Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Imani Duncan-Price: In pursuit of happiness

Published:Sunday | April 10, 2016 | 4:00 AM
In this March 30, 2015 Gleaner photograph, students of St Paul’s Chapelton Early Childhood Institution steal the spotlight in the Clarendon community. Achievement of Jamaica’s Vision 2030 goals is critical to greater all-round happiness.
Imani Duncan-Price
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What would you do if tomorrow you were offered one-way tickets and immediate citizenship for your entire family to a country of your choice? With all the talk of election promises - or maybe you prefer 'commitments' - and perceptions of the cost to the country overall, many of us would perhaps flee out of sheer frustration.

Maybe if there were a clear path to betterment we could see, we would feel more inclined to stick with Jamaica.

Where exactly are we going? By what principles and guidelines do we abide?

Certainly the most articulated vision we have is that of Vision 2030, the National Development Plan that was generated through extensive public consultations and with unprecedented bipartisan support. It's odd how little we ever hear of 'commitments' in the context of sustainable plans for Jamaica.

While we must focus on real bread-and-butter issues, we should also be able to count on all our leaders across civil society to hold the Vision at the centre of all plans and their implementation in pursuit of the ultimate goal: "To make Jamaica a place of CHOICE to live, work, raise families and do business."

The word 'choice'in Vision 2030 certainly stands out, particularly after reviewing the 2016 World Happiness Report and its link to development. If we are all to be here BY CHOICE - living, working, raising families and doing business - we could then assume we are happy. So, what if the Government were to make your happiness and your ability to make such a choice central to its programmes and policies?

 

THE HAPPINESS FACTOR

 

This may sound rather simplistic, but when you really think about it, enabling happiness is a more difficult and complex public policy goal than just economic growth and development. Sceptics may think a focus on happiness somewhat foolhardy if we haven't yet achieved economic growth and development. Why bother? There's a threefold response.

One: It is becoming more widely accepted that the 'good society' should focus on the triple bottom line of economic prosperity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. All three must be tackled hand in hand and the old way of seeing these as trade-offs is just that - old.

 

Excerpt from World Happiness Index 2012

(2005-10 period ) 2013*

(2010-12 period) 2015*

(2012-13 period) 2016*

(2013-15 period)

Jamaica's rank 40 75 65 73

* Indicates the year report published, the period in parentheses is the time frame within which the data was gathered.

Second, the World Happiness Report is not simply a reflection of how giddy we feel at the moment.

The index grew out of a United Nations resolution to use happiness as a guide to public policy and reflects the measurement of six key variables: GDP per capita; social support; healthy years of life expectancy; perceived freedom to make life choices; generosity; and trust, measured by a perceived absence of corruption in government and business. Jamaica's ranking is thus a sound starting point from which to examine how we look at enabling well-being, and provides a holistic view of our country and the experience for our citizens as we work towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The third reason for focusing on happiness goes to our social capital. Given that sustained economic growth is difficult for weak economies such as ours, and that people are likely to suffer more during times of austerity or local/global recession, Jamaica needs other fundamentals to buttress our people and communities so we survive and even thrive in difficult times.

The World Happiness Report 2015 states: "The strength of the underlying social fabric, as represented by levels of trust and institutional quality, affects a society's resilience in response to economic and social crises." Our Government may be well advised to establish a Ministry of Happiness, not just Job Creation and Economic Growth, to coordinate the multiplicity of factors needed to ensure that Jamaica moves through this austerity programme, successfully emerging with an even stronger spirit.

 

FROM AUSTERITY TO HAPPINESS

Hold that snicker! Before you scoff at this suggestion, it's worthy of note that four national governments - Bhutan, Ecuador, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela - have appointed ministers of happiness, responsible for coordinating national efforts, as well-being is seen as the ultimate goal for citizens. They are committed to designing policies enabling people to live happier lives. Could Jamaica make this leap in pursuit of happiness for all citizens?

This may not be a leap at all. A closer look at Vision 2030 reveals it already has the framework and suitable indicators and is inherently a solid guide to happiness. Started in 2005, at the call of the then minister of finance and planning, Dr Omar Davies, under the leadership of the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Vision 2030 was tabled at its conclusion by Prime Minister Bruce Golding during the 2009 Budget Debate.

The Integrated Vision 2030 Jamaica thus represents an exceptional political feat. It is based on guiding principles that place people at the centre of Jamaica's development. Even more important, as so many plans have come and gone, this integrated plan has a strong measurement framework tied to four national goals, so Jamaica can track how it's progressing and self-correct as needed once we use the Vision.

Surely we are still agreed on these goals that speak to enabling us all to achieve our full potential; living in a safe and just society; a prosperous economy; and a healthy natural environment! We need to demand that every government find the political will to adhere to these goals and the wider vision.

So what now for Jamaica?

Having made significant gains in stabilising the economy and righting some of the structural issues during very difficult economic circumstances, we may now consider leveraging three structures differently:

n As the Government has built the discipline of managing the macroeconomic framework and leading Jamaica through successive IMF tests effectively, the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) could now also monitor growth initiatives and report to Jamaica on how these are progressing in the context of Vision 2030. Jamaicans at all levels would be able to connect with the data meaningfully.

- The National Partnership Council should use the dashboard of indicators that support Vision 2030 - 15 National Outcomes, linked to the four National Goals; 84 national strategies that guide the steps of ministries, departments and agencies of government (MDAs), private sector, civil society from 2009 to 2030 - and speak to initiatives that each grouping is pursuing to take us further along the path. The council would then report to the nation in that context, so we know if we are making progress, or if restrategising may be required.

- Prime Minister Holness could consider the establishment of a strong programme management arm in the Office of the Prime Minister, working in concert with PIOJ to ensure we are streamlining and implementing the Vision 2030 throughout all ministries in a coordinated manner for Jamaica's benefit. In Bhutan, the PM chairs the Gross National Happiness Commission and works with the permanent secretaries of all the ministries to ensure the objectives of the Happiness Index are woven through all programmes and policies.

So let's work the happiness road map we have. It's actually a pretty good one! We're looking forward to the Budget Debate, where it is expected that the prime minister will share the medium-term economic policy framework, which is the next three-year implementation plan in support of Vision 2030. When he does so, let us commit, as Jamaicans, to supporting implementation by actively monitoring and 'fullticipating' in every way we can! Here's to happiness!

Visit vision2030.gov.jm to learn more about our National Development Plan.

- Imani Duncan-Price is a World Economic Forum young global leader and development consultant. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and fullticipation@gmail.com.