Time to 'run wid it'
Published: Sunday | October 18, 2009
A .J. Nicholson, Contributor
The mind-boggling performances of our home-grown superstar, Usain Bolt, in Beijing last year and in Berlin this summer, have placed him on such a high pedestal as to make him Jamaica's foremost ambassador throughout all of our history.
His exploits, coming as they have done at a time of the most excruciating social, cultural and economic pain that has been experienced in his country for generations, should be made to serve as a motivating light for which we must reach in this, one of our darkest hours.
His effervescent sprinting ushered in the kind of euphoria that would have impelled a "level-headed government" to allow our people the privilege of having a say in how he might be honoured at this time, an involvement that could have constituted an expression of what his achievements mean to all of us. Such a process would undoubtedly have assisted in generating and galvanising the kind of togetherness of spirit that is an essential precondition to lifting ourselves out of the space that we now occupy - between a rock and a hard place.
For me, the honour and title of 'Supreme Ambassador', by itself, would not only have been appropriate in the circumstances, it would have the required universal appeal. That apart, we have witnessed the continuing programme to honour, praise and fete our athletes who have done us so proud but, sadly, we have not yet heard one iota of any plan coming from the authorities as to how the fortuitous gift of their sterling performances, in particular those of Bolt, may be utilised to serve as a catalyst for our medium and long-term development.
For crying out loud, we are in dire need of such a catalyst! It is to be noted that every athlete who has been interviewed, after a triumph or otherwise, has constantly wished for their country, Jamaica, to occupy the kind of place in the global setting that speaks loudly to our steadfastness and our confidence as an enormously talented people. For, how much prouder even they would feel on the international stage.
I repeat, and will continue to repeat, in this dark night of economic bondage, only a concerted, consultative approach will allow us to witness the dawn of extricating ourselves from this perplexing corner. That process must be led by the Government. That is an essential part of the 'role of government'.
Regardless of the temptation, he would say provocation, nothing positive is accomplished to that end by the minister of finance, in closing the debate on the supplementary estimates on that Wednesday morning, instead of reaching out to the Opposition and the general public for understanding and support, continuing with the administration's 'Lot's wife' settled practice of blaming their opponents for all our challenges. After two years in the driver's seat, that kind of approach and blame game is spent and, in any event, we do not witness that unworthy and unhelpful method being employed elsewhere.
The community newspaper, The News, produced a riveting page one editorial in its August 30-September 12, 2009 edition, titled: Making the best of Bolt and Berlin.
The editorial ends with the suggestion that the recommendations that it has put forward could well be the job-creating project that helps to take us out of the clutches of the global recession. It says, "Yes, the spin-off from the sale of trinkets, T-shirts and paraphernalia will bring in some benefits, but nothing near as lasting and lucrative as total focus and investment in Jamaica as the Health Capital of the world - The land of a thousand Bolts".
Real and pressing necessity
By what means did they arrive at that suggestion? For, surely, the minds of the members of the editorial board are being exercised by the real and pressing necessity for Jamaica to find meaningful initiatives for job-creation in the wake of the downward path of our bauxite, banana, sugar and construction enterprises, tourism earnings and remittances.
What new thinking is there to be brought to the table? What are the new avenues of job-creation and what new fields of enterprise can the fertile and hugely talented minds here in our country conceptualise that will bring into existence a sustainable job-creating burst to replace the fallen standard-bearers?
For the editorial, the journey begins as follows: "Our athletic achievements in Berlin speak eloquently of Jamaica's capacity to outclass the rest of the world in natural physical ability. This is where a level-headed government needs to begin its quest to develop on these achievements and use them for the benefit of the entire nation. We think that Berlin could be used as the launching pad for selling Jamaica to the world as the Isle of Health - home of those record-breaking athletes".
One immediately sees a Jamaica, blessed with nature's bountiful gifts - sunshine, cool, elevated places scattered about the countryside, not threatened by wild animals and poisonous reptiles, bereft of snow and irritating changing weather patterns and conditions, our athletes, yam, and more, all coming together at the beginning of the editorial journey. The question is being asked: how are these wonderful gifts to be conjoined to accommodate an exciting new approach to job-creation?
The editorial suggests that it would mean that the entire country would be required to focus on the development of the health and environment sector. It would mean that the Ministry of Education, for example, adjusts its focus to stimulate and encourage health- and environment-related studies at all levels.
Health reform programme
"It would mean that the Ministry of Labour turns its attention to tapping into the vast health-reform programme that American President Obama has vowed to put in place. He has stated that he needs nurses. Jamaica has a well-respected tradition in nursing worldwide. Let's take off from there and churn out nurses for export and local consumption".
We remind ourselves that Jamaica's nursing tradition, internationally, is anchored on the acknowledgement and deep respect that is accorded to the kind of service that was given by Mary Seacole, another of our stars in the global firmament. How could her name and glowing life-work be utilised in helping to fashion the programme to market Jamaica as the Isle of Health?
The approach to the Obama administration would surely send a signal to the Americans, international lending institutions and others that Jamaica is looking for avenues of escape from the dark night of recession and that there is far more to Jamaican life and conceptual horizons than the kind of unflattering news stories that they constantly receive.
The News' daring plan involves the Ministry of Finance making it easier for students studying sports medicine and subjects related to the health and environment sector to get interest-free loans, and duty-free concessions being put in place for health related imports. It would mean a viable and sustainable gully-cleaning and maintenance programme and seeking international assistance in cleaning up Kingston harbour and all the waters (within and) surrounding our Isle of Health.
Health spas like Rockfort Mineral Bath, Milk River Bath, Bubbling Springs in St Elizabeth and the Bath Fountain in St Thomas would be placed in centre stage and incentives given for the construction of state-of-the-art gyms and sports complexes in the communities. It would mean that our agricultural sector moves boldly into stimulating the processing of health foods and drinks and the growth of foods and herbs known to have valuable medicinal properties.
"Along with all this, should be a strengthening of the national programme in all sports and the aggressive internationalisation and upgrading of events like Boys' and Girls' Championships, Gibson Relays and Reggae Marathon. Of course, a serious drive to deal with crime would have to emerge and our rich cultural and musical heritage would also be interwoven into this new thrust". This is all geared towards a strong and lasting health-tourism product.
An inescapable element of the role of government is to set the framework and the structure which is to guide the route towards development and within which the thrust towards job-creation may be fashioned. This is a duty that the Government cannot shirk. It is an obligation that is at the heart of the process of good governance. It moves to the very top of the agenda in times of an abnormal loss of jobs, such as now, and with the signals being given that the trend will be accelerated.
Our people need to feel a stimulus, some assurance, emerging from our Government that thought is being given to that imperative. It cannot be that budget after budget after supplementary budget is presented without any hope or signal being projected as to a developmental path and what might be a focus on new possibilities. Our people deserve more than what is essentially an accounting and arithmetic exercise.
That is not the lens through which our people would have hoped to be able to contemplate the offerings of the minister of finance in the debate in the House of Representatives in the early hours of Wednesday morning. We would have been buoyed by the type of forward-looking sentiments expressed in that page one editorial of Jamaica's leading community newspaper.
It sums up the big idea in this way: "The whole idea is to change the image and the reality of Jamaica and market the country as the only one that consistently produces world beaters like Bolt, Powell, Fraser, Walker and company", The Health Capital of the World - The Land of a Thousand Bolts. Absorbing, exciting, elevating! Will the Government "run wid it"?
A .J. Nicholson is Opposition Spokesman on Justice. Feedback may be sent to email@example.com