I begin on a sad note with the passing of two wonderful and generous friends, namely Heather Little-White, and Charles Rousseau. I express my personal sympathies to their families whom I have been privileged to know for over four decades. Their generosity of spirit and their courage in the face of adversity were remarkable, and I can only pray that they will have peaceful rest in a better place.
I myself will not be writing this column in the future and today will be my last, but there are still a few outstanding items that must be dealt with in this final reminder. Firstly, the development of the total logistical plans that will develop our air, sea, and rail competencies cannot be allowed to slip. The potential is by far the single most important economic driver on our current horizon.
The new ships carrying three times the cargo of current vessels will come through the expanded Panama Canal by May 2015. This gives us no time to waste as two years is a tight schedule for ports, airports, and rail cargo facilities to be developed. I say this in light of the fact that the simple bridge work over Cassia Park is still not finished, and leads me to question how efficient we really are. The new ships that emerge must have somewhere to unload. Let us be absolutely certain that the first choice will be Jamaica.
My next concern is the potential arrival of JDX 2, and the current state of indecision within the private sector to abandon government paper in favour of investments in the production of real goods. I am worried that my colleagues never take any positive action until their backs are against the wall and the firing squad is in place. Well, we do this at our own peril, so be appropriately warned.
My third concern is that the funding of education has not been properly resolved. Early childhood, primary, and secondary education continue to produce inadequate output to meet world standards and demands. Functional literacy and numeracy are not merely dreams, but are essential to survival in a modern world.
The minister is trying, but we the citizens and the parents need to demand and contribute to higher achievements. The impending crisis at the Students' Loan Bureau threatens the very survival of young persons of modest means in tertiary institutions. As the NAACP advertisement said, "a brain is a terrible thing to waste".
My fourth concern is civility, or simply put, the self-control necessary to avoid infringing the rights of others. This simple improvement would withdraw much of the inappropriate attitudes that inflame the indiscipline that usually ends with physical confrontation. This encompasses a very wide range of activities that prevent us from acting in accordance with the law and lead to criminality and death. It may be the most effective measure that can commence immediately that may have a positive long-term effect on the efforts to reduce crime.
My fifth concern is with transparency and honesty as practised by our leaders and emulated by adults and juveniles alike. The contributions that go towards corruption cannot be tolerated, and we must take note of the effect that this has had on the values of our society. The "informer fi dead" mentality is emerging victorious over the concept that crime is wrong.
Let me be perfectly upfront as usual, and pile equal condemnation on succeeding governments, as well as an equal share on members of the private sector who continue to fund bribes and illegal payouts to officials in return for a game on an unlevel playing field. The wealth thus accumulated cannot be admired, and certainly not emulated. Punishment must therefore be administered where justified. "Rich is not right, neither is might."
This very sick society has come to believe that crime is wrong only if you are caught and convicted. We are morally bankrupt and I am concerned by the lethargy of the many churches that fail to lift their voices to oppose this slide. If we could adhere to any five of the Ten Commandments we would have a peaceful society. So as the peanut vendor said in reference to salted or unsalted nuts "Pick yu chice, di whole a dem nice". Any five will do.
My sixth concern is the cost of energy, and our unwillingness to debate nuclear energy in its newer and safer technological application. This could eliminate fuel charges, foreign exchange risk, and deliver at less than 10 cents per KwH. Then we would find a more favourable environment for non-traditional industries. We haven't discussed it properly, as there is little leeway for corruption and payoffs since the programmes are subject to strict international scrutiny.
My seventh concern is the monitoring of the investigation of rare earth elements said to be contained in the red mud residue. I have no doubt that the minister is on the right track by being cautious, as no doubt he was taught to be. However, in retrospect, we have not made the kind of gains for long-term development from the bauxite industry, so let us avoid the same mistakes, and if the elements do exist, let us be sure to get our fair share of the spin-off industries being located here by contractual stipulation.
My eighth concern is that we immediately examine the waste in government due in large part to the non-integration of systems between service providers. If we had efficient systems, the taxpayers would have no excuses about compliance. As it is currently, the excuse of not wanting to waste inordinate amounts of time seems acceptable to many. It is not, and delays lead to non-traditional solutions (read that as bribes, false documents, touts, and extra costs for illegal services rendered).
Finally, I feel that we need totally new governance systems that protect the citizens, but exact a strict compliance with rules and regulations wherever required. I wish that this could be started before the people start a revolt, general strike, or, God forbid, a revolution. It is time that our political and civic leaders realise that the way we operate our so-called democracy is flawed and takes us nowhere.
I have enjoyed the past four years writing this column. I have appreciated the feedback of those who cared enough to comment or even act on the topical issues. I have been saddened by our seeming lack of interest in avoiding dangers before they happen, and our refusal to be proactive.
It has been, in a small way, my contribution to the country I love so much, and I thank the Observer for affording me the privilege of having my point of view brought to the public. I believe that every citizen who chooses to think should have a voice beyond the petty partisan rhetoric that divides us, and effectively separates us from the path of progress.
I thank you all. I'm still proud to be a Jamaican.