Columns

It’s time to lift our heads higher

James Moss-Solomon

Sunday, September 16, 2012    

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DON Wehby’s speech was carried by both newspapers last Sunday and spoke to suggestions as to how to further our sporting achievements to the national level of our own economic performance. The sentiments that Don expressed are very important points to be addressed as we swing from “the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat” so easily on the same pendulum. We really need to discuss how to get our nation on the upward path that leads to success.

Don spoke of building a brand and I think that programme should be discussed with him, Douglas Orane, and other GraceKennedy executives who are involved in brand building. The time it takes, the costs involved, and the standards that have to be maintained are valuable pieces of information that we all need to learn from the leading brand that still has Jamaican ownership.

Last week I mentioned Red Stripe, Captain Morgan, Tia Maria, and now Appleton, Coruba, Sangster’s, Edwin Charley, Daniel Finzi that no longer belong to this country. I stated then and do so again, there is nothing wrong or underhanded about these sales, but brands take decades to build and need constant attention. So we may yet build other brands but it will not be tomorrow or even in this decade. Thus we have effectively moved control offshore as we have done with most of our assets.

Just as Don spoke about raising our image, we find ourselves on the firing line of one of Africa’s worst black leaders, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. This man who has taken a decided turn for the worse has visited countless pain on his own citizens and this after we gave him a Nation Honour of the Order of Jamaica! This African “brother” has exhibited several signs of instability over the years, but still we have to pay some attention to his criticisms and decide for ourselves before we take umbrage and open war on his country.

He has urged Zimbabweans not to be like Jamaicans for some reasons. Firstly he says that all our men like to do is smoke ganja and sing reggae music, and wear dreadlocks, clearly throwing this in the face of his musical supporters led by the late Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Yet each day we see evidence of this on every street corner or even in the middle of the street, so he may be diplomatically insensitive, but is he wrong? We need to address this and determine whether or not the drug is a brain enhancer or a destroyer of initiative.

The true statistics about ganja usage need to be released as they do exist. I wrote the Commission headed by the late Professor Barry Chevannes about the usage of ganja at the workplace, especially operating cranes on the port, public passenger vehicles, trucks and private motor vehicles. I also asked about the validity of insurance coverage, and the road traffic laws while under the influence of either ganja, alcohol, or both. I am still awaiting an answer.

Secondly, Mugabe accuses Jamaican men of being underachievers at the tertiary levels of education, and in another related swipe suggests that women are in control (hope you noted that, prime minister). Well, statistics indicate that over 70 per cent of students enrolled in tertiary institutions are women, so again is he right, wrong or rude?

To tell the truth I believe that in many respects he is correct, but I find little comfort in having that brought to our attention by a tyrant like Robert Mugabe. I find myself intellectually insulted by the fact that this matter stares us in the face but we are too selfish to challenge our own status quo. We all accept the easy way out and refuse to stand up and examine some of the problems that plague our nation.

Young minister Damion Crawford stands alone “against” his constituents who vociferously oppose his decision to support education. He is basically told “get with the old nasty trough system of spoils or get out”. This adult response really means “let off” funds for foolishness, and screw the children and expose them to a life of illiteracy that leads nowhere. From within his party the voices that love the poor do not rush to the aid of a young man who just maybe, wants a better life for his constituents. The JLP will say little as the less they say is the more popular they will become.

The conditions that accompany necessary change are often sometimes uncomfortable for those in the midst of having to take new paths. We have resisted change from pit latrines, we reject the maintenance procedures designed to make cars and manufacturing equipment run well, and we rejected the use of computers in government for years. We have refused to move to shift systems or flexi-work hours (despite noticing that Air Jamaica did that for decades), we demand pay without performance, and we refuse to work efficiently and then wonder why we can’t progress.

This series of recent indecisiveness shows an unwillingness to change from strategies that have consistently failed to produce results over the past 50 years. In reading Don Wehby I see that there is little resolve to listen to his sensible words. Even as we hail him as one of our brightest young business leaders, we are determined to ignore his injunctions as we have done to all his predecessors.

What message are we sending to our people like Don? As a shareholder should I encourage him to sell off GraceKennedy to an American or Chinese corporation and we all take our profits and head off to live in Bermuda or the Bahamas? Well I believe that 90 years of corporate life in Jamaica is too much to just agree to throw in the towel. I urge everyone to fight for our country even in the face of political leaders who wish to take the easy sellout path while espousing patriotism and “sovereignty”.

We are down to 15 weeks of foreign exchange and that means that unless someone lends us money we will be unable to pay for imports before the end of January. If, as normally happens imports soar in the last quarter, we may run out before Christmas. We need to discuss these matters on our agenda publicly and stop avoiding them while we bask in the glow of past achievements.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has raised issues on the economy and highlighted areas that should have been addressed by his government and those before. The price of political popularity is at the opposite side of the truth, and deprive the citizens of considering how to help themselves. This columnist suggested from early 2009 that we should plant food on every available piece of available land using the thousands of idle hands.

The crunch is here, prices of corn, wheat, soya, rice, and many other staples are soaring and we are only talking about planting some red peas. Come this Christmas we may yet have to eat the IMF for dinner as we act, as usual, too slowly.

This is really reality time and we need to see ourselves as part of the cast, but recognise that there really is a brand new script necessary. So everyone lift up your heads, it’s now time to smell the branded coffee.

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