NOT SURPRISINGLY, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cut short her official visit to Canada, returning home ostensibly to oversee the island's preparations for Hurricane Sandy, which hit Jamaica yesterday, leaving infrastructural damage which, we hope, will not put too much pressure on our already-depleted finances.
Mrs Simpson Miller's action is what leaders do, being seen to stand with their people in times of crisis. This is of value. But often, as in this case, it is more symbolic than practical. For there is little, if anything, we believe, that the prime minister's physical presence in Jamaica, on the eve of the hurricane, could have added to the preparations for Sandy.
However, there are larger issues regarding governance and management about which the passage of Sandy ought to have reminded Mrs Simpson Miller and her Government, which we hope they have grasped and taken to heart.
The first of these is that Jamaica is located in a hurricane zone, subject to a weather phenomenon that is becoming more frequent and intense, as a result of global warming. Indeed, in the past decade alone, Jamaica has been hit by more intense hurricanes than in the previous 50 years.
The changed and changing climate situation adds to the complexities confronted by small-island states like Jamaica in preparing for the climate phenomena to which they are accustomed and the new one being spawned by global warming.
Mrs Simpson Miller will reasonably argue that her Government appreciates and embraces the science of climate change, even making the subject a specific element in the portfolio of the environment minister. Our problem is the appointee to the post, Robert Pickersgill. We do not sense in Mr Pickersgill - an old hand of the ruling party who has served in several Cabinets - a deep grasp, or full engagement on even the basic element of his portfolio. He has not made his a key front-line ministry and appears in the job to be an automaton, moving along on bad script and rote.
Jamaica, in the circumstance, cannot afford this. Too much of its social and economic development is at stake, as is evidenced almost every time there is heavy rainfall. The good thing for Jamaica facing potential disaster from phenomena like Sandy is that it has a well-developed disaster-management mechanism. The hub of this is the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management.
Better policy decisions
But much of what these agencies are called to do could be lessened by better policy decisions and management by other arms of the Government, Mr Pickersgill's ministry included. For example, preventing housing developments on steep hillsides and in watersheds. And there is the disrepair of the country's physical infrastructure such as storm-water drains and gullies, which contribute to the flooding of communities, damage to property, and the loss of life. Jamaica's long-term economic crisis is, in part, to blame. But a significant part of the problem is a failure to fix the little things, when they are affordable, rather than wait for them to become full-blown crises. Further, our Government must insist on value for jobs done when it is cleaning drains, repairing sidewalks and reafforesting hillsides. Doing the little things right adds value, which shows when we are stared down by the likes of Sandy.
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