I didn’t watch the full Emancipation message delivered by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, but did see excerpts of it. I think she has hit the nail on the head when she said that Jamaica needs to use the occasion of the 50th year of Independence to reflect. We need to reflect on what went wrong with our development, because where we are today is not where most of the people, in 1962, thought we would be.
I have talked to some persons who, in 1962, felt a sense of pride seeing the Jamaican flag replace the British flag. However, many of them today question whether we made the right decision in 1962 to seek Independence from Britain. We have only recently seen where Britain stepped into the Turks and Caicos to restore confidence in the public bureaucracy there. Maybe if we were still a colony they would have stepped in to do the same here.
My own view is that despite the fact that we have failed miserably to deliver a better tomorrow for the children, it was indeed the right decision for us to seek Independence in 1962.
There is no arguing the fact that we have failed miserably to deliver the hope that was promised in 1962. It was Norman Manley himself who said that his generation had accomplished the mission of seeking political independence, and the next generation had the responsibility of achieving economic independence. Can we truly say that he would be happy with what we have achieved? Can we even say that he would be happy with the way we have treated our political independence, where we have developed two tribes, that I remember clearly would kill each other because of the colour shirt worn in the run up to the 1980s election.
Would he be happy with the fact that even 50 years after we are still very much divided among party lines, not so much at the level of the politician, but more so at the level of the ordinary citizen. Would he be happy to see that elected officials are abusing the person in parliament responsible for carrying out the “law” there. Would he be happy to see the way we abuse the rights of our citizens, by keeping them locked up without charge, or for the way that the justice system is administered. Would he be happy to see how we have developed relative to the rest of the region.
We could also ask the same question of another of the founding fathers, Alexander Bustamante, who in 1938 led the labour riots and went to jail for the cause of the working class. Would he be happy to see that in 2012 the GDP per capita is the same as it was in the 1970s.
And if we are uncertain about the answers we would get from them, then ask one who was around at that time who is still alive today, Edward Seaga. Ask him if he is happy to see how Jamaica has progressed over 50 years despite the sacrifices he has made to stay in public life.
If the answers are that they are happy then we have much to celebrate. But if they are not happy then as the Prime Minister said, we must take time to reflect on what we have done and what we need to do.
I am sure that there are many things right about Jamaica, and I think it is still potentially the best place to live. The things that are right about Jamaica can be seen in the “Wray” and “Digicel” ads, and are things we speak of every day. The culture, food, sporting accomplishments, the relaxes atmosphere, the beauty of the island, our tourism, our bauxite, and our people. These are the things that we speak of when we talk about Jamaica. But these things have existed since 1962, and are either as a result of the working class or individual achievements.
Even our tourism and bauxite has survived against the odds. Our tourism has thrived because of the ingenuity of a few, who because they saw that tourism could not exist in its original form, because of crime and environmental degradation, bought beautiful pieces of Jamaica and locked away the tourist in all-inclusive resorts. Bauxite has survived because of foreign investments and previously high demand, because for 40 years we have failed to address the policy issues that would have made these plants more competitive through energy.
I agree also that we have seen much infrastructure development, but not enough. When I look at documentaries on Singapore I see stories of high-rise buildings, and a lot of industrial construction. Most of our own infrastructure development has happened from government intervention, or housing developments, which again through the NHT is government intervention. So even the infrastructure development is not because of well, “development”, but rather government intervention from debt.
We do have the raw material needed for development. These are all the things I mentioned above. But we are like a child turning 18 in 1962, who our parents gave all the tools to succeed. We had a strong dollar, bauxite, tourism, growing industries, good transport system, and concessionary prices for goods we produced. What they never taught us, however, was to govern our people in such away that we could realise their full potential, but rather left us with a philosophy that bureaucratic structures and the security forces are there to control the people rather than protect them. So 50 years later when we would be 68, that child turn adult, is not up to his ear in debt and has managed to isolate all his friends and family, because of the divisive way in which he sets one set of family against the other, never trusting anyone.
So it is indeed a time to reflect on what we want for the next 50 years, instead of just thinking about the massive party that is planned for us during these celebrations. Because after the party what? For if we are satisfied with the last 50 years of development, then sure lets party and go back to what we have always been doing. But if we are not satisfied, or can’t answer either way, then as the prime minister said, let’s reflect on what went wrong and what we need to do.
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. Email: email@example.com