Clive Munroe Jr | Choosing between The Builder and The Architect
In 2011, a construction site called ‘Jamaica’ was in serious disarray. The Architect devised a plan that, executed in partnership with a charismatic and beloved female contractor, led the development from ruin. The allies grew confident in their leadership and considered the workers’ belief in them unshakeable. However, a younger builder thought Jamaica needed to be built better and faster.
Shortly before the scheduled vote in 2016, the Builder discovered the Architect’s closely guarded Master Plan, intended for phased rollout. Phase 1, called ‘Rescue’, had already been completed, and the workers were tasked to vote on the implementation of Phase 2, called ‘Stabilisation’ by the architect. The Builder sensed an opportunity in the workers’ distaste for graduated growth and devised a plan: skip ‘Stabilisation’ and jump to Phase 3, ‘Prosperity’, which was vastly more appealing than ‘Stabilisation’ and proposed ‘Prosperity’ to the workers as the new second phase.
The Builder enthusiastically put his plan to the workers. The workers were fascinated by the Builder’s bold proposal, and finding it more appetising than the allies’ alternative, voted to install the Builder as their new leader. The Builder was pleased with the success of his gambit and what it meant for his vision for Jamaica. Meanwhile, the heartbroken Contractor retired, leaving the Architect alone to seek a return to leadership in order to do justice to his delicately crafted master plan.
Such is Jamaica’s recent political history. Set against the backdrop of a ballooning local pandemic, a deepening economic crisis, and an exuberant political sound clash is a curious contest between the self-styled ‘Builder’, Andrew Holness, and the publicly declared ‘Architect’ of Jamaica’s recent economic rescue, Peter Phillips.
In politics, you are what you are until you are not; as strong as you are weak. For both men, their political images have been crafted to speak for them, but they struggle when compared to their respective deficiencies. For the Builder, despite his best efforts, the execution of his 2016 election promises has not matched the breadth of those promises – even with moderate successes. Positivity breeds immediate hope, hope breeds dreams of imminent upliftment, but dreams deferred often bring anger, disappointment, and withering. For the Architect, having rescued Jamaica from fiscal ruin, he finds a country facing similar challenges as in 2011 when the Master Plan was originally formulated, but a Jamaica now with an impatient, sharpened appetite. For both men, this election may come down to their respective abilities to compensate for their weakness: the ability of the Builder’s team to show us – the workers – a new plan given the constant curveballs being thrown at Jamaica, and the ability of the Architect’s team to execute a much altered Master Plan on the fly while making tweaks of their own.
For every sweet nothing offered to voters this season by both sides, many prospective voters will confuse the adjective for the noun. Jamaicans have historically preferred political messages of hope and positivity but should come to appreciate the exigencies of the time, specifically that bitter medicine called by any other name is no sweeter. We can no longer hide from our realities as each time we do so, we potentially sabotage the viability of our development regardless of our choice of leader.
In this election cycle, along with the usual considerations of leadership style, track record, policy, promises, popularity, and corruption, let us contend with some of the pertinent challenges that have kept us from the sustainable development and growth we desperately crave, the success of which are precursory and not ancillary to that growth and development such as:
1. Skills for a Modern World – Despite our great talents, we are a people largely unskilled for modern physical development given that technological advancements have rendered much of our labour force cheap and/or obsolete. We lag even further behind in our capacity to positively engage with the digital era. More jobs are always a plus, but if the quality of the jobs is not good, then the jobs are transient. When jobs are subject to the whims of foreign investment, they are subject to the sudden movement of capital, with the consequence being that those left behind cannot compete in the marketplace or contribute to the national cause. An appropriately skilled man can generate income on his own, for himself, and can better navigate the choppy waters. The countries that have rebounded the fastest from this pandemic are largely those that have a skilled workforce and a self-sustaining economy.
2. Resilience and Health – In the past decade, Jamaica has entered the age of the pandemic as one disease after the other – swine flu, seasonal flu, Chik-V, ZikV, Dengue, Ebola, Malaria, COVID-19 – threatens to interrupt, or actually interrupts, the productivity of our citizens, disrupts national growth, and overwhelms our overburdened medical system. COVID-19 has derailed even the most modest growth projections for 2020, and the US-based Centres for Disease Control has advised its citizens not to travel to Jamaica in large part because of the inability of our healthcare system to cope with large numbers of hospitalisations. Any attempt at growth without addressing our broken healthcare system will be Sisyphean as every outbreak of infectious disease will agonisingly grind down our turbines.
3. Inclusive Economy – We have developed somewhat of an obsession with growth given that our growth since Independence has been anaemic. An economy that benefits more citizens is usually more sustainable than one that relies heavily on outside help or a wealthy few. The citizens of this country should be empowered to join the formal economy in order to fulfil their dreams as a basis for equitable, sustainable, and cumulative growth.
4. Social and Cultural Causes of Crime – Gun violence is scarring, pervasive, and in need of urgent stemming, but of equal or greater importance is the addressing of the root social and cultural causes of crime. In this respect, targeted data-driven metrics designed to stop the root of crime and to limit the mere dislocation of crime from one geographical location to the next are vital. An administration that engages the hard social and cultural work may not be immediately lauded, but history will vindicate and remember it reverently.
In the end, voters vote as they each see fit. It is the hope that we can do so safely and are informed about both the national issues and the personal issues we face. However, the battle of the Builder and the Architect will make for fascinating viewing.
- Clive Munroe Jr is an attorney-at-law and public commentator.