By Lambert Brown
As we concluded the successful and spectacular celebration of our 50th Anniversary of Independence, I am satisfied that Jamaica has a lot to celebrate and to give thanks for.
As one who was in primary school at the time of Independence, I am conscious of the tremendous strides made by the country over the last five decades. The Rev Martin Luther King Jr's quotation, "We are not now where we would love to be, but we have come a long way from where we started," correctly sums up the development of Jamaica since Independence.
Compared to the 1960s, our infrastructure has developed by leaps and bounds. From barefoot attendance in school to brand-name apparel, from gully courses to paved drains, from narrow marl roads to expansive highways, and from few landlines to millions of cellphones are some testimonies of the advancement of our nation.
This is not a claim of perfection in our development, but an indication of how far we have travelled along the road to development in the last 50 years. There are many other areas, such as health, human resource development, as well as economic progress, made over the same period.
Data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica reveal that only approximately 20 per cent of the current Jamaican population is 50 years or older. Today, the majority of Jamaicans alive were born after Independence and make their judgement of our nation's progress not on the basis of where we are coming from but where they think we should be.
The more than 80 per cent of the population which was born at or after Independence must be educated to appreciate that at Independence, there was no New Kingston with the many skyscrapers providing jobs to the thousands, instead of a few hundred, now graduating from our tertiary institutions. There was no Ocho Rios in its current form as a tourist resort.
At Independence, Negril was just a promise, and the thousands of jobs in tourism now existing were never a reality. We could look at almost every area of Jamaica and find extensive development. For example, if a comparison of aerial views of the areas where the uptown plazas, such as Constant Spring Road or Liguanea are located, the images in 1962 and today would reveal the massive transformation that has taken place.
The phenomenal growth of Mandeville, and almost any other town in rural Jamaica, has shown much progress. Almost every town has had to introduce one-way streets to regulate the exponential growth in traffic. These points are being made, not to deny that there are areas in which greater progress could have been made, but to counter the negatives of those who say there is nothing to celebrate.
Independence does not mean that all the negatives of a society would disappear, even in 50 years. What it means is that our leaders now bear the responsibility to steer the country to prosperity soon. In the great USA, now fast approaching 250 years of independence, flaws and faults persist. Take, for example, poverty.
The official poverty measure is published by the United States Census Bureau and shows that in 2010, 46.9 million people were in poverty, up from 37.3 million in 2010. The 2010 poverty rate for Hispanics was 26.6 per cent, for blacks 27.4 per cent. There are approximately 13 million persons who are currently unemployed in the States.
greater reflection necessary
The failure in Jamaica to resolve all the intractable issues of poverty and unemployment must, therefore, not be seen as a failure of the Independence project. But our nation must use this jubilee milestone to seriously reflect on the areas in which greater progress needs to be made over the next 50 years and ensure that our nation maximises the opportunities of the global economy.
In this reflection, the role of our local private sector, as the declared engine of growth should be critically examined. Economic growth has depended too much on foreign direct investment and Government. Our local private sector has not sufficiently played its role in advancing the economy. Despite the efforts to Jamaicanise the economy in the first decade of Independence, too many opportunities have been missed by our local entrepreneurs.
The creative industries, including sports, which are valued at trillions of US dollars globally, must be penetrated by our local private sector if they are to contribute to sustainable economic growth. There is no doubt that Jamaica has a comparative advantage in these areas. Our private sector must stop blaming Government, and seek out creative partnerships which will see Jamaicans playing a bigger role in these lucrative industries.
The fact that our sportsmen and women, as well as our artistes, have demonstrated their abilities to be world-beaters is a clear indication that we have the capacity for money-making industries.
National priority must now be for the private sector, Government and sports organisations to come together and plan strategies for maximising benefits arising from the exceptional exposure obtained for little Jamaica by the boys and girls, mainly from the urban and rural poorer sections of the Jamaican population.
We must make the investment in our local sports and culture pay greater dividends for our nation on the global scale. We are already showing that we can apply the benefits of science and technology to these areas.
If we are able to do this, as well as encourage small and micro businesses to take advantage of local and international opportunities, the next 50 years of our Independence may, indeed, be crowned with much more progress. Then there will be less doubt as to whether Jamaica is a better place because of our Independence. Onward with full confidence to the next 50 years we go!
Lambert Brown is president of the University and Allied Workers Union. Email feedback to email@example.com and Labpoyh@yahoo.com.