We need to keep working on the 'Big 5'


We need to keep working on the 'Big 5'


Friday, January 10, 2020

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My wish is not for elections but a genuine eureka moment in our economy. Jamaica was once the island most likely to succeed, and I am miffed we never came close to the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of Caricom members or our neighbour, the Dominican Republic — always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

I was not surprised when the “5 in 4” growth project bombed, as it had a good face but no serious metrics. But I was surprised Prime Minister Andrew Holness did not embed it as a generational project. Makes me think we were fools to take it seriously? Cabinet must keep its nerve!

That said, this is a new year, no pessimism please. Let hope rise in your heart as, despite computers, constructs, and artificial intelligence, it is people who change things. So, friend, what are your dreams for Jamaica?

We sprint, dance, sing, and our miscegenation gives us winning beauties and fame. But, like most we are consumers, not producers; so all we wear, drive, use, and value are foreign. We don't produce enough to pay for them, nor do we invent and innovate. So how will we win?

Jamaicans are hung up on politics, often ignorantly so, but does political philosophy matter? No!

Great nations arise in all political systems, so the key is a construct with the masses at core and systems to mainstream and embed gains across generations. All great nations prioritise the “Big 5” — food, shelter, education, health care, and security for the masses — and leverage the resulting social capital to produce and prosper. Western Europe, which leads Asian, Eastern European, African, American peoples, is an example. Europe was once a mélange of conflicts until World War II killed off tens of millions (three per cent of the world's population) of poor young men. It was rubble and, despite varied political systems, all were ad idem on the masses at the core. Russia and Eastern Europe rebuilt using scientific socialism, also known as communism; France, Germany, and Britain used democratic socialism; and the USA, a capitalist nation, retreated to its borders.

They made reparations to millions of poor families that lost male breadwinners to war by providing the Big 5 for the masses. The Russian State gave all but demanded personal freedom. Social democracies such as Britain made these a right of citizens and visitors, but are now walking back the visitor part. Can we do the same in a graduated plan with transparent, annual benchmarks verified by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN)? How?

First, use five macro variables which enure to good public service in each, and set targets. In health care, one variable may be “prompt attention at hospital”; so set progressive, ambitious, achievable targets on that base. So, “prompt attention at hospital” in year one may mean 70 per cent of patients must be triaged within three hours of registration; in year two, 75 per cent; year three, 80 per cent; and by year four, 75 per cent must be triaged within two hours, and so on, using a system of management by results with data-driven deliverables, not vague phrases such as “world class”. Most citizens are at ninth grade level education and will understand and yell if they don't see results.

So let's begin. What is the state of our Big 5? National security is a bummer. Two things reduce crime and both must be used simultaneously. First, behaviour change, via education for kids, and interventions for adults, both long term; and second, behaviour change via law for swift crime reduction. We use this in other areas; it worked in Singapore, but our Cabinets are fearful of losing votes. Will they act after the murder statistics reach 2,000 a year? Food for the masses is also shaky; a mix of local and imported items so we must determine the optimum mix, volumes, target production, and exports in tow to get there by say 2028. Housing has never kept pace and must be a mix of sales, rental, and innovative solutions. Government must not own housing, but subsidise the poor, incentivise local and foreign investors, indemnify pension funds to invest, create fair landlord and tenant laws, and then we could halve squatting by 2035. Quality education up to secondary level is a growing concern. Academic and vocational studies should be paid for by taxes and philanthropy is the way forward, then by strict accountability from classroom upwards we can have 80 per cent of cohort achieving mastery by 2032. Our doting health care must see Cabinet investing more in healthy lifestyle; jogging trails, subsidised gym fees, cycle lanes; Tai-chi for the burgeoning grey market and a results matrix in hospitals, clinics to drive accountability.

Great nations may not sing or sprint like us, but they meet the basic needs of 80 per cent of their people — and our youth want to leave here for there. This is true greatness! Cabinet should focus on the Big 5 for this decade in a management by results framework with transparent, progressive benchmarks verified by STATIN. 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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