IT should be clear to the more discerning among us that the dire economic straits the country is in has placed a damper on any fulsome celebration of our 50th anniversary of Independence. That this is so is an indication of the country’s failure to manage its economy over the years; the extent to which our political economy has become a hostage to tribal political clientelism; the extent to which we value “bling” over deep philosophical introspection about our identity as a people and the extent to which we have abdicated any sense of moral responsibility in our pursuit of materialistic goals.
The pursuit of materialism unimpeded by any moral accountability for the neighbour has forced many of us to have a first-world taste in the midst of a burgeoning debt burden and rising poverty levels. With all this in mind, the proper focus of the 50th year of celebration should be one which calls the nation to a deeper introspection over the road we have travelled and the direction we should take in the next 50 years in building a viable society.
One of the missing aspects of the celebration as I have seen it so far is the absence of a deep, philosophical reflection on our identity as a people; reflection on where we have gone wrong and what must be done to correct the course on which we are currently embarked. The people have not been called on to rally around a set of objectives that could inspire patriotic loyalty. We seem to be making up things as we go along and so there seems to be a hodge podge of things to be done but no set of national objectives to be reached.
If there are, then the planners have been dismal in their failure to let the people know about them or to get them energised around them. What is emerging are a few events that are more expressive of their entertainment content than any deep reflection on who we are as a people, the road which we have travelled these 50 years and the future into which we hope to enter for the next 50.
All this is not intended as a criticism of any persons but of a process devoid of proper planning. The present brouhaha regarding the selection of a song for the celebration is symptomatic of the lack of proper planning that has gone into the event. The change of administration on December 29, 2011 has not helped. The previous administration under the then indefatigable minister of culture, Babsy Grange, had done some work, but suddenly and unexpectedly the electorate pulled the rug from under her and Lisa Hanna was given what now appears the unenviable task to carry on with the project. In the short time she has held the portfolio as minister of culture, it is clear that she has been given basket to carry water.
What has been remarkable is the amount of water she has been able to carry in it. In an austere budget year, she is being asked to put on a celebration that is way beyond the government’s financial capacity. Yet, the people expect to have a great time, to be well entertained, and there need not be any worry that the resources are not there for this to happen. Those who are calling on the minister to resign have mis-diagnosed the situation. She certainly has not been lazy in her approach; she has worked hard and assiduously to unscramble omelettes into hard eggs, and it is unfair for her to be used as the sacrificial lamb for problems that have emerged and that are way beyond her capacity to solve. Certainly there have been missteps but they are not of the gravity to merit her resignation.
As a young minister and someone who is new to the portfolio she has done her best in the circumstances. It is important for the government to have affirmed her in her work, because, God knows, she needs it at this time. We have a penchant to tear down people when we sit in the comfort of the pavilion. We see all the balls that the batsman should swing to the boundary instead of playing defensive strokes. But if we should ever be given the bat and placed to face the opening over from a Michael Holding, we would have more appreciation of what goes on at the stumps.
This is not to say that criticisms must not be made, but we must be more careful in the way we offer them. Unless we believe and really know that we can do better we should be more humble in the criticisms we make of others and in the advice we offer. All of us must think carefully about removing a fence until we know for sure what we are replacing it with. My criticism of the way we have gone about the planning of the 50th year relates to a lack of communication that can galvanise the people around a set of achievable national objectives and an absence of a clear philosophical underpinning for this.
You do not get the sense that this is a “special” celebration and wonder what is so different about it than those that have gone before, except for a few add-ons. You do not get the sense that the Jamaican people “own” the project or that they have a great stake in it. I do not know what a meeting between the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition will achieve at this late stage, but it cannot hurt to have some dialogue. The big elephant in the room that people seem reluctant to acknowledge is a lack of funds to do a great project. Let us acknowledge our limitations so that expectations do not run too far ahead of our ability to fulfil them.
Professor Stephen Vasciannie
Let me take this opportunity to congratulate Professor Vasciannie on his posting as our ambassador to the United States. It is hard to find a more suitable and qualified emissary at this time. He will bring not only the prudence and good sense of his legal mind to the job, but the equanimity that one would expect of any diplomat operating in the context of today’s geopolitical realities. I wish him and his family a good tour of duty.