To be young, gifted and blank
ALL of a sudden, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has become Jamaica's greatest bane. But is it? In real terms, it is supposed to be a boon if we are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices and maintain the fiscal discipline necessary to attain economic prosterity.
However, if a disease is to be effectively cured then while one fixes the symptoms through various prescriptions, one has to seriously deal with the cause. And I am convinced that this country's main ailment has nothing to do with inflation, a depleting Net International Reserve (NIR), a wobbling Jamaican dollar that is fast approaching J$100 to US$1, an import bill that far exceeds our export earnings, the debilitating spectre of crime and violence, waste and corruption, a savaging energy bill, or the many social ills that have caused us to descend into crass indiscipline and disorder.
That which hurts this fledgling nation most is that collectively we have failed to develop our greatest potential, which is our people. The starkest example of this is the continuing success of the tourism industry, despite an anaemic economy. In the final analysis, it is not the sun, sea and sand that make hundreds of thousands of visitors want to make it Jamaica again and again. Repeatedly, surveys have shown that it is the warm hospitality of the Jamaican people. Come to Jamaica and feel all right. Irie!
Yet, isn't it ironic that while we are so warm and hospitable to the tourist, we remain one of the most violent nations on Earth? Isn't this some form of schizophrenia? We kill each other daily but we smile for the tourist. Intriguingly, if we were able to solve the crime problem, tourism arrivals have the potential to move up to five million per annum, not to mention a dramatic increase in foreign direct investments. Why, therefore, do we continue to kill the goose that lays the golden egg?
Re-engaging the International Monetary Fund is in essence surrendering our sovereignty to a foreign entity, and we will only be able to get it back when we truly put our people first.
And in that context, my focus turns on the youth of this country. It is perhaps tragic that even as we bask in the seeming glory of having attained 50 years of political independence, not only are we yet to achieve economic independence but have created "a generation of vipers". This may sound silly, but I am convinced that unless we deal with the youth crisis in this country then we will never ever become truly independent, economically or otherwise. Indeed, our political independence hinges on the way we treat our youth because they are the future of this country. They are the ones who must be the producers, the innovators, the creators, the game changers, the nation builders.
Unfortunately, most of the crimes committed in sweet, sweet Jamaica are by young men, many of whom are uneducated and unskilled. Sadly, there is a disconnect between them and us. "Di yout pon di corner" who continue to lament the fact that "nutten nah gwan" are angry and oftentimes hungry young men who are totally disenchanted with the system.
Let's face it, this country has a great number of young persons out there who have the potential to become useful and happy citizens. Jamaicans are a very talented people. Any country our size that can produce a Bob Marley and a Usain Bolt should not be taken for granted. The tragedy is that because of the failure of our politics, there are thousands of Jamaican youngsters in our midst who are young, gifted and blank. They cannot read and write, they have no marketable skill, they are plagued by a sense of hopelessness and have very little faith or confidence in the future. Practically every day, a young man dies in this country, and any nation that keeps killing off its young men will never be able to create the environment in which Vision 2030 can become a reality. Incidentally, how many of our young people are aware of this national objective and have bought into it?
We have failed to exploit 'Brand Jamaica' in the positive way we should, because we continue to be a nation of samples, talk and no action. Is it that youth heeds nothing? Too much lip service is being paid to our young people. Yes, it may well be argued that there are many success stories with respect to our youth, but aren't they more the exception than the norm? Sometimes when I watch TVJ's School Challenge Quiz, I am struck by the ease with which students can answer questions relating to foreign topics, including identifying outstanding individuals as against relating to local figures and institutions. Our young people for the most part have foreign minds and foreign tastes. Most of our most qualified youngsters migrate, the average youth in the ghetto has no clue about what is going on around him or her. During a job interview I asked this young man the following questions: "Do you read?" "No." "Do you watch or listen to the news?" "No, sah. Me lissen to Beenie Man and Bounty Killa." Enough said.
Their mode of dress, the way they speak, their body language and just about everything about them reflects an alien culture.
Recently, Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips declared that after the IMF obligations and other major housekeeping matters have been met, education will take top priority with respect to budgetary allocation. It's a pity we did not take such a stance from 1962. Today, we would have been the better for it. After all, education is about youth. In this vein, the Ministry of Youth and Culture has its work cut out for it. God help us!
Lloyd B Smith is a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party.