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Why are we still struggling as a country?

Published:Wednesday | February 20, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Wendel Abel, I AM WHAT I THINK

I have thought long and hard about the fact that, in spite of our potential, Jamaica still remains a struggling economy that seems to get worse every day, and with very little hope in sight. Economic development and prosperity are much about how people behave and think. It also involves managing people's behaviour and motivating them to achieve common and individual goals.

Why is that we continue to struggle? Why is it that we cannot achieve economic growth that other countries enjoy? Why is it? What is it about us?

1. Leaders who are selfish

History has shown that countries that make great economic development require leaders who are brave and bold; leaders who are bold enough to make the difficult and painful decisions required to overhaul a staggering economy. Our leaders have always been afraid to take those painful decisions out of fear that it may cost them politically. Leaders in Jamaica have always avoided those painful decisions in order to ensure their political survival.

2. Lack of vision.

Without vision, the people perish. That is exactly what is happening to our economy and our country. As a country, we need to come together and we need leadership that is going to help us paint that vision. The vision should include what we want to be as a people, a vision as to how we want people to see us and a vision as to where we want to go as a people. Without a clearly articulated vision, this country will go nowhere.

We often talk about transformation that occurred in Singapore over one generation. The leaders of that country painted a clear vision as to where they wanted to take the country. They envisioned a society that was ordered, where people worked hard and a society that was clean and safe. In Singapore, spitting in public is forbidden, littering the streets is not allowed. The time has come for us to have a clear vision of the Jamaica we want to live in.

3. A sense of reality.

We are not a realistic people. We have borrowed and borrowed to the extent that we are paying 55 cents to debt out of every dollar collected by the Government. Yet we expect other countries and institutions to continue to lend us money. Only a mad person would continue to lend a debt-ridden country like Jamaica money without insisting that we take necessary steps to reduce the heavy debt.

The country has to return to a stage where we live within our means. We cannot spend what we do not earn. That leads to bankruptcy and that is exactly where we now are. That is a no-brainer. We cannot continue to maintain a champagne taste on beer pockets.

4. Realistic thinking is needed.

Many people are broke because they put their money in Ponzi schemes; millions of dollars have been lost. It is like we allowed the Pied Piper of Hamelin to lead us all astray. This, however, speaks to our unrealistic mode of thinking. We have forgotten the culture of hard work and investing in order to make money. The only way we are going to move forward is to invest in this country. We need to seek the opportunities that exist, and trust me, there are many opportunities around.

5. A greater sense of commitment.

I know this country has a lot of committed citizens, but still far too many of us are merely occupying space. More of us need to be committed to this place called Jamaica. Let's put country above self and work together to make this blessed place called Jamaica, a place to do business, to spend your vacation, raise your children and live comfortable and safe. It is not beyond us, and we must make it a reality. In order to do so, we need strong leaders, a shared vision and hard work. Yes, we can do it, Jamaica. May God bless this country.

Dr Wendel Abel is a consultant psychiatrist and head, Section of Psychiatry, Department of Community Health and Psychiatry, University of the West Indies; email: