Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Mark Ricketts | My Christmas wish list

Published:Sunday | December 25, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Mark Ricketts

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts."

- Sir Winston Churchill

Christmas is a time of giving. Individuals, civic and community leaders, and businesses have always played their part in providing bonuses, treats, gifts to their workers and to the less privileged. Christmas is also a time of hoping that some of the things we desire we will get.

When we were young, we wanted certain types of toys and we were elated when we got exactly what we wanted. At other times, we might have expanded our requests to the point where they were impossible to satisfy. We would be disappointed in not getting all we wanted, but Christmas, being a merry time of the year, allowed us to mask our disappointments by putting the best on the outside.

Today being Christmas, I once again have a wish list, although I know many people will disagree with me. My wish is for Jamaica to become a Singapore of the West. I know that?s a tall order, but at the outset, I would like for us to emphasise the kind of leadership, imagination, vision, innovation, education, discipline, and language, that would let the entire society know that we have made a start.

Why do I wish for Jamaica to become a Singapore and why do I wish for something that has very little traction in Jamaica? I wish it because Singapore is a very successful little country which allows us to identify markers of outstanding accomplishments to see how close we are, what we need to do, and the pace we have to go in order to get there.

I would like to see us having the kind of per-capita income that Carlene Davis and her husband Tommy Cowan would not have to ask Santa Claus why he doesn't come to the ghetto, as there would be no ghettos, no slums, no illegal settlements, and no garrison communities. And it can happen.

Singapore has done it. It has wealth and it has no slums, and even Costa Rica and Panama, in our neck of the woods, are moving in that direction with accelerated growth in GDP.

Singapore, which is the size of the parish of St James and has a population of nearly six million people, was behind us in every known statistic 50 years ago. Today, it is way ahead of us.

l would love us to be a Singapore because that country averages 16 murders per year, whereas Jamaica, with half their population, has nearly 100 times as many murders each year. Add to our woes, we have more than 300 gangs.

Why wouldn't Singapore be a natural for us to emulate when our average income per person (per capita income) is $5,053, which ranks us 91st in the world, whereas Singapore's per-capita income of $53,604 makes that tiny country an economic juggernaut. Being ranked in the top seven in the world, Singapore can stand up to and be counted among the major players.

Singapore leaders have always had a fixation about their citizens being comfortable in old age and therefore they have twinned policies on housing with retirement security. The idea is that older people must enter retirement with a place to live and their own savings to live on.

In Jamaica, as I look at the compression of income over the last several years and as I look at so many self-employed, seasonal workers, and contract workers, including private security personnel, farmers, helpers, hotel workers, gardeners, carpenters, bus drivers, conductors, taxi drivers, I wonder how many of them have moved seriously from living hand to mouth each week to having meaningful financial savings and an adequate asset base for retirement.

The figures aren't encouraging when one considers that only 10 per cent of our employed workforce has a formal pension. And NIS, while providing something, is not the kind of numbers Singapore's leaders would even consider as a starting point when trying to make sure that their citizens can manage in old age.

I would love our country to be Singapore because that country has made its education system relevant to the emerging needs of its society. Its education ensures that a tiny nation can be part of the global talent pool by having a diversified workforce that is analytical, creative, technologically proficient and culturally fluent.

Look at our education system. We graduate from UWI alone more than 500 doctors every year. UWI and UTech seem to be in a dogfight, or at least a mad scramble, to oversupply lawyers to the marketplace. Why?

Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief, but with our country?s scarce resources, there are not enough challenges in our education system and our society regarding wider skill sets and cutting edge technology to allow our country to move forward at an accelerated pace by being truly innovative, creative, and ideas driven.

Look at our super-bright students getting multiple distinctions in CSEC and CAPE and getting scholarships to the most prestigious universities. You feel, here goes the person who will launch Jamaica's Silicon Valley, only to hear that what they plan to become is a doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.

Look at the worrying performance in our high schools where one-third of our secondary schools fewer than that 10 per cent of students passing five subjects, including English or maths. How are we going to build a society for sustainable development on that basis?

Then there is our downtown Kingston with land abutting a beautiful natural harbour. The Government is contemplating a five-phase urban redevelopment programme, including Phase 3, a festival marketplace that would combine the elements of entertainment, cuisine, and other commercial activities.

Our downtown land is too valuable an asset not to be used to rebrand our entire country and not to be used as leverage to secure the kind of direct capital investment that is needed to offset our social and infrastructural deficits.

What the present government is doing with continued macroeconomic stabilisation policies, with installing an Economic Growth Council, and with continued emphasis on BPOs, tourism, and mining, is laudable. But more needs to be done if we are going to reverse the indiscipline that has morphed into lawlessness.

If by some miracle we were to adopt the Singaporean model as our guide, our political directorate will have to move much more aggressively in lobbying and marketing and we will have to change immediately the direction and emphasis of our education.

If only my Christmas wish could come true.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author and lecturer living in California. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.