Doing it right
It is being advocated, with great strength, that the programme that will now drive our economic fortunes, and which has been outlined by the Government during the last few weeks, represents a position that admits of no alternative. According to some, it is an inevitable new beginning, and that being the case, we should just roll with the punches.
There are others who maintain that, assuming the truth of the position that there is no alternative, then that cannot be the end of the matter, in the sense of 'rolling with the punches'. There is the question of how we purposefully move from this known position to that which is less known. There is the real challenge of deciding on the collective posture that we will adopt on our march along that journey. And, of course, there is the requirement of a genuine awareness of the probable pitfalls that are already known.
So, the fact of the crisis and what it has always portended for our country has, at last, come to be firmly cemented in the minds of the powers that be, even though, as is said by several experts, they came to that position at least one year too late. Now, there is the necessity to search for opportunities that are, and will be, presented as we navigate this new course.
The leader of the Opposition and her spokespersons have pointed us to the first leg of the journey, that is, for our economy to reach the point where it was in 2007, as the outcome of the recently laid plans of the Government appear, at best, to point towards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Opposition leader notes, had encouraging reports concerning the economic performance of the country at that time. Now that the Government has been reminded of those reports, and with the IMF assuming a far higher profile in our national affairs, it is anticipated that the long looking-back exercise will have come to an end.
Time surely continues to remind us that we do ourselves a great disservice when we do not count our blessings.
Our approach to this first leg, filled with its anticipated anxieties and struggles, has to be seen as the foundation stone. The conversation has so far centred on the challenges that we face and the prudent strategies that we must employ as we tread through this economic minefield. Projections concerning inflation, ratios, devaluation and their companion indicators continue to be deliberated on in divers places, as they must.
There are, however, a myriad other considerations. For, in our case here in Jamaica, the chronic indiscipline that has become a way of life represents an added dimension - a burden that several other countries do not have to endure in this global recession. Our journey is made that more difficult.
Certain types of action will, therefore, have to be shelved. For example, there can be no riots and burning and killing and maiming and looting in a show of disgust or protest as a result of real or perceived hardships that may come upon us. Nor can there be any action that may tend to precipitate any such occurrence. Our voices must be heard, but destruction must be kept out of our travels.
It is true that, with the back-breaking taxation packages imposed over the past months, the reaction of our people has been characterised by what appears to be a studied calm. The riots of April 1999 in reaction to a proposed small tariff on petrol must never happen again; that kind of debacle must be off limits. The calm must be allowed to continue.
I suggest that there should be some atonement on the part of those who know themselves to have been in the leadership of fomenting the orgy of destruction during that week of madness, from which, some say, we have not recovered. It cannot be allowed to be forgotten. I suggest, further, that a day or weekend of church services be held right across the land to seek forgiveness and to ask for guidance which would allow us to continue on a better way. It must be a road that remains uppermost in the minds of all of our people as one that will not be travelled again.
The Opposition spokesman on agriculture, Roger Clarke, made a commanding observation in the House of Representatives two Tuesdays ago. He expressed the view to his colleagues that, if the Government's projected economic programme does not succeed, there might be nothing for them to preside over. I suppose that was another way of asking his opposite numbers whether it was their intention that we would tackle the journey in a collective spirit or was it that they would continue to delude themselves that their attitude to consultation made sense.
There have been too many complaints about the skewed approach of the administration to the business of consultation, particularly in these times when collective effort is a premium requirement for the government to continue to deceive itself. For, if they continue on the path that they have pursued thus far, that, I am afraid, is likely to be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. It must be understood that there is rising tension in the society concerning the 'take it or leave it', 'after the fact' posture that the Government has, in large measure, adopted.
There is some attempt to rationalise that attitude with the shout that "there is no alternative" to what the Government, in consultation with the IMF has put forward. So, the Government has to consult with the IMF; why, then, is it unready and unwilling to consult with the people, who are their employers? They will not at any time be allowed to tell the IMF that they will be unable to pass any given test, take it or leave it. Why, then, should it presume to be able to announce publicly and without any dialogue that the public servants will be seeing no increase in their compensation for a number of years, take it or leave it?
And, there is much to be said for the tone in which announcements are made. Surely, it can never be doubted that a government is duty bound to be frank with the people. In this context, frankness is to be taken to mean truthfully and with a sense of engagement, care and empathy, and certainly not with brusqueness and bombast. Consultation gives rise to confidence and trust; it spawns encouragement and friendship - companion tools that are required for our struggle in this, our economic lifeboat.
As I have unwaveringly maintained, the Government has to set the tone and the example, particularly in the kind of process on which we have embarked, and the prime minister must lead the way. Speaker Chuck also has to show to Jamaica that he fully appreciates the role that members of the ruling party will have to play in this challenging and unusual journey by the way they comport themselves in the House of Representatives.
There are three or four members of Parliament on the government side, all of whom are ministers, whose unstoppable mean and unsavoury displays have served to make it appear as if they are under no control whatsoever. My own fears had been kindled from very early in the life of the administration when the speaker, himself a seasoned lawyer, presided over a situation in which then minister Clive Mullings, also an attorney, was allowed to lead in the Parliament, full scale trials of a colleague on the Opposition benches on two occasions, even before the Director of Public Prosecutions was in possession of the matter that had been referred to that Office by the Contractor General.
The proceedings of the Houses of Parliament are meant to be lively, robust even; but crude and taunting behaviour must be eschewed at all times, and particularly in a season such as now when the gravity of our economic and social circumstances must be shown to be understood and accepted by the representatives of the people. For the people, who are the shareholders in this urgent national enterprise, are entitled to be allowed to be informed of the views of all their representatives. That will not happen if a contributor in the Parliament cannot be heard. And, what is more, cooperation is not likely to follow in the wake of constant rudeness.
The citizens of Jamaica will be keeping an eagle eye on how Speaker Chuck exercises his authority in one of the institutions that must be in the forefront of the battle to keep the ship of state afloat in this storm of troubled times.
In cricketing parlance, the aficionados would probably say that the administration has taken the absurdly long time of over two years to run up to the wicket to make its first delivery, which, they maintain, is a beamer. All of us now have a duty to operate in such a manner that a few years down the road it is not proved that it was a no-ball that had been sent down. And it is our duty to ensure that, in our examination along the journey, we commit ourselves to doing it right.
A. J. Nicholson is Opposition spokesman on justice. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.