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If politicians agree on major priorities, we can overcome

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, May 17, 2019

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If the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and People's National Party (PNP) agree five national priorities and pursue them relentlessly across administrations, we gone clear!

All politicians want power to do good for us, yet they fake-fight each other for the privilege of doing these known things — roads, jobs, houses, and so whichever party wins, we lose.

Does this make sense? All major systems are in crisis yet they build mansions, jet off for health care, name things for themselves, but little changes for the poor. To make a difference politicians should have priorities — health, education, security, housing, transport, water, etc, for both parties to fix via a generational effort over more than two terms. Can we develop a formal mechanism to make this doable? Yes!

In business, a chairman or CEO is replaced seamlessly as the driver is measurable results such as sales, revenue, profit, customer satisfaction. What is the equivalent for Cabinet? We can measure everything the State does, so why can't Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Peter Phillips agree on long-term priorities and pursue them to success?

The years 2012 to 2019 prove our Cabinets can work in sync on long-term goals and neither is diminished. The Portia Simpson Miller Cabinet fixed economic fundamentals and passed the baton to the Holness Cabinet for growth. The “5 in 4” plan may fail as deceleration of growth took place over many years, but we now know we can suborn politics to the greater good.

All verandah warriors know what needs to be done, so can JLP and PNP agree a few priorities? This is not political coalition or party erosion, but to move few items from the partisan combat zone to a safe space so they can grow well by declaring a parliamentary priority policy (PPP).

So, how may we do this? Holness is our first post-Independence-born prime minister, also imbued with the spirit of Michael Manley. We Baby Boomers were mentors, models, and must own his flaws and also his successes, so let's help him make history with this new precedent.

Holness must go where no leader has gone; be inclusive, not tribal. He must bring new thinking to politics; he may fall short reaching for a star, but he has two years.

Sir, get with Peter Philips, agree five priority human development, crime-suffusing, growth-inducing projects, then develop and use the PPP protocol to give criteria; then state how it ought to be pursued by several Cabinets. For example: It should be a generational project and not achievable in a single term; be given special resources; have set goals, deliverables and outcomes. So, if it's coffee for local and export, then acreage, yield, quality, and milestones for 2022, 2025, 20281 are crucial. Next, it should be pursued for three or more terms by the Cabinet in office, subject to triennial adjustments. In the case of coffee, there would be considerations for drought, hurricane, market collapse, and the protocol should allow flexibility and innovation in execution.

Can the JLP and PNP now agree a few priorities backed by data? Holness grew up seeing leaders of integrity, spellbinding oratory, and putative financial wizardry, yet by our 50th year we were a basket case — untrained workforce, declining production, low productivity, stifling debt, demeaning poverty, voyeuristic adventurism, and murders on an epic scale. Our incompetence puts us in the arms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) longer than any other country. Our recidivism was painful, but they stuck with us and now promote us and themselves globally; they win! Our history, 2012 to 2019, is unprecedented and we must replicate it. Do we have the character to endure post-IMF, or will we backslide again?

So, let's name some national projects; nothing massive as “end crime and murders”, but smaller items. First, give us a national ID system in 30 months, so we know our true population, target aid to the needy, and help police solve crime. Next, early childhood education should be funded 80 per cent by Cabinet by 2029 so every child starts equally. Then, every family should have decent housing (rent or own) by 2036 to give all kids the self-esteem of a good front door. Cabinet has never met even 20 per cent of house ownership; few will ever own a house, so we need a Rental Housing Policy, as all must rent while saving to own. The new Rent Act should incentivise pension schemes to invest in rental housing while Cabinet subsidises the poor. Next, set goals for food security (average 70 per cent local?); subsidise farmers, linking them to hungry urban bellies so no one needs to steal basic food after 2029. Selah!

Some think democracy is winner-takes-all and the Opposition waits its turn. Not so! We did this for 56-plus years and murders, corruption and poverty grew. So, let's avoid the trope that everything is priority — a licence for lots of activity, but little production. We want no more than five PPPs at a time in a disciplined schema. What do we have to lose? 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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