Slashing budget for public education now like a sport
A section of the incomplete Southern Coastal Highway project

Chopping the budget for public education, or even eliminating it altogether when the going gets tough financially, is like a sport in Jamaica — clearly because the need to keep the populace well-informed about key developments is not seen as a priority.

It's bad when it is a private entity that is doing it, but much worse when it's a government agency which is supposed to act on behalf of and in the name of the citizens of the country and is accountable to them.

A great deal of the anguish and the destruction of property caused by citizens protesting against perceived wrongs related to public projects could have been avoided had the time been taken to properly inform them about what to expect and how to mitigate foreseeable problems.

A very loud example of the lack of a decent and well-executed public education programme can be seen in the construction of the southern coastal highway — from Harbour View, St Andrew, to Port Antonio, Portland, and that from May Pen, Clarendon, to Williamsfield, Manchester.

At various points along the road residents in communities through which the project must pass regularly complain most bitterly about the dust nuisance, noise menace, or, ironically, breaking up of roads making transportation difficult.

In this case, no matter how hard Mr Stephen Shaw, communication chief at National Works Agency (NWA), tries — and he does — he cannot take the place of a sustained public education programme that brings the people together to discuss the project before it gets under way and keeps in touch with them throughout.

Dr Christopher Tufton would not have to be trying — unsuccessfully at that — to persuade Jamaicans that the whopping addition to the cost of fixing Cornwall Regional Hospital is not a budget overrun had he informed them in a timely manner that this new multimillion-dollar expenditure was foreseen.

Politicians, especially, should know that few people are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the spending of the public's money. The trust deficit makes it imperative that information be provided at the earliest possible time along the continuum.

In the private sector, one is happy to see the multiplicity of construction of townhouses and apartments because it means jobs. But that they crop up overnight, with little or no warning to residents, no information about parking plans, change of use based on the covenant, or the adequacy of public amenities, is very wrong.

Part of the problem with the scant regard paid to public education, particularly in regard to government projects, is how it is perceived. If the budget is to be cut, no need to spend money on information, so that's the first thing to be slashed.

Worse, it is often seen as a way to pay back communication people who worked on the election campaign, or as a slush fund from which money can be funnelled into the pockets of the 'eat-a-food' partisans.

To be fair, some self-professed public education specialists have a nasty habit of charging excessively for a campaign then turn around and severely underspend, thus short-changing the client, whether government or private.

However, a well-run public education programme that promotes peace of mind and tolerance among the citizenry can be worth every cent spent. Our people deserve it.

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