Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Mark Wignall | That elusive growth agenda

Published:Sunday | June 4, 2017 | 6:00 AM

Singapore. An experiment that was not supposed to work. An enigma wrapped up in a puzzle. A global success story unlike anything the world has ever seen.

If the city state of Singapore could be rooted up from its foundations and flown to Jamaica, its area could be dropped into the parish of Trelawny, and we would still have some space left to trudge around the perimeter.

It is with more than good reason that the country of 5.5 million people is sometimes referred to as the Lion City. It went from underdeveloped to fully developed and roaring like a rocket engine in 40 years. We have been at it for 55 years, and our GDP per capita is just under US$9,000, while Singapore is at US$90,000.

Many times, I find that it is an exercise in futility to ask, where did we go wrong in Jamaica? The answer that comes back to us is, if we are patriots, enough to drive us to drink and conclude that we ought to get comfortable lining the bottom of the barrel.

As I have written before, Singapore's successful experiment, which was not without its fair share of pain, could not work in Jamaica. The undisciplined nature of our people, the class factionalism and distrust, and the failure at almost all times in Jamaica to get universal buy-in on nationally important objectives would have probably given us, instead, strikes, riots, civil commotions, and bloodshed.

In 1968 and 1969, the years I made the sixth-form transition, just about every schooler my age could write 10 job applications and have about seven responded to favourably.

In Jamaica, each year, the eyes and hearts of just under 40,000 youngsters sit GSAT, hoping to get the best places in the top high schools.

Five or so years later, about 2,000 will have dropped out because of multiple reasons, not the least of which will be the financial unviability of the households and the inability to overturn family dysfunction. Then when many of those youngsters are in their late teens, about 30 per cent will have difficulty writing a proper job application. In any case, about 50 per cent will not find work.

That is a recipe for societal chaos and disaster.

"I'm just home with my mother. Two years now," said a 20-year-old young man who graduated from one of the non-brand-name high schools. "I have five subjects, but I never passed math. The other day I went to a supermarket for an interview and it didn't even start because I did not pass math."

"So what is your next move?" I asked.

"Mi big sister live abroad. She sending money for the visa application. Nutten nah gwaan here for me."

I thought about what he had said. "During the two years you have been at home with your mother, did you attempt to study and retake your math examination?"

He shook his head and frowned. "Is pure fuss and quarrel every day. Sometimes mi feel like me is too much burden. Like mi should just touch di streets."

"Don't do that," I said. "Wait for the visa fee money."

 

Political summit on top issues

 

Dr Lascelves 'Muggy' Graham and I were in one of our 'searching-out' telephone conversations a few days ago. "Mark, I agree with you. Both the PNP and the JLP need to sit down and craft a national policy on education, crime, and health. Ought not to matter which party is in power.

"The national policy must drive every thing else. And, as you said, there must not be any space for tribal thinking."

Over in the highly dysfunctional Trump White House, the global community is getting a front-seat view of what happens in the absence of effective leadership. At the time of writing this column, President Trump was still in a state of denial about climate change, and he fervently believes that there will be a resurgence of the coal industry in the rust-belt states and that $50-per-hour jobs will re-emerge.

In Jamaica, it has still not dawned on many of our young people that the normal 8-to-4 jobs with dental, medical and pension plans are no longer as available as they were 50 years ago. More than five years ago, I received a call from a man operating a well-known uptown restaurant.

We sat down and in front of me on a table, he laid out many job application letters. In my days, people did not 'apply' for jobs in restaurants. I was totally unaware that high-school graduates were applying for these menial jobs. Worse, after reading the letters, I fully understood why they were applying.

Young women with five CSCEC subjects could not string two sentences together in a paragraph. We have been told ad nauseam that for our country to move fully into the 21st century, we need to increase the quality of the teaching in the STEM subjects. Plus, we have been told that more stress must be placed on entrepreneurship instead of just finding a job and playing the job market.

With a national agreement on the way forward for education and full buy-in across the political aisle, this country needs to move its focus in rapid fashion to the development of quality STEM teaching as it is in this broad area that the next wave of entrepreneurship will be found.

A young man will never find himself and his economic future working on construction sites for sometimes less than $2,000 per day. A young woman working in a midtown haberdashery or running a streetside stall in Glendevon will have a far way to go in finding peaceful nights.

 

Prepare for the superbugs

 

With the recent deluge has now come the scourge of mosquitoes. I am OK with burning mosquito coils and aerosols, but my lady is highly uncomfortable with them. I have to respect her wishes as I suffer with her. She sprays skin repellent. I don't use it.

One of the commercially and traditionally 'effective' aerosols is now all but useless in the fight against mosquitoes. It tends to be on the expensive side, but the mosquitoes seem to be laughing at me wasting my money.

A few days ago, a young man was telling me about his experience at a little community outside of May Pen. "Di mosquito dem, is like dem cover yu hand. Yu haffi tek a piece a cloth and wipe dem weh."

The electric heaters that use the mats are also a joke. What makes them particularly a waste of money is that I can remember that they were actually effective when they were just introduced. A few years after, they became little more than expensive nothings using expensive electric power.

Then I called one of the companies in Jamaica producing a certain brand and was told that they had received many complaints that the heated mats were producing too strong an effect on humans. So they adjusted the dosage. To, apparently, a state that kills neither mosquitoes nor humans.

I was quite unlucky in 2014 when a mosquito or two gave me chik-V. Bent me up for about a week. I was lucky with ZIKV, but it is probably too early to celebrate my good fortune.

Nationally, it seems that whenever the Ministry of Health or municipal corporations move out on another fogging experiment, it is the same malathion mix they have used since fogging was introduced.

One suspects that the mosquitoes know this, too, and they probably just get high off it while searching out the next blood meal.

Protect yourself by cleaning up the areas nearest to you. Your neighbour may be the best person in the world, but many times, his mosquito is also your mosquito.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.