Jamaica's scorecard at 60
There are differing opinions about Jamaica's performance over the last 60 years.

According to Psalm 90:10, a man's lifespan is threescore and 10 or 70 years. The bivariate nature of this pronouncement suggests there is special significance to threescore — 60 years.

One portrayal of 60 years in the Bible is that of completing work and then entering a period of rest. One could surmise from this that how the first 60 years are spent determines the quality of life for the next 10 and more. If the chronological ageing of independent Jamaica is judged on the same basis as that of a man, this country is in trouble. Rest is nowhere in sight.

With this as a backdrop, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding approached the podium in the Bank of Jamaica auditorium on Thursday, July 28, 2022 to deliver the third G Arthur Brown Memorial Lecture. It was a courageous performance, especially with Dr Omar Davies — the man who for most of the fourth decade following Independence presided over the country's economy — seated in the front row. As a clinician, Golding was less commanding, indulging in too much recounting of history and too little diagnosis of the country's ills. He left the once-comatose patient, Jamaica, off life support, sitting up in bed but with no clear prognosis or treatment that would return it to good health.

Golding painted a lurid picture of Jamaica's development trajectory since Independence. Economically, he pointed to growth of 135 per cent or a paltry average of 1.4 per cent per year and gross domestic product (GDP), which is lower today than at the start. On the social dimension, he used as an indicator the country's murder rate, which in 1962 was 3.9 per 100,000 people in the populace, one of the lowest in the world, increasing to 53.6 per 100,000 in 2021, one of the highest in the world.

Bruce Golding.

The dismal performance did not, however, mask the achievements over the period. Golding pointed to improvements in infrastructure – road, water, and electricity; access to secondary education and health services; institutional development and social legislation.

He arrived at a final assessment by weighing pluses and minuses, which is never very helpful in coming to terms with the depth of the pit into which one has fallen and what one is to do to climb out of it. "By any objective measure, our scorecard for the last 60 years is a mixed bag – a goulash of successes and failures, progress and regression, triumph and disappointment," he said.

Most Jamaicans who endure hardships do not enjoy the luxury of equivocating between two opinions in their assessment. An August 2017 Bill Johnson poll asked the question: Would Jamaica be better off today if it had remained a colony of Great Britain? Only 27 per cent strongly disagreed or disagreed with the statement. A majority 73 per cent said they strongly agreed, agreed, or didn't know.

As shocking as this response is and as much as one might want to second guess what it might be if the poll were conducted today, the circumstances in which the country finds itself on the 60th anniversary of its Independence require serious non-partisan reflection and collective action towards the progress envisioned by the framers of the national pledge so wonderfully encapsulated by this line, "so that Jamaica, may under God, increase in beauty, fellowship, and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race".

The idea of progress, as enunciated in the national pledge, is taken for granted by far too many. The concept first gained currency in Europe within the Humanist Movement of the early Renaissance, which was inspired by the 14th century Italian poet Petrarch. He classified European development history into three stages or ages:

1) Classical Age — characterised by rapid advancement in culture, language, architecture, art, and literature

2) Dark Ages — marked by stagnation and backwardness

3) Rebirth of the Classical Age — signalled a return to the glorious former period

Wither the Jamaican economy and society? The scorecard places the country in the red for subpar, albeit improving, economic performance and for the blood of innocent victims of crime and violence.

When one assesses the progress that has been made against Jamaica's vast potential, one inevitably concludes that as a country we have badly underperformed and missed the mark.

Like Big Boy in local folklore, Jamaica for most of the last 60 years has bungled its way along in a perpetual state of underdevelopment. What was once an identifying feature of the Jamaican character and spirit that took us to political Independence and caused National Hero Norman Washington Manley to proclaim, "Mission accomplished for my generation," has been lost by future generations who have forgetten how to be interdependent in pursuing the common goal of nation-building, how to live together peaceably and harmoniously, and how to be their brother's keeper.

This is where the Jamaican renaissance must begin, with us living according the national motto 'out of many, one people'. The possibilities for this pearl in the Caribbean Sea are endless.

Henley Morgan

hmorgan@cwjamaica.com

Henley W Morgan

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