Columns

Sovereignty is a word, not a concept

James Moss-Solomon

Sunday, January 06, 2013    

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IN the context of the Caribbean, the word sovereignty has been used loosely by politicians and bureaucrats who are highly educated and competent in the English language, to defend idiosyncrasies and stupidity carefully couched to enrage the emotional proletariat.

It is a clever and disingenuous play on the feelings of the people and geared to confuse them with a mental substitution of the word independence (which itself is often misused).

In general, the cry of "sovereignty" is used to suggest that we have control over our own coastal waters, when in reality we neither have the ships nor the warplanes to defend those waters against drug-runners, gun-runners, or even Honduran fishing boats. It is a really stupid rallying cry in a populist environment to people who have no means of effectively responding. It is worse when used by my schoolmate and friend Dr Peter Phillips, who should really know much better.

When a person is really lord of their own castle, then the suggestion of trespass can be met with a variety of defence mechanisms. But when the castle is mortgaged to the point of near default, then the real lord is the creditor. Yes, even kings and queens have lost their thrones though the paucity of the exchequer, and our relationship with agencies like the IMF is similar.

Yes, we can tell them to go to hell, but there will be consequences, and Peter, my friend, you need to be as truthful as I expect you to be, given the facts and the knowledge you have of the Cuban post-revolution experience and their isolation from trade.

Yes, we can take that path, but we must know that there will be electricity for only a few hours per day, no household conveniences, no gas for running cars and buses, and no imported foods and luxuries. Everyone will have to stop rolling spliffs and go to work by compulsory means and not voluntarily.

What I have indicated in previous columns is that whether or not we have an IMF agreement, the actions that we have to take remain essentially the same. Whether we look at the public and private sector, the corporate and the individual, or any other comparisons that we might make, our actions must include a return to productive work attitudes. We must be on time and we must agree to work to the best of our abilities if we are to survive. Growth is the number one priority for our own ability to repay previously contracted loans.

Yes, there is a road to sovereignty, but it must be clearly mapped, for in a society such as ours it will be a rough and rocky trail. It will mean that the very wealthy will have to go to work again in Toyotas and not the $15-m luxury vehicles, and their wives and husbands will be included in the workforce.

It will mean that the poor will have to work in order to survive, and that our usual raft of easy choices and options will be seriously curtailed. The general conditions will impact even the retired persons, and there will be retirement only on medical grounds.

True sovereignty, however, if properly defined, is the ability of leadership to squarely confront the options and demonstrate that quality for which they were supposedly elected. Proper governance is a responsibility of the leaders, and an expectation by the governed, and any deviation from that acceptance in our current circumstances will be very painful for all, regardless of the blame game of who put us up to our necks in the excrement.

We no longer have the time for even truth and reconciliation, no time for further elections, no time for one day per week Parliament, no time for commissions of inquiry into things that went wrong long ago. There is an urgency to act decisively as we address the months ahead, and for communications and responses to be open and clearly understood by the entire citizenry.

I have no further time to waste with the Cabinet members who seem disinterested or who wish for delay and inaction in the name of securing their legacy of spoils and chances for re-election. I have no further time for private sector players who refuse to act on exports and investments in order to save their own businesses. I have no further time for the people who wish to continue the political sycophancy of kissing up for the rewards of the scarce benefits and spoils.

This is a time for Jamaica, a time for nationalism, not misguided sovereignty or political one-upmanship. This is a time for cohesiveness of purpose, not selfish divisiveness. This is full time for observing law and order in an attempt to minimise non-essential expenditures. We need to take this time very seriously because the downside of the alternative path spells disaster.

The devaluation of our dollar has serious implications for the local interest rates as they must be set by taking the exchange risk plus a required return for local currency loans, or lend only in accepted foreign currencies. This in turn will impede the ability of the Government to reduce borrowings and force a return to a high interest rate regime that will neither help productivity nor increase employment.

We could be returned to the days of having oil tankers waiting for payments before offloading at Petrojam, and the drying up of foreign credit to the private sector. Some of us lived this way in the 1970s and are not inclined to return to those days if we can avoid it. Brown paper bags for scarce commodities, accusations of hoarding and preferential treatment are not realistic solutions for building trust in an already sceptical society.

Therefore the dialogue needs to be completely changed from misguided sovereignty to measurable success, from partisanship to participation, from past failure to future success. It is an entire paradigm shift for a nation that has grown complacent from years of mendicancy. It is as difficult as converting the disorderly windscreen washers of Three Miles into productive and disciplined workers in a factory environment.

Yes, I have never said it was easy, but it is essential if we are to survive as anything other than a failed state. This is the job of leadership in every sector of the nation, and it transcends Government, labour, commerce, manufacturing, schools, and even the home. It requires painful and often unhappy change that will seem to threaten our status quo.

Jamaica has a history of resistance to change, whether from leaded to unleaded gasoline, from big Carib theatre to multiplex, from typewriter to computer, from chimmey to flush toilets. However, this year, 2013, will force us to have a really critical look at all that we have accepted as norms if we are to move from mendicancy to true sovereignty in a fundamental way.

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