Ronald Thwaites | Don't let anyone leave
Years ago now, the Jamaica Defence Force had advertised for about 10 civilian workers. The morning when applications were to be received, both the Duppy Gate and Cotton Tree entrances to Camp, from early o'clock, were corked with young men, some accompanied by their girls, all with some certificate in hand, hoping to get a work.
"Don't let anyone leave!" I pleaded with the chief of staff at the time. "Register them, at least. Give everyone at least the hope of doing something useful with their lives."
He couldn't do better, he said, so hundreds who wanted a chance for honest work went back to their street corners where mental and spiritual regression, negative peer pressure, hunger, dependency and the temptation towards crime and violence would, perversely, never leave them.
Our political economy has never been designed to achieve what should be its primary objective - the useful engagement of all our people.
The last time Jamaica had full employment was the night before slavery was abolished.
Visiting revolutionary Cuba in the 1970s, there would be two people assisting at the elevator door of each floor. More people doing often apparently superfluous things but everyone occupied, having a reason to wake up early, get out and earn something.
Over the last 20 years of my experience, I can't recall a debate in Parliament, or even serious mention of the moral, economic and social imperative of full employment.
Yet we wring our hearts and hands about crime, spend endless and mostly futile billions trying to supress it, while failing to accept that chronic idleness is a major contributant to the problem.
This is why I applaud the initiative continued last week to enroll unattached youth in an army-involved, multisector-partnered programme of discipline, social reorientation and introduction to skills. We had started the effort in 2014. It worked well, but needed to be expanded.
Col Martin Rickman, the officer in charge, ought not to have been surprised that the turnout was triple the number he was catering for. And when there are other recruitment sessions elsewhere and with more notice given, the numbers will multiply.
This time, my plea is even more insistently the same - "don't let them leave." The more resources we devote to effective social intervention, the more of our people will create and engage in productive work, and the greater control there will be on the scourge of crime.
The police themselves are telling our 'hard-ears' rulers that this is what is needed - not another state of emergency, even if we avoid the name, deceitfully calling it 'special zones', for fear of frightening the tourists.
Here is some crude but revealing arithmetic: Take the $9 billion we are going to spend on national registration - helpful though that will be eventually - use it to resource properly the programme for unattached youth over three years and, at an approximate cost of $200,000 per person, positively influence the lives of close to 50,000 young persons.
And if not from that source, prevail on our creditors to relax the primary surplus somewhat to give the space to carry out this redemptive process.
Teach idle, unattached young persons the disciplines, the social and civic habits which they never learnt at the early-childhood level, reinforce their literacy and numeracy competencies, and certify each with an employable skill.
Have the police and social agencies identify with and come to know every trainee. Give them a food money alongside a new sense of belonging and hope.
And this time, don't let anyone leave!
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.