MINISTER of Finance Dr Peter Phillips called for a collective will to address the challenges that face Jamaica in the next decade as he spoke during the opening ceremony of a five-day conference put on by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies. He identified the need to find political mechanisms to build consensus. He seems to recognise the need for a national consensus without which we will continue to insanely do the things as we have done them over the years without any promising results.
Even in rightly recognising the need for this political consensus for social and economic change, the minister is quite mindful of the difficult road that has to be travelled to achieve this. One impediment that he identifies is that of "a political culture which is still tribalised and divided into too great an extent." This assessment is within the same vein of that made by Mr Patterson when he characterised our politics as a fight for scarce benefits and spoils carried on by tribes warring against each other. The problem with these correct assessments of our political blight is that while we seem to recognise what the problems are, we seem impotent to do anything to correct them. The net result is that we are adrift on a sea of confusion without any discernible leadership to take us on a good path to correct these problems. Dr Phillips seems to recognise that the problems of the day call for bold decisions. Does he truly believe that the PNP is seized of the kind of leadership to make the bold decisions necessary? Is his call for national consensus recognition that his party is impotent of this boldness; that they of themselves are not capable of doing the hard work needed to pull this country out of the social, political and economic quagmire in which it has been mired for too long?
If this is the case, that the PNP needs help, then someone should speak to it, for we are at a critical juncture in our national life which requires all hands on deck. Putting all hands on deck requires a stout commitment to truth telling, a matter that has not been characteristic of how we have practised our politics from Independence to the present time. We continue to delude ourselves with half-truths. Dr Phillips himself seemed to have indulged in this half-truth when he characterised in the speech aforementioned that our persistent poverty is a result of the "scars of pre-Independence." We continue with the self-delusion that our misery is caused by external forces, that imperialism and colonialism have impoverished us. Fifty years after we took control of our own affairs we continue to sell ourselves the bogey that it is the wicked colonialists or a horrific slave trade that is responsible for the things that ail us. We have confused the so-called "scars of pre-Independence" with our own self-inflicted wounds of post-Independence.
What is clear is that the British handed us a viable society, but we have squandered that legacy to the extent that everywhere you look things are in a ramshackle state.
Dr Phillips and those still wedded to the paradigm of the Manley socialist experimentation may not want to admit that soon after the British departed we were enjoying stellar growth in our economy. That this growth continued at an average of six per cent up to the point of the PNP ascendancy to power in 1972; that real decline began with the introduction of Democratic Socialism soon after the 1976 elections when there was a kangaroo-like leap in social legislation and a frog-like jump in economic development. We are still suffering from the scars of that unfortunate experimentation which continued under the Patterson administration and which seems set to continue under this new reincarnation of the PNP. The decimation of our economy under PNP leadership has done more to impoverish the country than anything that was done in pre-Independence Jamaica. This is a bold statement for which I will be harried, but the statistics are on my side. Editorial space does not allow for a full elucidation of this point, but it is only sufficient to say that poverty in Jamaica will not be eradicated unless we have leaders who are prepared to examine and speak the truth and who will have the humility to do what truth demands. I credit Dr Phillips for recognising the need for a national consensus to deal with our presenting problems. But we must not be afraid to speak the truth. Casting blame where it does not belong will not get us too far on the road of correcting our problems and building a strong and proud Jamaica.