Where are we going?
By Howard Hamilton
I read with interest the report of a speech made by the chairman of the board of directors of GraceKennedy and Company, Douglas Orane, at the annual Caribbean International Network lecture in New York on October 19.
He focused on identifying what he considered the three most critical constraints holding back the people of Jamaica from creating prosperity and proposed solutions. He also encouraged each Jamaican to take individual action towards transforming our country.
I am surprised that this report has not generated more commentary. It was a decent speech, although there was much in the details with which one could disagree. It was ambitious of Mr Orane to try to identify the three major binding constraints to our development. We could have started with any of a dozen. I thought that his were certainly important factors to be addressed, but I thought they were more accurately seen as symptoms or results of the major constraints.
I see it quite simply: to succeed you need a workable plan, an efficient system and committed participation. Realistically, we have none of these.
I noted in the speech the reference to the Vision 2030 National Development Plan, so I thought I had better read it before responding. It was certainly a tour de force, but not really workable. There is little there to disagree with, but it's too long, too diffuse, without a real sense of priorities, affordability or accountability. In short, more of a combined state of the nation statement of aspirations.
Rather than the 100 things we would like to do, I'm more interested in the five things we are committed to doing to change the game. I tried to find one of the annual progress reports that were promised. Perhaps I didn't search carefully enough, but none were evident online. You would have thought if folks were serious about implementation, there would be real teeth in progress requirements and reporting.
Without a workable system, the words on the page will remain just that. The Vision 2030 document painfully describes our descent on many of the main indicators of development. There is not enough space on the page to list the many ways in which our society does not function properly - from the failure of the social contract, to the endemic corruption, tribalism and inequality.
Orane speaks of the political populism and widespread immaturity and adolescent-like behaviour. Unfortunately, he seeks to tie this to our history of slavery and the claim that we are still a young country. I reject that aspect of his argument, and I think it is time to stop repeating the 'young country' conventional wisdom and 'the slavery mentality'.
We have now failed over a lifetime to accomplish what many emerging economies have accomplished over a generation. There is no acceptable excuse for many of the declines we have seen.
Participation (willing or enforced) is key, and that is, perhaps, the major binding restraint. Orane correctly speaks of the need to develop a culture of transformation, and quotes the outgoing head of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, Dr Gladstone Hutchinson, in identifying the need to break the cycle of low performance and low expectations. To my mind, this leads us to seek selfish and short-term results.
PARTICIPATE TO EMANCIPATE
The problem is that this approach has made its way to the highest reaches of our business and political leadership. On the political front, there needs to be steady and committed implementation of policy that is consistent with a 22-year development plan. This will, in turn, incentivise our business community to embrace long-term investment.
Participation will increase when there is belief that the plan and the system are workable, but indeed they are not workable without the participation of the stakeholders. The role of government and the policy planners is to figure out where to apply the appropriate levers to show measurable progress. And Orane's call for commitment and further contributions on an individual basis from those in the diaspora (and, presumably, in Jamaica, as well) was important.
As a people, we need to be more assertive and join the voice of those crying out for change. Our political system has failed us. It was heartening to hear our former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, during a recent parliamentary honour, crying out for change to the tribalism and 'power-at-all-cost philosophy' which have guided our political process through the years.
Who will BELL this cat and sound the TRUMPET?
What is compelling is the fact that we cannot continue like this!