What is the role of personal responsibility in development?
THE recent Global Competitiveness Re-port has shown that Jamaica is seeing some international competi-tiveness return from the current set of policies being instituted. It has been a while since our competitiveness has improved, and this is indeed welcome news. We still need to bear in mind, though, that the report shows that both GDP and GDP per capita, in US dollars, has declined from the previous year, but that is to be expected if we are making adjustments in an economy with low productivity. After all, exchange rates are primarily a reflection of a country's relative productivity.
Even though we have seen some improvement in the competitiveness index, the economy still remains very fragile, and there is still a lot of work to do, so we must not become complacent. I know it is very difficult for the average man on the street, and the temptation will be there for persons to take advantage of the hardship and call for greater welfare, which will just put us back where we were. We have had over 50 years of welfare government, since independence, and it has not worked. So if we continue to do the same thing we cannot expect different results.
We also have seen improvement in the homicide rate, reducing by 40 per cent year on year; education seems to be making some improvement; agricultural production is up; the unemployment rate has decreased; and there seems to be a greater awareness in the public sector of the need to improve customer service. Also although I am hurt by incidents such as Mario Deane, as any well-thinking Jamaican should be, and the responsible persons must be held accountable, I am encouraged by the response from INDECOM, the security minister, police high command, and civil society. I also welcome the US pathologist and his remarks, as it brings a very objective view.
There is, however, one consideration that we must all be mindful of as persons who want to see Jamaica move forward, and that is understanding what is our personal responsibility to development. It was John F Kennedy who said to the American people in the 1960s, "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." Although I don't believe that we are still at the same levels of nationalism as in the 1960s, because the world is now like a global village, the message is one of personal responsibility.
In my interaction with persons over the years, on social media and other methods of communication, I have found that many of us don't understand the role of personal responsibility. For example, I have always said, and it is still true today, that many of the political party supporters are much more tribalistic in their views and utterances than the politicians. In fact I find most politicians fairly objective in their reasoning, but not so with many supporters.
I also sadly find that many Jamaicans are very pessimistic about Jamaica to the point where even when something good happens they are cynical about it. So if the homicide rate is reported as going down, then it is because World Cup was going on, or there is underreporting. Similarly when the unemployment numbers are reported as going down. I just can't imagine living with that sort of pessimism, as one must lead a very miserable life doing so.
The fact is that while we should hold our leaders, and those in authority, responsible and accountable for things that go wrong (such as Mario Deane), we must also commend them when they do good, or else they won't be encouraged to do so next time. This is why I have taken the stance to commend the efforts of TAJ, Phillips, Thwaites, Ellington, INDECOM, civil society groups, etc. Because we must encourage what we want to see happen rather than be cynical when there is no evidence to the contrary.
In mature democracies also, the reason why they develop is that citizens understand their responsibility to speak against things that are done incorrectly or unfairly. So look at the outcry about the Mario Deane case, and the results we are seeing. It is not enough to just criticise privately, as the voices of the people in democracies are extremely important for progress.
One other disturbing thing I have always noted is the need of the environmentalists to clean up after Jamaicans. I mean, why do we need an annual beach clean-up day, and each year there seems to be more garbage than the year before? I have seen situations where people are driving and just wind down their windows and throw the garbage on the street. Even as we speak about things like beach erosion and tourist harassment, we must understand that these things are not caused by government policy, but rather individual actions.
When I look at countries like the US, I recognise that these countries were built by citizens understanding their individual responsibilities to act in a way that promotes development. So I read an article in the news only this week that parents were protesting the price of lunch at the school, instead of them maybe preparing a less expensive, more nutritious lunch for their child to carry to school. Or the article that speaks to teachers and book stores working together to unnecessarily place books on the booklist.
We also have the situation where schools are strapped for cash, and unable to provide adequate education, and when they ask for a mere $20,000 per annum ($400 per week) for a child to attend school, they are told by parents with $20,000 hairstyle and hair, or while they are protesting they are on the phone the whole time, using phone credit, that they can't afford it.
One of the reasons why I have to be objective, and applaud effort and good works, is because I want to live in Jamaica and nowhere else. And if that is something we all want to do, then we have to ensure that we are objective in our analysis, to ensure the best action for the country at all times. The generations before us have failed to take this country to prosperity, and it is time for those who are currently in leadership positions to make sure that we don't mess it up further and leave our children in a further mess. If we are to do so then we must be cognisant of the role our individual actions play in economic and social development, and act and talk accordingly.
Dennis Chung is a chartered accountant and the author of the books Charting Jamaica's Economic and Social Development AND Achieving Life's Equilibrium. His blog is dcjottings.blogspot.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org