By Gordon Robinson
There's been too much hot air produced recently trying to academically analyse Jamaica's status and prescribe for its future.
Why do we spend so much time making simple issues sound deeply intellectual? In a recent television talk shop that made no impact on the issue, at least the host succinctly asked the correct questions:
1. Where have we gone wrong in the last 50 years?
2. What should we do to make it better?
Simple enough queries, aren't they? Well, three educated Jamaicans spent one hour proving to the audience how widely read and intelligent they were, but nobody bothered answering the questions. Booklist Boyne travelled further worldwide than Tommy 'Angry Leprechaun' Smyth, emptying his onion bag of knowledge of other economies, none relevant to our history, experience or culture. The thing about TV is that, since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
What on earth does Vietnam have in common with Jamaica? If nothing, why bring it up? As usual, in local discussions involving politics, nobody wanted to be specific. All were politically correct and, accordingly, vague. Since I've never been accused of politeness or political correctness, I'll answer the questions:
1. Too much corruption; too much reciprocal intra-party loyalty; too little education.
It's that simple. No extraterritorial research required. When every little contract to clean gullies; pave roads; or produce Jamaica 50 souvenirs results in civil protest on the basis that too few of one political ilk or the other have been favoured, there's too much corruption. It means we've become brainwashed to believe work should be handed out based on political affiliation, not merit. I've not seen one Jamaican jumping up and down in front of a TV camera shouting, "Too much eediat getting de wuk!" It's always "too much JLP (or PNP)."
When a government is allowed, without let or hindrance, to call rotated 'bullo' work development, we're in trouble. Paying (or, more accurately, promising to pay) a man a few thousand dollars for a week of 'bushing' isn't development. It takes so long for the promised 'smalls' to be paid, it's already 'borrowed out' when it eventually arrives. Where's JEEP's oversight panel?
GOING BENEATH SURFACE
Sometimes the problem isn't easily discernible. Corruption is dishonesty of any kind, and dishonesty, according to the online Oxford English Dictionary, involves "intending to trick people". So, if I disagree with Booklist Boyne that Vietnam's example is a useful one for Jamaica, but say I agree or pretend I don't know, I can be accused of dishonesty, depending on my intention. Nobody needs to perform illegality to be corrupt.
If I know that an end to a process can't be achieved by one link in the middle of that process but I pretend that it was so achieved, what is that? I ask readers, how many of you expect your image can be printed, delivered and circulated to schools by a printer, without your involvement or responsibility? If a printer somehow found a way (and a motive) to do that, would you be paying him for his work?
Reverend Ronnie finds himself in just such a pickle, but, instead of disclosing the facts to the electorate and clarifying his intentions, looks angelically into a camera and promises to cooperate with The Cowboy's procurement procedures investigation. What's that to do with how his image became superimposed on a Jamaican flag printed on bookmarks for circulation to schools?
Seriously, Ronnie? Is that all you've got for us? Do printers routinely possess your photo? How did this printer get this photo? Why are you and your ministry blaming it all on 'printer's devil'? Printers work from instructions, and usually send mock-ups for clients' approval before the final printing. Did this happen in this case?
Please don't defer answering these questions awaiting a procurement procedures investigation. The public's concern has nothing to do with procurement procedures. Kindly come clean with your electors NOW and show them all the information you say you're saving to show The Cowboy.
We don't need an 'investigation', Ronnie. We need you to tell us how this all went down. Were you aware of the production of these bookmarks at any stage of the process? What was your intent? Ronnie, this one appears too adjacent to one of our most fundamental national problems for you to delay speaking fulsomely and frankly with the public.
When you do so Ronnie, please ensure you focus on the involvement, if any, of the person you may well be in the habit of defining by way of the use of the perpendicular pronoun. This is a matter of public interest, Ronnie. These are questions electors have the right to ask. These are questions that elected representatives must answer.
What is "too much reciprocal intra-party loyalty"? At such a dangerous national flashpoint as the apparent attempt to gain political mileage out of our most important national symbol, the prime minister's attempted deflection of public concerns by talking about yellow vs gold flags was pitiful. That old political ploy of citing others' wrong to justify your own is now beyond tiresome. Stop it.
