Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Carolyn Cooper | Jamaica, yes, xenophobia, no!

Published:Sunday | August 27, 2017 | 12:00 AM

It's not as if we're building the Great Wall of China. It's just a little widening of the road in Barbican. So why does the Government need to give this contract to the China Harbour Engineering Company? There's no Jamaican company that could do the job?

The North-South Highway, I understand. We don't have the local expertise for highway construction, so we get the French and Chinese to do it for us.

They, presumably, know what they're doing. But there is so much constant fixing of the North-South Highway, it makes you wonder. Rocks keep falling. Lanes are regularly closed. It can be quite alarming. You're driving along at a brisk pace, within the speed limit, and all of a sudden, it seems, you come upon the orange cones. A lane is cut off. I suppose it's just normal maintenance; nothing to be concerned about.

So we can't manage highways yet. And we won't be able to do so for quite some time because of our history of substandard road construction. It's not that we can't build roads properly. The real problem appears to be dishonest contractors using inferior materials to increase profits. And there's no effective system to ensure accountability. Is rain wash weh di road! It's God or nature to blame. Not the scarce-a-labour contractor.

 

PURE FOLLY

 

There must be some honest and competent contractors in all of Jamaica who could have bid for the Barbican job. At the signing of the MOU, Prime Minister Andrew Holness gave an intriguing explanation for why China Harbour got the contract, as reported in The Gleaner on August 11:

"As China develops and attains First-World standard [sic], which they will do within a generation, so, too, Jamaica wants to develop and attain First-World standards, and we can't do it by shutting off ourselves from the world. We can only do it by integrating ourselves and making ourselves a critical element and node in the world economy, and that is what we are doing."

This is like saying, "My boss a build a big house, and me want a big house, too. Soon-soon. So me nah go lef out my boss. Me a go hitch on pon him. My boss nah go able get rid of me. A so me a dweet. Me an my boss just a go gwaan work together. An wen him get fi him big house, me a go get mines same time." Pure folly!

The truth is, we're really borrowing money from China to pay Chinese businesses and pretending that this is development. Certainly not for us. Yes, we'll have the new road. But at what price? We'll be paying for it for generations to come.

The prime minister insists that it's xenophobia to challenge the way in which contracts are being given to Chinese companies. Ironically, the charge of xenophobia reminds me of the rather backward Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) position on the West Indies Federation in the 1960s. The feared foreigners then were not the Chinese. They were our own Caribbean people. True, some of our Caribbean people had come from China. But, over time, they had become Caribbean. One of my Chinese friends told me how alienated he felt when he went on a visit to China. But he's a special case. He went to Kingston College, not St George's.

Holness rightly asserts that we shouldn't shut ourselves off from the world. That was the fundamental principle of federation. Small Caribbean colonies of Britain stood a much better chance of survival by integrating themselves within the region before taking on the whole world. The JLP just didn't get it.

In 1961, there was a referendum in Jamaica about continuing in the West Indies Federation. The self-serving JLP slogan was "Jamaica, yes, Federation, no." The People's National Party (PNP) slogan simply didn't have the yes/no punch of the JLP's. It was rather limp: "Jamaica, yes, Federation, yes."

In an article published in the UK Spectator on September 29, 1961, with the headline 'Federation Without Jamaica', A.L. Latham-Koenig summarised the JLP campaign tactics: "They warned the electorate that their jobs would be endangered by a massive immigration into Jamaica of racially different people from the poorer islands of the Eastern Caribbean; and threatened them with a lowering of their standard of living because of the financial burdens of federation."

The JLP won the referendum; 54.1 per cent of voters took the bait and decided that Jamaica should abandon federation. Fifty-six years later, Bustamante's cynical warning has turned out to be a false alarm. Just look at the gross domestic product (GDP) per person of Jamaica in comparison to Antigua and Barbuda, for example. GDP is the total value of everything produced by all the people and companies in a country. Divide that sum by the population to get the GDP per person. In 2016, it was US$4,868.2 for Jamaica and US$14,353.4 for Antigua and Barbuda!

I speculate that Jamaica would be much better off now if we'd stayed in the Federation. The JLP drew the xenophobia card to destroy Federation. This time, it's to stifle debate about the terms of engagement with our new economic colonisers. Not all xenophobias are created equal. Sometimes, what looks like xenophobia is enlightened self-interest. The compelling issue is not only sustainable national development. It's also long-term regional integration.

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.