Gordon Robinson | The truth about leadership
Jamaica needs only one thing from its leaders (all of them, not just political leaders) from this day forth.
It's inexpensive, easy to download, comes with simple assembly instructions, no batteries required. It's something all can understand and is good for PNP and JLP supporters alike. It's non-fat, non-violent, non-denominational, and non-partisan. Its currency never devalues. It doesn't trade, barter, negotiate, or compromise. What's this much-needed asset? Truth.
If all we get from our leaders is unadulterated, unambiguous, unedited, unfiltered, unvarnished truth, Jamaica could be rescued from the abyss into which it's sinking. If we're denied this prerequisite to redemption, Jamaica will never recover.
Leaders, tell the truth about the economy. Tell us how we travelled from being the richest country in the Caribbean in natural and human resources to today's destitution. Tell us frankly how we wasted our bauxite, once the world's most-sought-after mineral, despite collecting more than US$4 billion of a bauxite levy imposed in 1974 against the will of foreign bauxite companies.
We bullied powerful multinational corporations at a time when we held the (supply) handle and they the (demand) blade. The downside was that we created eternal enemies. The upside was supposed to have been a vast Capital Development Fund (CDF) for investment.
Today, what do we have to show for the enmity we invited from bauxite companies? Zero. Zip! Nothing! Nada! After consistently frittering away the CDF on recurrent expenditure for four decades, we now find those same bauxite companies (or their replacements) we so enjoyed bullying now holding the aluminium handle, while Jamaica desperately clings to a blade covered in red dirt - the people's blood.
Financial horror story
The truth about our economy is that a debt-to-GDP ratio of more than 140 per cent was made inevitable by that dark economic period in the early 1990s called FINSAC, a word used to cover a multitude of happenings, beginning with the premature liberalisation of the US dollar; incompetent regulation of financial institutions and insane high-interest monetary policy improperly driven by the finance ministry instead of the BOJ; the collapse of most indigenous banks (two self-regulated foreign banks comfortably survived the storm) under a flood of bad debt; the panic-stricken government bailout of these institutions; and the assignment, for a pittance, of those 'bad debts' to a foreign corporation.
Truth: NONE OF THIS COULD HAVE HAPPENED had the IMF been in charge of Jamaica's economy, as it now is, or if we had enforceable constitutional limits on borrowing and spending.
Leaders, tell us the truth about the wanton spending of funds well beyond the reach of our modest earnings for putrid political popularity. In addition to the examples cited above, we've spent like drunken sailors on contract overruns, contracts not performed, and contracts created to fund political parties. We've spent on all-encompassing ministerial comfort, including unnecessary foreign travel. We've spent as if money grew on banana trees.
Leaders, this is your last chance to tell the truth about the economy, thereby building trust and confidence going forward. If you're still in public denial when the IMF leaves, we'll know you intend to silently, cowardly permit or conspire to return to wild spending sprees. We'll be forced to step into the void left by the IMF, treat you like the irresponsible children you've proven yourselves to be, and discipline you.
Leaders, tell the truth about education. Jamaica copied an incompatible education system from England, an industrial powerhouse that succeeded on the backs of West Indian slave labour. We're left with agriculture, tourism, and services to make an economy, yet we still teach the British way; sit poor imitations of British exams; and expect university degrees in science, law, medicine, or the arts to drive economic growth in a 144-square-mile island with no productive industry worth mentioning.
So, we graduate thousands annually, many of whom are functionally illiterate. Only a few can obtain gainful employment NOT in areas needed by Jamaica's economy. Students are force-fed traditional mathematics, English literature/language, and sciences throughout the education process, and if they fail to excel in rigid exams (either for lack of compatibility or temperament), they're called idiots and cast off on society's scrap heap.
Competent 'graduates' soon discover that there are no jobs for them or that the jobs they can get suffocate their youthful enthusiasm and creativity. They migrate en masse to work hard in countries that need and value their skills. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we do it all over again next year!
Jamaican 'education' forces a child who shows, from age 10, an inclination to work with machines to find his way through the inflexible system with absolutely no hope, for example, of his being trained to be a motor mechanic. If your child shows signs of being a musical prodigy at five, unless you're well off and can afford private music lessons, he or she'll wither on the vine studying robotics like 1 + 1 = 2 until he or she is drained of all creativity. Dyslexia and other learning disabilities are ignored as children, confused and embarrassed, are shoved through the system to make way for the next wave.
Our teacher-training institutions are facilitators of mediocrity as they churn out robot after semi-literate robot without the training to spot or develop unique or 'special' talent. There's nowhere in mainstream education for talented mixologists, chefs, choreographers, or fashion designers to receive advanced instruction in these skills.
Leaders, tell us the truth about health care. Jamaica's health minister can make love to a camera better than Gary Cooper at high noon, but only to broadcast babbling platitudes. Want to know the TRUTH? None of our public hospitals deserves the designation. All should be closed down for causing more disease than they cure. We train nurses and fail to pay them or provide basic working conditions so they leave the country in droves. In exchange, we now welcome back malaria.
Leaders, tell the truth about Cabinet size. Tell Jamaica that a country of fewer than three million people doesn't need 19 ministers (including the attorney general and PM), plus state ministers. Come clean and admit political pressure is put on every PM to create as many ministerial jobs as possible so more can enjoy ministerial perks and other spoils of victory. Governments, desperate to find jobs for the boys (and girls), go so far as to appoint ministers 'without portfolio'. Great Gungus Natty!
If leaders told us the truth about Cabinet size, we'd know all it takes is a constitutional provision limiting the number of ministries (with named portfolios) to ease the pressure from future PMs.
Leaders must tell us the truth about security. Admit that corruption and politicisation of the JCF is beyond control. Admit that no crime-fighting policy, however well-meaning, can be successfully implemented by this corrupt police force. Admit that not even a squeaky-clean JCF can reduce crime without significant expenditure on modernisation and modern training.
TELL THE TRUTH that garrison culture introduced by politicians is the root cause of increasing violence and voter intimidation over 50 years. We've sowed this whirlwind we're now reaping. In that light, it's horrendous hypocrisy to be calling for instant solutions and then to have the brass balls to propose citizens give up their rights as a transparent method of avoiding responsibility and postponing having to confess another abject failure. Admit that the JCF will NEVER reduce violent crime by fighting fire with fire or trampling on citizens' constitutional rights. Trampling on constitutional rights put 22 bullets into Keith Clarke's back, but Dudus remained on the lam.
Leaders must tell us the FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH that 95 per cent of Jamaica's problems are as a direct result of the latitude enjoyed by political leaders since Independence to spend our tax dollars without a scintilla of accountability. TELL US THE TRUTH! Whenever the IMF takes charge and spending is cut, we show improvement. As soon as the IMF is gone, the wild spending and economic deterioration resume.
It's time. Jamaicans, stop being satisfied with an exciting election every five years. Insist on constitutional limits to government borrowing and spending. Any government that refuses to tell the truth about this fundamental requirement for progress, prosperity, or just plain existence isn't serious about governing and only wants to perpetuate past decades of revolving political snouts in national troughs while the rest of us suck salt through wooden spoons.
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law.
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