Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | On missing the point

Published:Monday | July 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I know someone - closer than a brother - who, through life, has been very sparing of time away from his vocations. Why? Because life absent from useful work too easily makes one 'wutliss', saps productivity, fosters dependence and provides occasion for flatness of mind and myriad temptations.

Human beings need something useful to do so as to foster and maintain self-esteem and a sense of worthwhileness.

Jamaica's total factor productivity has been declining steadily during the years of independence. We ignore this reality yet amuse ourselves with notions of prosperity. How can that happen when so many who eat have no work while others demand more pay without offering greater productivity?

So what do we say of the hundreds of thousands of adult, working-age Jamaicans who are unemployed? There should be no surprise that, despite its massive resources, the nation reels under the scourge of deadly antisocial behaviour. Idleness fuels crime. It costs us more than $100 billion each year - not to even mention the human suffering.

 

Those in danger

 

Obviously, the danger is greatest among young people, full of energy and yearnings, fertile and bright though malschooled; most with nothing to do.

This is the waste, the chronic and increasing peril our society faces but which received little or no attention in the hour upon hour spent inside and outside Gordon House regarding the unofficial state of emergency legislation.

Apparently, the challenge posed is too great for our legislators. Confronting it would be too unsettling to our 'comfortable-for-the-few' political economy. Given the propensity for escapism so evident in the history of the two Jamaicas, we settle for repression while the lines in front of the embassy have doubled.

The proposal to transform gangs of criminals into gangs of construction is just one plausible and affordable stab at a solution. If you don't like it, offer a modification or an alternative, but don't talk around the problem and still hope for peace, let alone justice.

Resources for constructive development are not lacking in our overtaxed nation. Wastage, debt and misplaced political direction are our serious problems.

A single, thorough exercise of zero-based budgeting by Government, along with the daring but prudent allocation of the savings of ordinary people, already bulging in institutions like the National Housing Trust and the financial sector, could provide money for productive, rehabilitative work for the greater proportion of the idle, dispirited and often enraged young to whom the Jamaica that benefits the few either has to throw the crumbs of PATH and Food For The Poor, or else ignore, imprison and sometimes kill.

Reconstructing inner cities and rural communities can be the big cause which should enthuse Jamaicans in a new nationalism. Sadly, is there any sign that we in the political class can swallow our divisive spit and lead the effort to really staunch the causes of crime and violence?

We must stop missing the point. Then and only then can we watch for five in four and the 2030 vision.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.