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If it's not corruption then what's the cause?

Mark WIGNALL

Thursday, April 03, 2014    

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RECENTLY the local head of a regional conglomerate lamented the fact that a north-coast hotel owned by his group suffered 18 months delay in seeking building approval for a water slide.

That's right, a water slide, something the vast majority of beachside hotels are naturally set up to accommodate. The hotel was not seeking approval for the building of a shooting range on the beach in which live ammunition would compete for space withswimmers. Neither was it seeking approval for the erection of a house of ill repute beside the piano bar.

But it took 18 months to get the approval. That is, shifting from one desk to another, from one government institution to another, and each cog in competition with the other to determine which one had the ultimate power, that is, the power to delay and prove around which desk sat the best village tyrant in the system.

If we should add up all the policemen, teachers, overworked and underappreciated nurses at our public hospitals and clinics, firemen, soldiers, etc, it is more than possible that we will find that there are about 7,500 people on the government payroll that are specifically employed to create added layers to business development gridlock.

It has to be understood that political parties like the PNP and the JLP have as first priorities allegiance to themselves, no matter what their mouthpieces say on the eve of elections and especially immediately after another win when 'openness' and 'transparency' are sold as catchphrases to the media and the population at large.

In real Politics 101, political parties exist to protect the class interests of those who fund their elections. The first line of defence in ensuring that this protection is secured is usually to pad the employment roster with those whose loyalty to party is unquestionable. In doing this, one building of 5,000 square feet may have five offices specifically set up to duplicate the efforts of the next or, to put it another way, one office dots the i's and the other crosses the t's on building approvals.

Just to ensure that big business interests are in any doubt as to who has the handle of the knife immediately after the election win, layers of business development approvals are set up in the government machinery to jerk business interests into playing ball and ensuring that any additional requests for political funding in-between elections are secured. Another word for that is 'extortion'.

After a while it becomes a game that both the winning political party and the businessman understand. The businessman is frustrated by the Frankenstein's monster that he assisted in creating but knows how to plug and unplug its power, while the politician and the government machinery test the limit of the businessman's patience.

In Jamaica it seems that the machinery of government is specifically set up to meet the twin goals of securing jobs for favoured sons and daughters and to give the general public the impression that government is representative of the people.

I knew this man who was party political to his core. Years ago when we used to meet each other and have discussions about many matters, his focus was never too long in shifting to the glory of the party he supported. Although I was never quite sure exactly what it was he did as a 'consultant' for an arm of the government, I know he had an MBA, which in those days, about two decades ago, meant that, well, he was employable in any government entity.

One Saturday evening I walked into an uptown watering hole and saw him in company with his colleagues. It was a hot day, but nevertheless he was fully clad in a dark grey suit and necktie. I knew he had been employed as a consultant in an area that was 'managed' by a Cabinet minister who had been his friend. What I was not prepared for was the amount of weight he had added to his frame in the year since his appointment.

As I greeted him I said, "Man, yuh eating healthly. You have certainly put on nuff weight."

He answered: "No, Mark, it is not weight, it is authority!"

Then there was this other acquaintance of mine, a man who had moved from being a trader in illicit drugs to a real estate developer, a quite normal passage of upward mobility in the Jamaican context. He had no more need to ship ganja because he had become filthy rich in the many mini-schemes he has developed, sold and rented.

But he was fuming as he complained to me about the delays in getting his building plans approved.

"Mark, all mi want di man dem do is give mi one budget to cover all of the payout weh mi haffi mek. Mi no mine dat. But mi haffi wait too long fi a man tell mi seh him want $50,000 and when it leave one office, another one in another office a seh $100,000. All mi want di man dem do is just give mi one budget fi di different amount dem mi haffi pay under di table and approve di @#! plan!"

In that broad understanding, which incidentally was supported by many other developers, government was never set up to advance the interests of the country and its overall development, and especially for creating employment for the faceless, the nameless and the powerless. It was set up specifically to buttress those who paid for it, but once the electoral win was secured it was forced to engage in game-playing with its funders in an effort to remind them which offices held the signatures and who had the power to delay development.

In the 1980s when then Prime Minister Eddie Seaga cut the size of Government, he became a most unpopular prime minister. As if to compound the problems, some saw him as giving approval to the US to destroy the local ganja industry by paying for aerial spraying of weedkiller on the very ganja fields whose production had made more than a selected few filthy rich in the 1970s.

At some stage this Government will have to find the will to employ the expertise to cull those additional layers of approval that are only there to create the roadblocks which give Government its real power.

Not the power to approve so much as it is the power to delay the approval for business development.

"It's not weight, it's authority!"

observemark@gmail.com

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