The following is an excerpt from a speech by Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon at the Rotary Club of Kingston meeting on March 3.
At the moment, there are some 510,300 youths between the ages 14 and 24 (circa 20 per cent of the population). Of these, 26 per cent between 20 and 24 are unemployed. And 38 per cent of all young adults living in the inner city are unemployed. The national unemployment rate stands at roughly 12 per cent. All told, 70 per cent of young adults are unemployable. Please note that 75 per cent of all crimes in Jamaica are committed by persons under the age of 30 (taken from YUTE survey - 2010). It is no surprise, then, that a deadly combination of lewdness, bad manners, illiteracy, drugs and all the negative aspects of the so-called dancehall culture are threatening to overcome us.
Looking at some other stats - last year, and this has been a trend for some time now, almost 20 per cent of all babies born in Jamaica were born to teenage girls. Just in February, a 10-year-old girl was sent to one of our homes because she is in her eighth month of pregnancy. Of course, there are many more cases of neglect and abuse around us! We cannot give up hope - we are too rich to be rendered impotent in the face of all the negative things around us.
We have fallen into a despairing position and are giving up too easily - while others are coming in and taking our rejects and making things happen. Let us stop griping and complaining and see things as they are and cut our appetites to suit our pockets. Business has a social responsibility and we have to see that we must participate in the fullest possible way in the evolution of the society. There has to be hope, otherwise we might as well pack up and commit hara-kiri.
All businesses should tithe - not just in money - but in time. Put aside at least 2.4 hours a day to give back to the poorest of the poor. Encourage your employees to do the same. You are needed more than the money you can give. We need role models and an interaction that will bring about understanding and growth among the well-to-do and the poor. If we are asking the Government to do more, we have to take on more responsibility for our own sake and for the sakes of our children and our children's children. We cannot sit by and allow the politicians and others to do what they wish, while all we do is complain and gossip. Many of us contribute to the political parties and many of us should call them to account for their stewardship. We have to have successful and responsible (pay taxes) enterprises
For businesses to be philanthropic, they have to make profits; to make profits they have to invest and run 'tight ships'. We all know that Government has a part to play, but in many cases, outsiders are investing here and we are sitting back. Last year (January to October), we imported 15 per cent fewer capital goods into the country. What is that saying for our business community? Oil and food imports accounted for nearly 50 per cent of all imports - should we roll up our sleeves and invest much more in the agribusiness sector? Just a note - the value of imported cars jumped by 11 per cent!
We also notice a lot of young bright MBAs moving into the private sector - rightfully so! But are they being more productive, and are they really creating jobs? One gets the impression that they are finding many new ways of 'pushing paper' - mainly in the financial sector. We need to see more of their time and talent invested in our inner-city communities. Maybe it will be a good idea if some of the companies making billions in after-tax profits set aside at least five per cent (for starters) in real job-creation investment. That will put our money where our mouth is.
There has to be an engagement of our business and professional lives - not just in raising funds - but in interaction with others in the society who need to see disciplined and responsible people at work, at play, at worship, in good times and in bad.
Let me say that for us to have any hope in the future of the society here in Jamaica, we must be able to care for the marginalised and the abandoned among us. A society that does not care for the vulnerable does not care for itself in the end.
To start to become organised, we must be concerned in a prioritised way about these members of our society. If peace is the daughter of justice, the mother of justice is caring. We cannot have justice and peace without compassion.
I understand that the Government is going to spend billions of dollars in the inner city, and that many in society are sure that if investment comes to the inner city, all will be well. Look out! Unless there is proper prep work, I am afraid that will be a bottomless pit for dumping the proverbial pork. At least 20 per cent of all inner-city investment by the Government should be put into the social infrastructure, eg, sanitation, play areas, caring for the aged and the disabled.
No economic project should be put into place until all the players are given a three-month course in different aspects of life-skills development - concerning the family, community, self-worth, discipline, ethics and volunteerism. In these 'classes' - which should be done in the nearby schools in the downtime, members of the local police unit should be present as either teacher or student, or sometimes both.
The Government should help all non-governmental organisations looking after the disabled and the very poor with at least 75 per cent of its Budget. At present, we are given only about a quarter of the cost of maintaining the child at a reasonable level of existence. Also, there should be a special rate on utilities on all institutions looking after the needs of very poor children and adults. In addition, statutory payments to employees of these institutions should be borne by the Government.
The police must also be part of the life-skills programme with the community. They should be evaluated frequently and made to understand that they have a responsibility to the community and not only to themselves. They should be promoted on how well they performed at the community level. The police youth clubs are not enough to encourage a new breath of confidence in the police.
Sad to say, the social capital of the inner-city communities is steadily being eroded by the inaction of the police regarding the Noise Abatement Act. Night after night (and I have been living in the inner-city for the past 25 years), the sound systems go on until 5 a.m. Whatever is banned on the air by the Broadcasting Commission has free run at these 'sessions'. In the wee hours of the morning, parents and children have to listen (in a rough radius of half a mile) to all the details of the sexual act. Is that the road we wish to travel?
How can these adults go to work the next day or how can the children be truly productive and ready for school? No wonder, then, that a recent survey tells us that almost 40 per cent of our population is experiencing some form of mental illness.
There should be some 'contract' with the society by the heads of the media houses that they will not give time - either in print or air - to anything that degrades women, incites violence (like some 'burn them' lyrics) or illegality in any way, form or fashion. The media have a responsibility not only to reflect what comes to it from society, but also in these times, especially to enlighten, educate and help in the shaping of the positive values of the society. If this is not done, we should not support the respective media house with ads or sponsorship. We cannot allow our entertainers who have no regard for decency and good taste to lull us into submission.
We have to be much more proactive as a body of people who aspire to spiritual life. The Jamaica Council of Churches is like a guard at the gate who has fallen asleep - a tiger without teeth. The same for the many evangelicals, etc. who are all bark and no bite. The Church collects money, resources, etc. from here and abroad and should be made to account for the disposal of these resources. We are long on verbiage and all sorts of pomposity, and very short on being a voice to the voiceless and a defender of the poor and the marginalised against corruption and injustice. We are not effective as agents of change even in our own schools and communities. We spend a lot of time in rituals and rites, and hardly any time in counselling (both rich and poor) and educating: yet keep griping about the hard times, and get lost in the insularity of our own short-sightedness. We need to wake up if we see ourselves as the 'guardians' of the people of Jamaica.
In short, we have let down the flock. They are like a people without a shepherd. There is so much more we can do if only we would take seriously the mandate of the people to walk with them in the spirit of Anthony de Mello's cautionary words:
"These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness and worship without awareness."
Msgr Gregory Ramkissoon is executive director of the Mustard Seed Communities. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.