Ian Boyne, Contributor
I had always wondered how so many persons could be so dumb and inexplicably stupid to be scammed by our lotto crooks until I heard the debate in Parliament and saw clearly the connection between lotto scamming and our information technology sector.
The scoundrels have such intimate details of people's lives and activities, obviously gleaned from contacts within our MoBay call centres, that it is not totally surprising why they are believed.
It was good that both political parties could unite in Parliament to pass that lotto-scam legislation last week. Julian Robinson was very enlightening. He talked of investments Jamaica has lost because of our reputation for lotto scamming.
Who wants to set up business in a country where you hire and train people who are going to steal people's identity and pass them on to lotto scammers; a country where even innocent workers could be threatened or have their family members threatened unless information is passed to them; where you have to be constantly firing and then hiring again and training at considerable cost?
Now when you realise the vast potential which exists in the information-processing sector and how many jobs this sector could deliver, you don't need a better example of how our immorality and corruption hold us back.
The lotto scam highlights several things which are wrong with us and acts as a mirror to our soul. Here we have an industry with vast potential to employ many relatively low-skilled people as well as those at the high end. American businesses which are going to India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Barbados could be coming here.
FEEDING BLING CULTURE
Lotto scamming feeds into our frenzy for the bling lifestyle, the quick money. It also highlights muddled thinking and reflects our moral bankruptcy. When lotto scamming can be marketed as reparation for slavery and colonialism, you know we are in need of a moral compass. Last week at the annual GraceKennedy Foundation lecture, it was the issue of morality which was the theme. The presenter this year was that engaging intellectual, Dr Ana Perkins, trained at Boston College and Cambridge University, now at the University of the West Indies. Her lecture, published as a 66-page booklet, was titled Moral Dis-ease Making Jamaica Ill?: Re-engaging the Conversation.
Perkins says Jamaica is suffering from moral degenerative syndrome (MDS). The causative agents for this disease are "poor socialisation, inappropriate values and attitudes, lack of personal responsibility, reduced moral sensitivity, imagination and reasoning". The symptoms are all around us - "widespread disrespect for each other, murder, rape, larceny and robbery, petty and white-collar theft and dishonesty, among others".
Perkins feels we should regard this moral crisis as a kind of national emergency - no doubt comparable to our economic crisis. Indeed, the two are intertwined and feed on each other. One of the things we have to seriously assess is how our moral fabric will be affected by this new International Monetary Fund agreement. We have been busy assessing the economic and social impact of the programme, but, as usual, the moral issues have been given short shrift.
Parliamentarians were quick to push through that lotto scam legislation last week because they understand what it is doing to our image, to our crime rate, and to business. But there are other pernicious effects of our dysfunctional moral system. A friend was telling me how many more teenagers he has been seeing (or passing, rather!) on Portmore's 'Back Road'. Well, more will be available for show and sale with this fiscal consolidation programme.
There will be more transactional sex, more booty on display, more flesh hustling. The civil servants have signed on - at least their association has on their behalf - to three more years of no pay increase. But when the pressures begin to bite, what will they do? Will they still give a fair day's work for a fair day's pay? Will a lot of the time be taken up hustling? Will their energies be concentrated on the job? These are all issues which impinge on morality.
If the moral sentiments of the people are not developed, will people be producing to the best of their ability when they are under wage restraint? It is one thing to get people to agree to wage restraint because they feel they have no choice, really. It's another thing to really have them engaged and involved. That's an ethical issue. You would have to have people who believe that once they have given their word to work for three years without any increase - but many price increases - they will still give their best.
George Davis will have more 'In the office but not on the job' columns to write about if we don't have civil servants who are ethically inclined.
Ethics and morality are critically important to economic development. Our hope to bring in more taxes and to increase tax compliance is not unrelated to our moral ethos.Yes, systems and structures will go a far way to increasing compliance, but building a sense of responsibility towards others and towards one's country will help significantly in releasing tax dollars to the Consolidated Fund. Tax dodgers can make it easy for the authorities by just bringing in the taxes. No matter how efficient a system we have, we will never be able to bring in as much money as if we have more ethical people.
But we give short shrift to morality, confusing and conflating it with religion. People who are not religious can be quite ethical. Ana Perkins conceded this readily in her GraceKennedy lecture. In fact, she is to be commended for so admirably taking a broad-based approach to morality and not tying it exclusively with religious conviction. She shows there can be secular sources of morality. What we need to do is to build consensus around a set of values which contribute to nation-building and economic prosperity.
BLING VS AUSTERITY
Our obsession with money, bling and status, our tendency to show off, pop style and 'flash it' on our friends and associates (but, especially, enemies!) does not go well with austerity. With little money to go around because we are under an austerity programme and have to meet that 7.5 per cent fiscal surplus, how will all these people, whose concept of 'the good life' is inextricably tied up with material possessions, to manage to keep their cool?
Listen to our dancehall songs if you want to know the things glorified in the culture. You have legislation to curb lotto scamming and that's great, but you don't have a culture to help you. The culture says get it at all cost; get it because you are entitled to it; don't wait on the old-fashioned way to get it - study hard, work hard. That is foolishness!
If you can get it through lotto scamming, get it and bathe your car with champagne. Light up thousand-dollar bills, prompting gun salutes, and rent out a whole hotel block with women (or men!) And have some orgies. Away with this old-fashioned morality and outdated notions of right and wrong! You don't know what's right for me. I don't know what's right for you; to each his own. That's their philosophy.
MAKING CRIME COOL
Dr Perkins noted the Vybz Kartel and Gaza Slim song Reparation, which extols the virtues of the lotto scammer, "who is seen as a star for earning foreign exchange while taking care of his mother and educating his sister. These dancehall artistes portray scamming as a non-violent crime which is qualitatively less wrong than the hunger it is attempting to assuage. Similarly, they portray as a right of all, the possession of such material goods as planes, pools, large bank accounts and expensive, high-performance motor vehicles."
But, remember, that is the model set by the middle and upper classes. Granted, you might say they work for theirs, though ghetto people know that not all of them do. Some get their wealth through corruption and political connections. Our middle and upper classes don't provide an overwhelmingly inspiring moral model. The people featured on our social pages flaunting their wealth and uptown bling are also saying that these are the things which matter most. Ghetto people know that among them are some of the biggest tax dodgers, and 'bly' and contract recipients. Dem cyaah tell ghetto people nutten!
PROMOTE GOOD VALUES
So from top to bottom, you are talking about a society in moral decay and which is ethically rudderless. No one is setting any example. And I don't accept the view that symbolic actions at the top are not important and are just 'meaningless symbols'. They are extremely important, especially in a society suffering from MDS and one under IMF austerity.
The national Values and Attitudes Programme needs to be resuscitated, but in a meaningful way. We must promote it the way we promote sports and entertainment. We must put the kind of heavy sponsorship that we put into Champs, Olympics, football and other games. The last Jamaica Labour Party and the previous People's National Party regimes gave lip service to values and attitudes, calling it different names, taking the same lacklustre, tepid and half-hearted approach. If this administration resurrects the programme, it must be done meaningfully, with multiple millions of dollars behind it, using heavy private-sector sponsorship.
Stressing the dangers of our MDS, the highly astute Catholic public intellectual said, "We need a sense of urgency in order to eradicate MDS." It is necessary, she said, for us to use billboards, electronic and print media, speeches by various leaders as well as other campaigns, to reach the Jamaican masses.
Last week, a great Jamaican patriot and dear friend, Garveyite Frank Gordon, died, and no fuss was made. Frank lived selflessly for his people for all his nearly 92 years. He reflected all that was great about us. But he had no bling. When I spoke to him four days before he died, he sang patriotic songs to me and spoke of his undying love for Jamaica. Unless we find a way to ignite that same love in the hearts of the young, you can forget about any economic reform programme.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.CAPTION - In this April 12, 2012 photo, Ruth Wilson embraces her father, who declined to be identified by name for fear of being targeted for the Jamaican lottery scam or any other fraud again, in his home in Bothell, Washington. A task force has fought to contain lottery scammers based mainly in western Jamaica who have defrauded Americans of tens of millions of US dollars. - File