By Garth A. Rattray
Two Sundays ago, many Jamaicans glued themselves to their television sets when Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller delivered her address to the nation on the end of the first year in office for her administration.
Given our serious financial woes and the promise of much harsher times ahead, many expected a revealing prognostication of the probable outcomes of our economic strategies to deal with the effects of the continuing global recession, the falling Jamaican dollar, and the International Monetary Fund deal needed to buffer us against financial ruin.
As a pragmatist, I thought that we were given exactly what I expected - a carefully scripted eulogy (positive commentary) on the ending of the past year in office. The economic hiccups were blamed on the slippage of our dollar and the dipping of the net international reserves. That was immediately followed by an expression of confidence in our people.
Then, the prime minister spoke of our reduction in murders, shootings, robberies and break-ins, followed by statistics on the recovery of illegal guns and ammunition. She hailed the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme and complimented the partnership of the private sector in the Jamaica Employ initiative.
She spoke of the monies spent on road repairs/rehabilitation and the government (Hurricane Sandy) assistance given to distraught citizens. There was praise for the tourism sector, National Housing Trust, and our stable labour relations.
She lauded education and agriculture. She touched on foreign affairs/international relationships, container terminals/trans-shipment hubs, the proposed north-south highway, the potential for ICT jobs, diversification of energy sources and conservation, agricultural parks to reduce dependence on imported edibles, and bemoaned our US$1-billion food bill.
The PM concluded with encouraging us to "... insist on the best from ourselves" and imploring us to have a "greater sense of personal responsibility towards one another".
Naturally, as expected, numerous voices with diverse interests have expressed disappointment in omissions on several important topics and concrete plans on the way forward. But that's like complaining about not getting a weather forecast when you were promised a weather report. Forecasts and contingent plans for disasters are something else.
However, in referring to being our best and so on, I saw a missed opportunity to address our weakest link. We are an extremely talented, innovative, strong and resilient people. Our music and culture have had global impact. Our athletes have shocked and transformed the sports world. They set such high standards that some experts predict that it will take a new generation to surpass them. In spite of all our obvious greatness/strengths, our country has innumerable woes, and at the root of them all is our weakest link: stark and rank indiscipline.
Indiscipline pervades society at every level (from the top to the bottom) and leads to everything from traffic fatalities and criminality to a lack of production and unfettered foreign exchange spending (the death knell of any economy). Our, 'every man for himself' attitude is only an illusion (we cannot survive without each other); it mocks the cohesiveness and sacrifices that we need to surmount these trying times.
We cannot enforce discipline in every sphere of Jamaican life, but we can start by enforcing and encouraging the philosophy of discipline by trying to control the actions and behaviour of our citizens on our roads and public spaces.
I wish to, once again, encourage the powers that be to deputise suitable individuals as the eyes and ears (an extension) of the constabulary to clandestinely monitor, record and report on offences and more serious criminal acts.
Hopefully, the culture and benefits of a disciplined society will eventually translate into the thoughtfulness and cooperation needed for our nation to survive and grow.
Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com