Columns

Government should put people first

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, November 29, 2019

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I am convinced those who govern do not respect us. Politicians slide from promise to promise instead of implementing one then move on. No public service works well, yet we see no urgency by Cabinet to perfect, say, education or health care for all. They start boldly, but end poorly; no apology, just bluster.

Cabinet offered us a $1.5-million tax break projected by Aubyn Hill to have zero financial impact, but it cost us some $30-billion-plus; who apologised? Then, all of us supported the “5 in 4” growth run by Hill; now that mission is in shambles. Does Economic Growth Council Chairman Michael Lee-Chin really blame permanent secretaries when no previous report cited them, and some were changed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness? We expected a review of “5 in 4” to hold people to account and learn lessons; four years wasted, public hopes dashed — We be diss'd!

Some public services seem modernised to waste our time. Did Constant Spring tax office know the supply chain ends with satisfied customers? They use nimble technology in old, analogue ways; so a sitdown model suits their workers, but a dispersed, walk-through one in more, small pay points in Stony Hill, Papine, Barbican; a booth at Matilda's Corner hardware or a bookshop in New Kingston, suits taxpayers. Imagine 300 people seated hours in a computerised government office.

A Jamaican farm worker in Canada used the chainsaw like a machete to chop trees, so when he went back to camp and they started the saw to check it he exclaimed, “Ah oh, a wha yuh do wid it mek it a mek noise. I hppe unuh know seh a nuh me mash it up?” He never started the saw. You have technology in your hand but can't work it! The Companies Office also herds people into New Kingston's high price offices, parking, congestion just to change a registered office detail. A waste!

If what's inside the building is no joy, the public architecture is also insipid. Name one public building which inspires you. Decades ago, with the nascent city skyline — Bank of Jamaica, Scotiabank, Air Jamaica — we expected a quantum leap, but new structures seem less ambitious or innovative. A new building costs billions and can't be office space only; it must feed souls — workers and ours. Planners and designers have not given us a soaring skyline. Why? In a self-respecting city, skyscrapers are enjoyed by old, young, visitors and high-speed, dedicated, external, glazed elevators open up breathtaking 360-degree views, usually for a fee. Height is value, so don't waste prized locations. We need airspace for family and great views. We visit Empire State Building but sequester our skyscrapers as private property? We underdevelop ourselves!

The frugal British ruled Jamaica for centuries, and we are shamed by French, Portuguese, Spanish ex-colonies. They have massive theatres, opera houses, palaces for justice and the executive, museums, galleries, and public spaces. Yet they left a tolerable built environment, but we just widen and surface roads. The old water works now serve a million people. Public markets and Hunt's Bay power station endure to serve the new numbers. The national rail is decapitated, but used for bauxite; Kingston's tramcar light rails, buried under asphalt, will one day rise in sustainable, electric mode. Kingston Public Hospital stands, courthouses, Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation headquarters downtown serve well. Anglican churches adorn the island; of note, the Spanish Town-located St Jago De La Vega Cathedral and 350-year-old St Andrew Parish Church stand firm. Name two iconic structures built since Independence?

We need skyscrapers to inspire people and host galleries, dining, gaming, clubs, helipads, and security. Is the decades old Talk of the Town the only night spot? Access to skyscrapers must be mandatory for police, emergency services to train, spot fires, traffic, crime, civil unrest, and disaster response.

Our next parliament building will be used for centuries, so, please, God, let it not be the 'Pancake Parliament' to shame generations yet unborn. Our police object to a high-rise parliamentary building as they can't secure it, yet the world's parliament is in a skyscraper at UN Plaza in New York? Go figure!

Recently, I was on the 43rd floor of a building and many around were taller. Several banks of elevators at different locations served different purposes. They ran at different speeds or were dedicated to specific floors. Our people travel and must insist that public structures boost our brand and national pride. Our airports once had viewing galleries, dining, gaming, and space for a Sunday frolic with the kids, so let's restore them as we now have sterile ingress, egress for air travel. Our city needs family fun and a scenic bus ride for airport goodies, which also serves as cheap stress relief. Do our self-absorbed rulers know how the poor relax and recreate? Prime Minister Andrew Holness, please be ambitious for all and give us soaring, 21st-century buildings! Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.


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