Fri | Nov 16, 2018

Gordon Robinson | My vision for Jamaica

Published:Sunday | September 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Do you have a vision for Jamaica? Or are you more concerned with either keeping or putting 'your' party in 'power'? Can you see beyond your party's prospects to catch a glimpse of Jamaica's future? If yes, what does it look like to you?

If you have no clear vision of Jamaica's future, your daily decisions will have no purpose. If you have no clear vision of Jamaica's future, your sole concern will be to defend your place at the national trough without regard for truth or consequence. Soon, someone more skilled at political games will take your place and your family's future will evaporate.

Vision is THE essential energy-driving ambition. Without a clear national vision, we're all doomed to scramble like crabs escaping a barrel seeking to leave our fellow Jamaicans behind by any means necessary. Without vision, there's no hope; no future. So, I ask again, what's your vision for Jamaica?

Thirteen years ago, at the Planning Institute of Jamaica's (PIOJ's) 50th Anniversary Conference on Economic and Social Planning, Finance Minister Omar Davies challenged the PIOJ "to produce national development plans that are realistic, achievable, and more relevant to [Jamaica's] realities" (source: Vision 2030/PIOJ website). In 2006, he instructed the PIOJ to build a model, responsive to the structure of Jamaica's economy, and prepare a long-term National Strategic Plan (NSP) with the model as its quantitative tool. His charge to the PIOJ was for theNSP to take into account existing policies; existing programmes and sector plans, the Medium Term Framework, the National Industrial Policy, and commitments expressed in the Millennium Development Goals and other international agreements.

The PIOJ tried. With the help of 32 task forces (DWL) and two overseeing committees, Vision 2030 was launched in October 2007.

Pursuant to an imperial-sounding mission statement "Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business", the PIOJ prescribed four national goals:

1. Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest potential.

The "national outcomes" expected to drive us to the first goal were:

- A healthy and stable population.

- World-class education and training.

- Effective social protection.

- Authentic and transformational culture.

Allrighty then! Between 2012 and 2014, Jamaica's maternal mortality ratio increased by 30 per cent; infant mortality was at 19 per 1,000 births; less than targeted 95 per cent vaccination coverage was achieved, save for the BCG vaccine; visits to primary-care facilities for hypertension increased by 13 per cent 2015 over 2011; less than 50 per cent of rural households had piped water; hospital bed availability was depressingly inadequate; and Cornwall Regional (CRH) remains a death trap. Twelve months after Chris Tufton's grand announcement that CRH would be ready in March, "renovations" are stillborn.

Vision 2030 states:

"[Jamaica] will develop an education and training system that produces well-rounded and qualified individuals able to function as creative and productive individuals in all spheres of our society ... ."

DWL! Not unless you pass PEP or achieve 60 per cent average after four years of traditional school lessons in traditional subjects. Creativity schreativity! Well-rounded my left foot! Pass that exam! Cut your locks! CONFORM! Or else. Don't you dare embarrass my traditional secondary school!

A year ago, Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland warned: "Without action to promote young people's empowerment, boosting opportunities for employment and opening up spaces for political dialogue, countries will be squandering their most precious resource and storing up problems for the future."

Social protection? Puh-leeeezeee! In 2007, PIOJ reported that 21 per cent of the rural population lived below the poverty line. That number increased to 28.5 per cent in 2016. Government's current boast about fewer numbers below the poverty line nationally distorts the truth as 80 per cent of those below the poverty line come from the rural population.

 

PATH-BREAKING POLICY

 

Government launched its plan to implement a 'Social Protection Strategy (SPS)' in 2014. Peter Phillips called it "path breaking ..." and predicted that it would "guide policy for many years into the future". ROFL!

SPS reads like a PhD thesis and includes platitudinous projections like "the emphasis of the Strategy is on labour force preparation and participation ...", yet still we assiduously prepare students only to pass exams.

In December 2017, the SPS was changed to include "the payment of conditional cash transfers to PATH beneficiaries" (JIS website), and Government announced that this would continue together with a resolve "to strengthen the overall capacity of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security ..." and to "[undertake] an organisational review of the ministry, and [equip and modernise] the [ministry's] Social Security Services Division."

