Columns

'Not everything go by logic or reasoning'

CLAUDE ROBINSON

Sunday, October 21, 2012    

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The headline for this column is from a letter in the Daily Observer of October 17.

The writer, identified as C Scott from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA, complained about what was described as "the worst National Honours and Awards Ceremony" the writer had ever attended; and she had been to several of these annual events at King's House staged to recognise Jamaicans who have made outstanding contributions to the country.

According to the writer, last Monday's observances had several missteps unworthy of such a major state occasion where protocol and precision should be the norm. I have not read or heard any corroborating testimony from other eyewitnesses so I am not in a position to comment on the accuracy of the alleged missteps.

What stands out, however, is the writer's description of a reported exchange with a policewoman.

"When I began to inquire as to why the disorganisation, a policewoman told me sternly, 'not everything go by logic or reasoning, so just siddung right dey so, ma'am'." Assuming the exchange took place as reported, the expression offers a useful metaphor to examine aspects of our current social and economic condition.

Of course, the expression attributed to the policewoman is correct, at least in one sense: It is generally acknowledged that, as humans, we are not only guided by logic or reasoning in making decisions or life choices. Ethical and emotional considerations, among others, are also involved.

To illustrate: Using logic and thinking rationally, one would invest in companies that generate high profits and pay good dividends. However, by applying ethical considerations one could decide not to invest in profitable companies that produce harmful products such as tobacco, alcohol or unhealthy fast foods.

Also, one could appeal to emotion. 'Eat Jamaica' campaigns, for example, usually appeal to our sense of patriotism or the benefits of cultural foods. Thus, some consumers will buy more expensive local foods than cheaper imported substitutes.

But in one context the observation may reflect a national tilt in the direction of the 'normalisation of dysfunction' that I wrote about last week.

That context is indicated by several factors including the ongoing debate about breakdowns in social norms; explanation and justification of anti-social (sometimes violent) behaviour on the basis that the perpetrator was only seeking to 'eat a food'; the undermining of traditional institutions of family, school, church and community in a rapidly changing world.

In this condition, we learn to accept decline in our social arrangements and economic outcomes as 'the new norm'; and we just live with it.

High debt and anaemic economic growth have been the 'norm' for more than four decades; educational outcomes measured in high school certification are below expected standards; crime, especially murder, puts us among the worst offenders in the world.

The phenomenon of garrison politics and the links between politics and organised crime persist; criminal gangs wield enormous influence in some communities from which the State had almost retreated; corrupt or careless management of public resources goes unpunished. And, according to Patrick Wong -- the embattled former head of the National Works Agency -- corrupt management of public assets is the result of an "unwritten protocol" that politicians select favoured contractors for some big government projects.

Was Mr Wong's claim a case of a man seeking to burnish an image severely tarnished by the reports of both the auditor general and the forensic audit which found major flaws in his stewardship of the massive US$450-million JDIP? Or should we be alarmed by it, as Contractor General Greg Christie has argued?

Cabinet in third retreat

What's not in doubt is that the national responses to our many shortcomings, for the most part, seem unequal to, or disconnected from, the problems as they manifest themselves. Our leaders seem loath to take decisions about our social disorganisation or economic underperformance on the basis of 'logic or reason'.

The observations seem relevant as the Portia Simpson Miller Cabinet Thursday went into its third retreat since taking office in January.

At the time of writing, there was little information on the retreat, but some reports indicated that the focus would be on the current negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which the prime minister and the Government say they want to complete as soon as possible to re-open the foreign exchange flows which have been clogged for more than a year, and return a greater sense of confidence to producers and consumers.

The facts are not in dispute. Jamaica has a debt of more than J$1.68 trillion, some 140 per cent of gross domestic product. This places us in the same league as Greece and other troubled Eurozone countries. Minister of finance and planning, Peter Phillips, has repeatedly stated that this is unsustainable.

At issue is how to bring it down and take all the other decisions necessary to secure an IMF agreement.

Essentially, the Government has to borrow less and bring its spending in line with its income. This means reforming the public sector to achieve efficiency and reduce cost; asking civil servants to contribute more to their pensions; and revising the tax system to minimise evasion and corruption to ensure that more people pay their fair share.

These are the same conditions that the last Jamaica Labour Party Government had on the table and were unable to implement.

These are difficult decisions as we see governments around the world struggling to bring down deficits while minimising social disruption. The US budget process has been parked at the edge of the precipice until after the presidential elections are over. At that time, Democrats and Republicans will make a serious effort to reach a compromise.

The options facing Mrs Simpson Miller and her Cabinet are not easy. Severe cuts in expenditure by, for example, sending home thousands of public servants, could be tantamount to political suicide. And the social consequences of the attendant human misery -- in a country with one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world -- cannot be easily calculated.

'Logic and reason' should push our leaders in the direction of a national consensus on the way forward. And then use all available political capital to ensure that the issues are frankly and fully explained; that burdens are equitably distributed; that our burdens are not made heavier by mismanagement and corruption; that sacrifices will not be in vain.

This is not a time for everybody to just find a chair and find a seat wherever they can. If we feel that is the only way out, then only those best positioned will get a seat at the scarce benefits table and it will not matter whose chair. As a colleague fluent in patois translated for me: "Wen di taim (time) kom it no mata ef a fi wi chier (chair) ar ef a fi sumadi els oun."

kcr@cwjamaica.com

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