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Machiavelli, Hezekiah and managing Jamaica

Published:Thursday | December 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller

There are some things that Jamaica is known to be good at. Our country is the sprint capital of the world and both Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the fastest man and woman in the world, are Jamaicans and live in Jamaica. Bob Marley's One Love anthem of reconciliation and love was voted the Song of the Century.

Many of our very bright students excel here in Jamaica and at major universities overseas. Jamaican nurses, teachers and people in the general workforce overseas often make us very proud with their consistently high levels of performance and achievements. Many sincere, honest and hard-working Jamaicans burnish that pride here at home. Managing our country well is not a feat at which we have excelled, regrettably. Jamaicans are about to elect a new government and this, I believe, is a good time to open a conversation about how much better we can manage this wonderful place called Jamaica. Students of politics and management often quote Niccolo Machiavelli in their discourse and writing. He was the 16th-century philosopher, humanist, politician, schemer, and adviser to the Medici family of Florence in Italy, from whose name the term 'Machiavellian' has been coined.

Machiavelli's best known book is the perennially famous The Prince. It is said to have been written for unscrupulous politicians and at no time did Machiavelli claim to be a spiritual adviser. Probably the best-known quotation from that very small but amazingly powerful and long-lasting book is this: "Heap together in one pile all the bad and unpopular policies and actions which the prince must execute and he must do them at the beginning of his administration. He must then dole out small but regular portions of goodies over the term of his stewardship."

While this sounds amoral, at best, or - Machiavellian - it really has worked well for many electorates who have had princes or government leaders who have been brave enough to execute this policy rigorously with tact and skill. These days most politicians try to do the doling out of goodies just before elections are called. When the heaping up of the bad things is dragged out and done incrementally, the prince or ruler, invariably, gets thrown out of office.


Jamaica's historical data of no-growth, persistent high unemployment, pervasive and often under-reported poverty, and the ever-present spectre of crime that places us as the number six or seven most murderous country in the world, point to a relentless mismanagement of our country that is heartbreaking. This mismanagement has driven out millions of Jamaicans to use their talents, and money, to work and raise their families overseas. Jamaica is in desperate need of good economic and social management.

Elected politicians need to apply sound managerial principles to our government institutions, and the way the civil service works, in order to make the government more efficient, more friendly to businesses and completely committed to serving well the citizenry of the country whose taxes pay them all. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been highlighting this managerial requirement in a number of its recent quarterly reports.

The good management agenda is a tough one for our politicians to meet. Most have had no experience whatsoever in managing anything. In fact, many politicians dislike those who do have managerial training and experience and run businesses in the private sector. Invariably, of course, some do have high regard for private-sector managers who produce consistently good results.

Jamaican political leaders - and I speak of them because the government is the biggest business by far in this country - have proven to be mostly great ditherers and take an incremental approach to management that enables them to avoid taking tough decisions. Adopting the managerial approach which seeks to deliver the least offence to the most voters at all times, they avoid even a benign Machiavellian 'put everything bad in one pile and do them upfront' approach.

They avoid changing anything radically and in the process achieve very little. While 'politics is an art of the possible', great management is the art of combining resources, people and strategies to achieve what often appears to be impossible. A vast majority of our political leaders tend to have no concept of what even good management represents.

Hezekiah's way

Hezekiah was a very young man, only 25 years old, when he became King of Judah. He followed his father Ahaz, who had a disastrous reign, and he stripped Solomon's magnificent temple, which was the centre of Jewish life. The book of 2 Chronicles, Chapter 29, tells us that Hezekiah 'in the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them.'

King Hezekiah did a bit of an anti-Machiavelli, in that he did good things upfront. He did adopt a very good managerial approach, however, in that he started off his reign as an outstanding doer in the very first month that he took over the throne from his father. He was not a slow learner. His youth was also an asset. Hezekiah was inclusive and invited residents of the competing kingdom of Israel to join the celebration of the repaired temple which was sited in the capital of Judah, Jerusalem. For a man who came from the dominant tribe of Judah and Israel, and who was also a scion of the Lion of Judah, King David, he was decidedly not a tribalist. Machiavelli prescribes a humanist, secular approach to political management. Hezekiah adopted a God-centred approach to his reign - 'he did what was right in the sight of the Lord' - and it proved to be extremely successful over his 29-year reign in Jerusalem. Jamaicans will have to decide whether Andrew Holness or Portia Simpson Miller will be the best manager of our country after the upcoming elections.

Aubyn Hill is the CEO of Corporate Strategies Limited and Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the opposition leader.


Twitter: @HillAubyn