Like Michael Jordan, unbelievaBULL! Why spend SPS funds on a ministry? What the warra-warra is an "organisational review"? Why introduce "cash transfers"? Weren't we emphasising "labour force preparation and participation"?

Don't get me started on the NSP's "vision" for "authentic culture" by 2030. As my favourite Chinese chef would say, "Wok the heck?" It's OK, Gov, we got this! Stay away. Don't mess it up.

2. "Jamaican society is safe, cohesive and just."

In the years since this national goal was published, murder rates have shot up (no pun intended); three states of emergency and two ZOSOs have been declared in less than a year; Jamaicans are terminally polarised; and justice has retreated into either hiding or a tortoise disguise.

3. "Jamaica's economy is prosperous."

Vision 2030 describes prosperity as "a stable macroeconomy; an enabling business environment; strong economic infrastructure; energy security and efficiency; technology-enabled society; and internationally competitive industry structures."

So, "prosperity" isn't linked to decreased levels of poverty (especially rural poverty), but by some bookworm's idea of a "stable macroeconomy"? Sheesh!

Instead of "energy security and efficiency", we got Petroscam. Jamaica's industries produce trade deficits larger than a politician's ego. We can't even organise a marijuana trade, thus making us international laughing stocks.

4. "Jamaica has a healthy natural environment."

Eleven years, more than a dozen Riverton dump fires, and no solid waste management system later, the environment is sicker than in 2007.

Without the will or commitment for implementation, a "vision" is just a pipe dream. Ray Charles had more vision than PIOJ's task forces accumulated.

So, what's MY vision for Jamaica? I see Jamaica, after societal reconstruction, operating systems capable of facilitating national success. I see fully educated Jamaicans dismissing political messiahs as charlatans and welcoming constitutional structures designed to restrain/punish corruption.

I see constitutional reform resulting in an expanded talent pool for national management through Cabinet membership. Today, that pool includes only 30-odd unqualified or accidentally qualified options. My vision inflates that pool to Jamaica's entire adult population. I see Jamaicans going into voting booths with a ballot that allows them to vote directly for prime minister, MP, and senator in staggered elections that keep representatives focused. One election every five years for MPs alone is totalitarianism, NOT democracy.

 

REALISTIC GOALS

 

In my Jamaica, MPs have full-time jobs representing constituents; vetting nominees for Cabinet/statutory boards; and legislation proposed by a Cabinet whose membership doesn't include them. The restructuring of my Jamaica will result in the likes of the PIOJ producing realistic, achievable national goals and a government motivated to make them happen. As six-time Festival Song winner Eric Donaldson sang:

This is the land of my birth;

I say this is the land of my birth

I say this is Jamaica, my Jamaica,

The land of my birth.

My Jamaica will honour the inherent dignity of every human being. My Jamaica will include a truly independent judiciary divorced from Cabinet that negotiates with the finance ministry for an annual budget administered by the chief justice. My Government will be lean, mean, and efficient, with the number of ministries fixed and no ministers without portfolio. What's a "minister" with no portfolio? A groupie?

I will never leave her shores.

I will never run away.

I will always believe in the black, the green, the gold, I say.

All nations greater for their trials,

We must face the test of time

that our people they are strong

And we are going to get along ... .

I'll not rest until those clothed with temporary authority reconstruct the Constitution so that Jamaica is born again as a democracy. I'll not rest until Jamaica is governed by the people for the people. Until 'leaders' concede the people's supremacy, I'll be a perpetual nuisance. Until they put Jamaica first, none will ever boast that they have my vote.

Let us stop for a minute,

Count our blessings one by one.

We should never be disloyal

but stand up and keep strong.

My Jamaica is a beautiful island;

She is the pearl of the Caribbean Sea

And our people they are free;

No oppression here to see ... .

Sweet Jesus! How can we permit political 'leaders' to continue to celebrate non-achievements and bang parliamentary desks in self-adulation when they can neither conceive nor realise a national vision?

They have no vision. If we don't correct that, we shall surely perish.

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.