A new year dawns but old problems persist


Wednesday, January 03, 2018

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Whatever foul mood one ends an old year in, there tends to be a sense of optimism and relief when the new one dawns. There is that irresistible feeling that the new cannot be like the old; that somehow the demons that followed one into the new year will be vanquished and one's future will be set on a more practical course to success.

A new determination, accompanied by various resolutions as to what one will do differently, takes over — notwithstanding the various voices of negativity and doom that pierce one's eardrums. One often finds, though, that the problem with these resolutions is that they tend to have short feet. They tend to get abandoned or forgotten by the time March rolls around. By that time, the demons even seem to multiply — starting with the persistent bills and debts that come due in January.

Part of the reason for the abandonment of many a resolution is that they were unworkable in the first place. They fail the practicality test as too many of them were too deeply rooted in unrealistic expectations, such as expecting others to fulfil them instead of one developing personal strategies to see them through.

Of course, it is not only individuals who carry their personal demons from one year to the next. Nations collectively do this as well, and Jamaica is no exception. Elusive economic growth continues to be one of the persistent maladies of our time. The Statistical Institute of Jamaica has just reported an anaemic 0.8 per cent growth going into the third calendar quarter. The question is why are we not seeing a more aggressive growth in the economy when all the macroeconomic ducks leading to fiscal sustainability and growth have all been lined up and ready to move. More questions are being asked about the Government's ability to achieve its much-vaunted five per cent growth in four years. We have already passed the halfway mark and we are struggling to achieve one per cent. And this is not necessarily the fault of the members of the Economic Growth Council (EGC), for whom optimism is not in short supply.

But it will take more than unbridled optimism to grow the economy. Indulging a game of musical chairs, in which committee members are moved around as seemed to have happened with Senator Aubyn Hill being named the new executive director of the EGC, may give the impression of things being done. But at this point people are only interested in results. In the name of transparency, does this appointment come with an emolument and other perquisites? What new initiatives will Hill bring to the table to ensure that the Jamaican people consider themselves integral and not peripheral to the growth prospects of this country? One gets the distinct impression that the vast majority has not bought into the work that the EGC does.

Yes, there have been high-profile meetings and presentations, but the enthusiasm that should attend such efforts by the people who are the ultimate stakeholders is just not there. If I am wrong in this assessment I would be happy to be proven so, because then there could really be some hope that we are on the right track. But I do not feel it, and I do not believe the large majority does. If my fears are not just a bovine heap then we are really whistling past the cemetery here. Trickle-down theories of growth from massive projects may titillate the intellect, but they add no real value to the orderly pattern of growth that one would like to strive for and which has to come essentially from the micro sectors of the economy.

Still another demon that persists with us is crime, and particularly murders. The year 2017 ended with the second-largest murder rate ever recorded in the country. At last count, the murder statistics stood at 1,608 people, most of these by the gun. Jamaica continues to be a lavish host to the gun demon, and it is clear that this is not one that will be exorcised any time soon. It is easy to blame the politicians and the politics of the day for where we are as a leading criminal jurisdiction not involved in a civil war. But we also need to look at crime in terms of the personal culpability of those who commit them and those who give succour to them. Crimes are committed by people who benefit from their dastardly deeds; by people who resolve that greed and the accumulation of material things and power are the things that best define them as individuals; that the best way to live is by a code that says that life is all about them and others be damned.

Yes, Andrew Holness, Robert “Bobby” Montague, and the rest of the Government will do their best to tame the crime monster, but they will not be any more successful in 2018 than they were in 2017 if new and more intelligent approaches to fighting crime are not adopted. And neither will the People's National Party if by some divine fiat they should once again hold the reins of power. The people are now more convinced than ever before that neither party has the answer. We have seen them both in action and the problem has grown progressively worse over the years. In fact, many will argue convincingly that they have been a part of the problem. People are now plainly fed up with the posturing and crosstalk and want to see collaboration and cooperation to bring the monster to heel.

Therefore, in 2018, there has to be the resolve followed by firm action that a comprehensive approach will be taken to the problem. The Opposition, civil society, and other groups must be engaged in a national effort to fight crime. We must face the fact that we are engaged in a national emergency and that the entire Jamaica is a zone of special operation. The identification of special areas of the country for treatment may be helpful in some respects, but this does not address the rot that is taking place in some many other areas. This piecemeal approach can give the illusion that something is being done when the battle is being lost in other areas.

Resources must be found to further bolster the ports of entry for guns and other contraband smuggled into the island. Gunrunning is big business in the criminal underworld. Could it be that a great deal of the guns being shipped to Jamaica are intended for other places, but Jamaica is a mere trans-shipment port for the movement of these weapons? When I wrote recently that the Israeli Government should be engaged in fighting crime, my specific plea was in the area of intelligence gathering, not in having Israeli operatives doing police work at Coronation Market. Notwithstanding what appears to be the Government's abandonment of Jamaica's high moral position on the Jerusalem question, I still believe that there is a great deal of synergy that can be derived from their participation, especially in the areas of trans-shipment of arms, drugs and people and border security.

If the Government is really serious about fighting crime it must really convince us that it is. A few cars will bolster mobility in the police force, but let us not pop the champagne corks too early, for there are far more intractable problems to be addressed. Crime must be treated as a national emergency and given the resources and attention that this merits. If we had 1,600 murders in any major US city in one year you can bet that the National Guard would be called out. It would attract the single-minded attention of the authorities. It is time that Prime Minister Holness really give crime his undivided attention.

Our problem in Jamaica is that we have become too comfortable with too little. Man cannot live by panaceas alone, yet in Jamaica we indulge them as an alcoholic a bottle of beer. We must not only demand that our leaders give the crime matter the attention it deserves, but each one of us must be mindful by our own vigilance to play a part in this battle. If there is ever a time when the collective will of the people must be summoned to a national emergency, this is it. We hope that at the end of 2018 the demons of crime would have smelt more than the incense of the exorcism process.

My hope is that 2018 will find us in a better place as a nation than 2017; that in our own personal strivings things will begin to look up. Be the change that you would like to see in others. There is a great deal in each of us that could change for the better as we seek to live more meaningful and purposeful lives. One does not have to drill down too deep to find what these are. Some are as obvious as white in milk or sweetness in a honeycomb. Let your life be a blessing to somebody else. Kindness, gentleness, compassion, and love for neighbour are still hallmarks of a happy, successful life. A very productive and healthy 2018 to you.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or




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