LAST WEEK'S fracas in downtown Kingston between higglers and the police to enforce vending-zone regulations was reflective of the incompetence of the municipal authorities and their long history of botching most things upon which they rest their hands.
It was, at the same time, symptomatic of much of what is wrong in Jamaica: the inability of the government do even the little things. The upshot: public disorder and national ramshackle.
Take the downtown Kingston matter. Most people are likely to have greeted the development with a sense of déjà vu. It happens almost every Christmas. Vendors claim that they were promised that they would be allowed to sell in this or that area, while the police chase them and confiscate their goods.
It usually ends in a compromise. The authorities relent, supposedly for the season. But in the new year nothing changes - until chaos erupts again in December.
The problem is that enforcement demands concentrated effort and political will, which means a willingness to accept the fallout from tough decisions for the larger public good.
While the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation is in the spotlight, this management malaise is the norm for all the municipal authorities, as well as the national government. Further, the central government seems so overwhelmed by the intractable economic issues - such as negotiating with the International Monetary Fund, struggling with the debt, and its failure to generate growth and jobs - that small things that can make a difference to people's sense of well-being are ignored, or done poorly.
The management of the National Heroes Circle/Park, for instance, is an old peeve of this newspaper. A place where Jamaica honours its heroes and other outstanding persons, it should be kept in immaculate condition; its monuments pristine and lawns and gardens, in and outside, in no less a manner. This should be cheap to accomplish, requiring mostly minimum wage labour.
Yet garbage is allowed to pile up around the circle, its verges and gardens seemingly ill-tended. The finance ministry is allowed to continue its vandalisation of the circle, one of the few remaining substantial green spaces in the city, using it as a parking lot for staff.
Around the country, drains remain uncleaned, to be noticed only when their flow, mostly during the hurricane season, threaten life and property. In inner-city communities especially, but not confined to them, garbage pile up on sidewalks, shrub overgrow culverts, and small potholes morph into craters. So, public infrastructure crumbles, which the government then says it cannot afford to resuscitate.
Continuous maintenance, properly managed with keen oversight, can be accomplished at a fraction of the cost of what is usually paid - once there is the will.
Reasonably well-kept roads with trimmed, garbage-free verges help, we insist, to enhance the well-being of communities. When people feel good about their communities, it impacts positively on their behaviour.
Concentrating on these small things should be the new year's resolution of the government. Ministers need only notice the reaction to the recent frenzied trimming and whitewashing aimed at creating a few Christmas jobs.
Getting the little things done should be a new year's resolution of the government, with the proviso that it won't overpay political cronies for the effort.
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