The fundamental issue is that the flag is ours. It belongs to no political party or politician, and any party or politician taking any step to make it, or him, more identified with the flag than opponents is engaged in corruption, plain and simple. The mere existence of the superimposed image AFTER delivery to some schools raises serious public-interest concerns that corruption may be involved, which The Reverend Ronnie must himself address rather than hide behind Office or the Contractor General's investigations.
Then, there's the very public arrest of Montego Bay's deputy mayor (DM), followed immediately by police allegations, publicly supported by the police commissioner, that he was involved in the lottery scam. The heated debate that followed as to whether or not the DM should be fired missed the point. The DM's own unlawful attempt to take 'leave of absence' was just another way to delay and obfuscate beyond the nine days it normally takes us to forget these things. 'Leave of absence' is an employment concept. Elected representatives don't have that luxury.
The issue is: if, in Jamaica, party loyalty wasn't driving every decision, the Government would ensure that either the DM or police commissioner was fired immediately. Either the commissioner has egregiously dishonoured his post or the DM is a lotto scammer. How do both retain their positions and we return to business as usual on the 10th day while Portia gets away with yet another "I don't know", without media follow-up?
If we had a population who understood the logic of the English language or mathematics, none of these people could get away with any of the above or many similar examples over the past 50 years. We have poured vast sums down the corrupt drain of Operation PRIDE, NetServ, tax waivers to large corporations (not only Shell, which packed up and bolted anyway), Dudus' defence, and JDIP, among others.
But 53 per cent of Jamaica's future can't pass a simple CSEC English exam. Two-thirds can't pass maths. The minority who pass expect that to mean immediate wealth. We don't understand that exam success provides only an entry to further education by experience. I keep saying knowledge alone is almost useless. Knowledge plus experience is wisdom.
If all our experiences come from endless supplies of books written by foreigners about foreign countries or from surrendering our brains to the Old Testament, we're blighted by too much irrelevant knowledge and too little experience.
That tomato is a fruit is knowledge. Wisdom acquired by experience prevents us from putting tomatoes in fruit salad. Until you've walked Jamaica's streets (learning practical geography and about people); ridden the bus (learning true 'equality' and about people); visited as many Jamaican nooks and crannies as possible (learning concrete isn't nature and about people); sat and socialised with people in bars (ending up drunk on occasion but learning what makes people tick); betting shops (learning how to win and lose alike and about people); cold-supper shops (learning different nutritional applications and about people); bus stops (learning patience and people); farms (learning chickens aren't born in plastic wrapping and some people start work at 5 a.m.); and police stations (learning that what donkey sey 'bout de worl' is right and about people), you won't be able to diagnose Jamaica's national diseases or prescribe cures.
It helps to be widely read, but experiences permit you to apply your reading to your circumstances.
Jamaican education comes more from verbatim absorption and regurgitation (on exams) of books and less from field trips or apprenticeship periods. Decades ago, children grew up in the streets socialising and learning about each other by playing outdoor games.
Today, they socialise through Facebook/Twitter and play games with a TV remote. Girls used to sneak inspections of their dates' abs. Today, any gathering of youngsters (whether date or otherwise) finds each fixated on their cellphone apps while ignoring Facebook 'friends' within touching distance. We must radically adjust our curricula to take into account changing times and childhood experiences.
2. We must change our system of governance so that real (not hyped) power rests in the people.
It'll be obvious from the above diatribe that I believe the solution to what ails Jamaica will NEVER be found as we currently operate. The solution lies in the collective wisdom of our people, but this is only sought in a limited way once every five years.
What is required, sine qua non, is a system that separates Jamaica's executive from its Parliament, and allows Parliament to represent the people's collective wisdom by scrutinising and rejecting (where necessary) the executive's policies. Every legislator, including senators, must be elected, not selected. The electorate must be able to fire those they hired, even before their contracts expire.
Until we embrace and implement this radical change in governance, our corruption epidemic will never end. Our urge for party loyalty, above all else, will continue to be rooted in the way we govern Jamaica. The status quo demands an undereducated population. It insists on party loyalty. It nurtures and thrives on corruption.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.