"JAMAICA, the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business" — Vision 2030 National Development Plan. If Jamaica becomes this place then we would have truly transformed from being a third-world country where we kill, cheat, and slander each other, to a truly first-world nation not to be outdone by even the most developed countries.
It is this vision I always dream of Jamaica becoming, and what drives me to criticise society's ills and misguided policy actions that have led to our economic stagnation for 35 years. Jamaica has excelled in every area except for politics. There are, of course, a few politicians that one can hold up as having been "a few good men", but overall politics has led this country on a downward spiral of destruction, as the aim of achieving state power always supersedes the good of the country.
The question therefore is whether, with 18 years before 2030, we can realistically achieve Vision 2030, as stated in the plan. If in 50 years of independence we have been unable to truly mature into a nation, then can we do so in 18 years and what do the indicators tell us? After 50 years we remain two tribes at war with each other, reminiscent of the African tribes, our forefathers who fought and sold each other to the Europeans as slaves. Isn't the divisiveness we have practised over the past 50 years tantamount to keeping Jamaicans in slavery also? The fact that every year Jamaicans have to await the presentation of the budget to see what new taxes we will be forced to pay is similar to the feudal master extracting money from his subjects for his estate.
So here's the real question once again: is there any hope for us and will we see that change occurring by 2030?
From my own perspective I think there is a ray of hope, given developments over the past couple of years. Some of these are listed below. I would start out by saying that in order to achieve Vision 2030 we have to recognise that primacy in that Vision must be the respect for our people and justice and the promotion of unity amongst Jamaicans. This is what Vision 2030 is about, and what will make Jamaica the place of choice to live, grow families, and do business. Because today what we have is a country where people will come for sunshine, beach, fun, and jerk chicken, but would rather go back to cold North America to raise their families and work, so as not to be subject to the vagaries of our society.
In order to achieve Vision 2030 this attitude must change. And if we do achieve this change, then I guarantee that Jamaica will be one of the most prosperous places on the planet. The only drawback is that our feudal... I mean political masters will see power ceded from them to the people. This is why in my book, I started out analysing economic data and concluded by saying that the real problem with Jamaica is our constitutional political system.
I believe, however, there are some things happening that give hope that Jamaica can achieve Vision 2030, but require consistent application in order for it to be achieved. These are:
1. Tax reform: the Finance Minister has been at pains to indicate that the tax system is going to be reformed to encourage greater productivity and production. At the time of writing the revenue numbers have not yet been presented, but based on things I have been hearing I am hopeful that the necessary tax reform will come that will provide a boost to the productive sector. I am also confident about the Minister's determination to do so, and commend efforts already in place, like the Tax Administration reform.
2. Public Sector Transformation: a lot of work is being done here, and I am hopeful that it will be properly implemented. My own view is that a lot of time has been wasted, however, trying to transform a system that cannot be centrally done (as this was always the problem) and that could easily have been done in a year or two with simpler steps.
3. Charter of Rights: after taking almost 20 years to pass this bill, my understanding is that we are still waiting on the Governor General to sign it into law. This should be immediately done, as the people have waited long enough for fundamental rights to be enshrined in the constitution. Jamaica owes a debt of gratitude to Edward Seaga, who piloted the bill, and we must also commend the politicians for recently passing it in both houses. Personally I do not see the merit in the arguments that the government can be sued for not paying for education for the poor, because it is included as a right, and seems to be politicising the charter already. I mean, I have the right to breathe fresh air, so if I choose to live near a dump, do I have the right to sue the government, or can I sue the government for depriving me of sleep because of night noise?
4. INDECOM, DPP, OCG, and Public Defender: In spite of the public spats that have occurred between these offices, I think the holders and the way they have approached their work is to be commended. Each office can be cited for their efforts to uphold justice or stamp out corruption in one way or the other, and as a country we are fortunate to have had all these offices seemingly working for justice and ethics. I actually believe the public disputes between the offices are good for our democracy. It happens in the great USA, and is healthy as it shows that each office is prepared to defend what it believes is right against other sections of the justice system, which is good control.
5. Police Commissioner: we have a maturing police force under Commissioner Ellington. Over a year ago I indicated that what Ellington does would be what determines the future of this country. I think he has brought a level of discipline and ethical standards to the police force that has been lacking for as far back as I can remember. For the very first time in memory, policemen and women can proudly say they are a part of the JCF. My own view of the police prior to this was a rogue element. In the next survey of trust, we may very well see the police force significantly better than our politicians. Two other officers doing an excellent job are Radcliffe Lewis and Dathan Henry.
6. Civil Society: Lastly, but by no means least, I want to mention the role that civil society has played over the past few years. There is no doubt that there has been a very active and determined civil society keeping our politicians pressured to ensure they get back on the right track when they falter, as they so often do. This is good for our democracy and is the reason why Jamaica will not go the path of the Middle East, as some think. I note that the cries for justice have come from individuals who have formed organisations to fight the corrupt system. These include JFJ, FAST, JUSD, environmental organisations, Columnists, and the list goes on. What is evident is that this change has been carried by individuals while the private sector leaders have apparently caught on, which is not unusual.
Notice I have not mentioned any growth-inducement strategies or macroeconomic numbers as the means to help us achieve Vision 2030, as these are mere symptoms of the underlying problem. If we have social justice and make Jamaica the choice to live and raise families, businesses will certainly follow and economic growth will result. While the signs for social justice are positive, we must ensure we remain consistent, as like a train progress is easy to derail.
Finally I want to add that the biggest failing has been the inability to address our high energy costs. I think there are initiatives that can be taken to ensure a reduction in our energy bill, but until then energy costs are the greatest threat to businesses and disposable incomes today. More on this another time.
Dennis Chung is a chartered accountant and the author of "Charting Jamaica's Economic and Social Development - A much needed paradigm shift". His blog is dcjottings.blogspot.com