for Jamaicans to think that we have a fair electoral system. In other words, it took us more than three decades for the trust to be built.

One can relate that to even personal relationships, or work relationships. When that trust is broken, it takes a very long time to be rebuilt and even then it may never get back to where it was.

I like to compare this to my own cycling practice. When I am riding at speeds of up to over 30 mph 6 to 12 inches behind the person's wheel in front of me, it is because I trust the way that other person rides. If it is a new person I will not be so close, or not ride behind them at all, because I have no knowledge that I can use to develop that trust.

Or even when travelling downhill at 40 or 50 mph, it is because I trust the brand bicycle I am riding, trust the tyres that I checked before the ride, and more importantly, I trust the person who serviced the bike.

Similarly, when a person grows up in a highly-charged political culture, where the family has pictures of political leaders on the wall or they go to rallies where they speak ill of the other party.

So they grow up saying the JLP are capitalists and the brown man party and the PNP are socialists and are for the masses, and they end up resenting the other side.

Even if the person in question may be one of the biggest business people, with poor labour practices (called a capitalist), and a brown man, he will despise the PNP. On the other side, a struggling Jamaican may have been brought up to despise the PNP.

Few may remember that the JLP started with Bustamante championing the cause of the labour market and that the PNP started as the party for the middle class.

And this unexplainable distrust they have for both political parties is passed on to their children, who now with the power of social media spend their time spewing words of disgust and hatred about their political opponents — and if you ask them why they feel that way they have no rational explanation apart from a personal attack on the leader of the opposing party.

Never mind what their own party has done in the past or what objective measurements show about the country's progress.

Jamaica ultimately has a trust problem, which is holding back our development.

Dennis Chung is the author of Charting Jamaica's Economic and Social Development AND Achieving Life's Equilibrium . His blog is


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