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Honesty, the way forward

Grace VIRTUE

Tuesday, August 12, 2014    

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THE late Walter Rodney, elite Caribbean scholar and activist, argued that development, as the main entity in human life, comprises of the word change — the process of transforming from a low level, at a particular stage, to the high level of that particular stage in which there is positive gain. Keep that in mind as we ponder Vision 2030, our strategic road map to guide the country to sustainable development and prosperity.

According to the Jamaica Information Service, "the comprehensive vision of the national development plan is to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business". Vision 2030, therefore, is the premier framework in use to evaluate our progress toward a developed country.

Forgive me then if I get a little confused, alarmed even, when the pace of change does not seem to be where it needs to be, particularly bearing in mind that the time frame is now slightly more than 15 years, and that development is an ongoing process — not a destination to be suddenly arrived at on a given date.

It is even more confusing when we seem to be regressing in critical areas like provision of the physical and social infrastructure necessary for rural development. I am assuming here that we all understand that development includes rural people too; that some of our most challenging urban problems are correlated with rural underdevelopment, and that the entire process will be thwarted if we continue to exclude huge sections of our population from attempts at nation-building.

In one sense, it is puzzling to me that some of us would much rather that we did not openly discuss the challenges that we face; even when they represent such tremendous obstacles that they may as well be giant monsters with hands and feet dragging us back at every attempt to escape. Furthermore, some solutions seem relatively simple and pain-free with little financial costs attached to them.

British High Commissioner David Fitton, in his piece August 7, titled One year later...my Jamaica, made reference to the loud music everywhere, that often prevents us hearing our own voices, and our inability to simply turn up on time for planned events. While this might be cultural to us, for others with a basis for comparison, it is crass and undisciplined. Imagine, for example, that it is commonplace for people from the developed world to have serious discussions over breakfast or lunch. That would be impossible in many of our restaurants.

In another sense, I understand that, as humans, our reactions to phenomena are different. Some of us prefer truth, however harsh. Others never want to hear it, preferring to keep their heads firmly in the sand. It is quite fair that we deal with our stresses according to our capacity. It is unfair, however, to characterise as disloyal those who take a different approach.

It is this same principle that operates in the Middle East, where any attempt to even question Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people is immediately framed by supporters as anti-Semitic or supportive of Hamas, the Palestinian group currently engaged in physical and ideological warfare with the Israeli state. It is clearly a false dichotomy intending to suppress opposition, but too many of us are either unable to recognise it, or too dishonest to acknowledge it.

Nelson Mandela, the man for whom we profess such great admiration, and his then "radical" colleagues in the African National Congress did not destroy apartheid by pretending that it was not an oppressive or brutal system, or by quietly accepting that the 'good' white folks in South Africa were entirely deserving of their place at the top of the society. The same is true of black civil rights leaders in the United States who challenged racism and segregation and continue today to fight systemic inequalities.

In short, not a single problem in the history of human civilisation has ever been solved without first acknowledging that it exists, and not a single innovation ever came to fruition without a questioning mind identifying and contemplating how to satisfy a need. So, a newly minted Canadian physician, Frederick Banting, in 1920, developed insulin; Nikolai Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi gave us the radio; and the Wright brothers gave us the aeroplane.

Solutions to our national problems require honesty and frankness, first of all, from our scholars, thinkers and commentators who are able to identify the problems, analyse them, frame them, and proffer innovative approaches based on global best practices adjusted to our socio-cultural and economic contexts.

We must stop confusing private and public interests, or journalism with public relations; be honest about the agenda that dictates our perspectives; and stop proposing marketing and public relations solutions to structural and operational problems. It is dishonest ultimately, and will not solve any of our problems.

Governments and ruling politicians, I understand, have a vested interest in making themselves look good, but even they too must understand that, when the rhetoric and reality are far apart, the result is comical and they quickly lose credibility, respect, or moral authority. Moreover, a significant part of our problem is that we too often believe our own spin.

I fail to understand, for example, why Mandeville — historically our most appealing inland town, and still one with great potential to attract visitors and expatriates — is increasingly feeling like a Third World backwater. Why is the town missing basic infrastructure like parking spaces, sidewalks, stoplights and pedestrian crossings?

I recall as a little girl my father telling me that the market on Manchester Road was to be moved to ease the congestion in the town centre. That is yet to happen. In the meantime, crossing the road, narrow as it is, is a daredevil act that puts one in mortal danger of being run over by the ubiquitous taxis or handcarts.

I understand our economic difficulties, but I am severely challenged by how we will break the cycle if we are unable to bring either our attitudes or our infrastructure up to reasonable standards or even to recognise what exists as problematic.

Grace Virtue, PhD, is a social justice advocate.

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