Ronald Mason | Jamaican paradox
Many years ago, Jamaicans adopted the slogan 'Jamaica, no problem'. Today, the country has many problems, most, if not all, having their genesis in political administration. We came excruciatingly close to becoming a failed state in the very recent past, but today we recognise that we have the power to overcome major problems.
Let us illustrate one of the major paradoxes. Economic leadership is inconsistent. The Bank of Jamaica has said that inflation is running at 4.1%, but could rise to 6% and still be within an acceptable range. The Economic Growth Council speaks to a revision of its target from 5% growth in GDP in three years, instead of four, while gleefully projecting 2.3 per cent GDP growth for the next review period.
These targets leave me befuddled. Are they realistic expectations and targets, or are they issued in furtherance of some political expediency? If we have those elevated levels of inflation while the USA, our major trading partner, has 2% inflation, we are going to have big devaluation in our currency. Is all this taken into account when we set a stipend scale of $17,000 per month for basic-school teachers? Are these persons receiving this pittance not obliged to shop in the same retail outlets, pay the same transportation costs, and pay the same electricity tax as those who can make the Jamaican market for luxury brands of automobiles so attractive by the demand for their products?
We live in a paradoxical country where garbage is strewn across the land. We litter as if there is no redeeming value to environmental cleanliness. We can find millions of dollars to build or renovate municipal corporation buildings because a straggler accosted a high and mighty official of a municipality, but we do not have enough garbage trucks or funds to clean the drains.
The implementation of the new school funding regime is a noteworthy achievement to be trumpeted with great fanfare, yet in high schools, 70 per cent of the attendees depart without attaining five CSEC subjects. They are sent out into the workforce without the ability to think creatively, accept significant training, and to contribute to the productivity of the country.
As a nation, we have been in this predicament for decades. It is rather disconcerting to hear the former minister of education, now out of office, with all the answers, and the current minister of education displays benign acceptance of the status quo.
Education is the greatest tool with which to positively influence the ills of society. We must get off the plantation model of education that allows for haphazard attendance at school, poor fourth-grade literacy and numeracy skills, and a total inability to hold parents accountable for their children.
Some years ago, Andrew Holness spoke to holding parents accountable. Where is that being implemented, or is it a political hot potato, not to be visited in the era of a one-seat parliamentary margin? Look how all this is showing up in the society. The Jamaican law graduate is found guilty in the American courts for allegedly being part of the lotto scam. Where is the impact of a first-rate high-school education when one sees final-year university students not having paid the fees, as they are obliged to do?
Another paradox in Jamaica is the lack of government and societal action to bridge the extremely wide gap between haves and the have-nots. Sociologically, this is not one country, and this has been recognised for more than 40 years. The haves attend private preschools and preparatory schools and the average Jamaican will attend a basic school that is not likely to have a trained teacher or the necessary teaching tools.
Attendance at high school is exceptionally stratified, and those in charge, rather than make concerted extensive attempts to justify one society, tell those children who are placed in the warehouse buildings that they pass off as schools that they must bloom where they are planted. How laughable! Telling someone to bloom in a top 10 high school is to repeat the understood and expected mantra.
Society does not care because the avenues of expression are so different. Carnival and dancehall, never the two shall meet. I bet you will never live long enough to see soca being paraded from Trench Town to Spanish Town Road.
What are we building in Jamaica with regards to a health-care system? I would love to be informed of a case where an average Jamaican who cannot pay the charges is transferred from KPH to the Tony Thwaites Wing of the University Hospital. Tony Thwaites does not seem to be shortstaffed of professionals, but the Ministry of Health's professional complement is woefully lacking.
I have begun to wonder whether this debate about marijuana is not a proxy fight between the haves and the have-nots? The have-nots claim it as sacrament and full of value. The have-nots lack the economic base to tap into the industry, and so they are being given all types of excuses, including that they lack the expertise to cultivate a quality product, yet these are the same have-nots that have mastered the cultivation of this product for decades.
Oh, what a paradox, Jamaica!
- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.