Columns

We have not prospered in 57 years

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, August 09, 2019

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Jamaica is extraordinary. It was the island most likely to succeed, but it has not. It produced individuals who have astounded the world with personal prowess, but no Government delivered even 10 years of prosperity in 57 years of political independence.

I will not be peddling optimism today, so look away, read another column, and live in your dream world.

From colonial times we were global and Port Royal was branded the “wickedest city” based on offshore predations on French and Spanish ships. Today it's all internal wickedness. Yet, no small island is as known, resourced, desirable or as poor, murderous and illiterate as ours. The antipodes were lands which where degraded and dissolute; and depraved, white criminals were dumped there. Australia and New Zealand now have per capita gross domestic product (GDP) figures 10 times ours, and Barbados four times ours for decades, as most West Indian islands. But global meltdown caught them, so now they are now like us.

Yet they are not truly like us, as Barbados with GDP of US$25,000 was living the life of Riley when we were below US$5,000 tightening belts; using cho-cho steeped in syrup as pretend Maraschino cherries in cakes and buns. We were too far away from them to even smuggle the real thing. So why didn't we prosper too?

Jamaicans are conceited; think ourselves better than other West Indians, yet as good neo-colonials we do not consort with our neighbours as does the Dominican Republic — the largest, fastest-growing and most developed Caribbean island — and try to change our fate.

Second, our leaders were insecure and felt safe in groups as Federation, Carifta, Caricom, Caribbean Single Market and Economy. But to remain top dog members had to be smaller than us, even though we knew the surpluses of small islands could not help, as we were more populous than all combined. But the joy of the one-eyed ruling the blind means he will make us suffer for power — he did not want a Spanish speaker to run the grouping.

Third, our leaders were afraid of the masses. They like being liked and do nothing to improve Jamaica if it risks losing favour. They admire Singapore's managed democracy which Lee Kuan Yew forged on the Westminster base, but none dared try. Even Andrew Holness, our young hope, is no different.

The masses are obtuse and recalcitrant, so to get productivity we need public order — put fathers' names on birth certificates, have taxis obey law, ban night noises — but forcing this might unseat any leader. Politicians fear the tag “slave driva” as it is a sticky label.

Fourth, we have the trappings of great nations but they do not work. Edward Phillip George Seaga upstaged his peers by cloning institutions from abroad. Today, Australia, Britain, New Zealand have all institutions and laws for us to copy and tweak, but we feign originality and waste time, so progress languishes.

Fifth, our politicians do not “sweat the small stuff” so they grow into barriers. Miscreants say, “Boss, mi did jus' a pick a likkle ackee,” but the intent was to check out a house to rape or rob. They know praedial thievery — mango, lime, ackee “a nuh nutten!” Zero tolerance, please!

No politician clamps down on traffic violations and antisocial conduct (littering; harassing females by salacious motions and cat calls, “Offica, mi did jus' a tel har seh she look good”; invasion of a person's space, and taunting, “But a neva touch him, Corpie”; threats in jest, “Mi did jus a run likkle joke wid 'im,” and menaces in humour aplenty.

Sixth is a deficit of implementation; no action, but all politicians talk sweet. Consultants' reports sit on shelves as the recommendations are stringent and “would take away the discretion of an elected representative to assist his people”, ministers say. So systems are not implemented to curb the very moves of politicians which lead to corruption. Reports with powerful remedies are unopened and this fact is used as reason for not doing necessary consultancy — Catch 22! It is the politician who does not want it implemented, as it would curb him. Then it's a breach of client confidentiality to tell anyone, and the civil servant is sworn to secrecy. John Public cannot win!

Finally, some opine we may not really want prosperity. Decades of negative productivity without consequences and tons of foreign aid; why work? Weeks ago we entertained Ghana's president, whose ancestors caught, warehoused and exported us. Ghana is rich, going places; 30 million people, 12 million employed. Jamaica has 2.8 million and 1.3 million — almost half employed. We have 500,000 poor people to uplift while Ghana has 16 million — Wow! Rejoice, we are not far from the kingdom. So if one poor person (half-million total) is mentored by two workers (one million total), with good Cabinet support, poverty and rampant crime would be history in five years. Yes, we can craft a usable model. 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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