Fri | Sep 22, 2017

National Heroes' day

Published:Monday | October 19, 2015 | 10:00 AM

Jamaica first observed National Heroes Day on Monday, October 20, 1969. It's a day on which we celebrate the contributions and achievements of our national heroes. On National Heroes Day, we also honour outstanding individuals.

Our heroes were exceptional people whose selfless actions significantly and positively enhanced our country in some way. Their lives served to inspire others to greatness. The citizens that we acknowledge with national honours on National Heroes Day have all done exceptional work or tasks and are deserving of recognition and emulation.

However, sadly, there is an indeterminate number of people working in important/critical positions whose actions and inactions adversely affect our country's security, efficiency, integrity and productivity. These people remind me of Nero, the Roman emperor who, it is said, coolly 'fiddled' (probably played a lyre) while Rome burnt.

The story goes that, on the night of July 18, 64 AD, Rome experienced a horrific fire that lasted for an entire week. It consumed about 70 per cent of the city. Even though it was said that Nero travelled from Antium to Rome the very first night of the blaze and tried to organise putting out the fire, it was rumoured that it was he who engineered it.

Although unsubstantiated, we are left with the impression that Nero fiddled while Rome was destroyed.

Today, there are people in responsible positions who are metaphorically 'fiddling' while Jamaica is being destroyed. They nonchalantly, perfunctorily and sometimes corruptly perform their duties while the system, of which they are an integral part, is slowly and inexorably devoured by theft, sloth, nepotism, inefficiency, unnecessary red tape and archaic rules and regulations.

For instance, I know someone who contributed to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) for years, even while residing in Florida, United States. She died early in 2014. After jumping through the requisite hoops, her daughter (the next of kin) has been trying fervently to get the funeral grant due to her since then. I made innumerable calls to the NIS office since late 2014; most of them left me holding on, rang out or gave me recorded messages that the individual that I need was not at his/her desk. I even took the time to go to the NIS office twice.

I must admit that the people employed there always appeared to be trying to assist. However, to this blessed day, her daughter has not received one red cent from the NIS funeral grant, although the second anniversary of her mother's death is rapidly approaching. This case is not unique. The excuse is always the same: "It's just the way that it is, it's the process, it's the system".

No one in authority has ever made any appreciable effort to move things along or to fix this ridiculous problem. It's a breach of their promise of prompt and efficient service. It's frustrating. It makes people feel taken advantage of and powerless. It leaves needy past contributors and their relatives at the mercy of inefficiency and with no recourse. It's a disincentive to contributors.

Many other government agencies operate similarly. People finger 'the system' without making any significant effort to change or improve it. Inefficiency is the mother of corruption, which affects us all and severely burdens generations to come. It is a shame and an ethical disgrace that people with the capacity to make meaningful changes for the mutual benefit of all, often only function at the lowest end of their potential, just enough to stay under the radar and collect their pay at the end of the month.

They become part of the many stumbling blocks that slow national progress. They form the fabric of the clinging and almost ubiquitous red tape that entangles us and hinders national growth.

Since it appears as if they are here to stay, we should observe a National Nero's Day to highlight the civil servants who, by their inactions, contribute to the crippling inefficiencies in the system. Without identifying the individuals, we should admonish the fiddling Neros in our midst.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com