Glenn Tucker | Collective responsibility is the prescription to prosperity
The next phase in the Andrew Holness government’s work is about to begin. They performed well and were justly rewarded. But alongside were glaring systemic weaknesses in governance. Recovery will be slow, and coupled with this pandemic, could cause a premature prosperity plateau that may derail everything promised in the manifesto.
Those who keep their ears to the ground hear daily complaints and allegations of bureaucratic hurdles, red tape, lengthy procedures, incompetence, and corruption. The genesis of most of these problems would seem trivial and unimportant. But are they? It cannot be lost on successive governments that the telephone calls to some of the most critical ministries and departments often go unanswered. And in many cases when they answer, it is very possible that the caller is transferred to an extension that also does not answer. The implications for citizen participation, state accountability, and state responsiveness are obvious. Mr Holness must quickly modify the model for efficient and effective service delivery by government ministries, departments, and agencies.
And do the competencies for managerial accountability and leadership quality exist at the necessary levels of the public sector to ensure adequate, efficient, and effective service delivery? I expect that there will be a demand for a higher quality of relations between civil servants and citizens.
IMPLEMENT NATIONAL ID
The Government must immediately start the process of establishing a reliable database of all Jamaican citizens. This will involve the issuance of a unique lifelong national identification number. Biometrics provides the strongest form of authentication. The top three are fingerprint, face, and iris recognition. May I respectfully suggest iris recognition? It uses the coloured part of the eye to identify people. Even identical twins have different patterns. It is known for its high speed and accuracy, using low-end computer resources. It eliminates the problems of “buddy punching” and other fraudulent activities at the workplace. The cost of biometric technology continues to drop, bringing it within reach of the poorest nations. Government must resist the temptation to respond to mischievous and parochial anancyism related to this matter. Accurate IDs bind citizens and their countries.
Charles Dickens was in the habit of visiting prisons. When he visited Newgate prison on the edge of London, he wrote a lengthy portrait of the prison and called it the House of Death. This is what enters my mind every time I pass Tower Street Prison. Jamaica has a prison system that does not comport with the progressive notions this Government espouses. It is depressing and only serves to break the human spirit. It is an embarrassment, and there are alternatives.
ADDRESS MENTAL ILLNESS
Mental illness is not a crime. It is an illness. It cannot be treated by locking up these patients in prisons. These hapless victims must be transferred to suitable institutions, where they can be treated. Why is no one embarrassed that we are doing these things to our fellow citizens? It is shameful!
The largest group of silent sufferers in our country is the elderly. Many are severely depressed. And with good reason. They are faced with myriad challenges. Many of the retirement decisions they would have made was at a time when the exchange rate was 1:25. Today’s rate of 1:149 automatically impoverishes them even before factoring in today’s huge medical expenses.
They fear poverty, dementia and senility, mistreatment and abuse even from family, ageist thinking and attitudes, modern technology, and death. They are overwhelmed but are ashamed to share their concerns. The NIS cheque is little more than bus fare. They are screaming silently for help. Can reverse mortgages be implemented? Can more churches and schools be encouraged and assisted to establish respectable, caring homes?
In about 1994, an ambassador invited me for “a cup of something …”. He told me of his duties and gave me the impression that much of what took up his day involved queries from his countrymen about corruption. Why, I wondered aloud, didn’t they just check with Transparency International and similar groups? He said that they were more interested in individual cases and the “perception of the people”. So he needed to keep his ears to the ground. Then he said this: “… They do not want to come here and invest shareholders’ money, then some minister gives his school buddy an unfair contract and he finds himself riding a stationary bicycle, business going nowhere because the playing field is not level.”
The PNP spent a disproportionate amount of its time talking about corruption. But some of these claims are years old and seem to be going nowhere. What does this say about the remedies we have in place to fight corruption? They must be extremely weak.
Like Jamaica, Singapore had corruption laws in the 1950s, but they were weak, and corrupt practices proceeded uninterrupted. When the Singapore government assumed office in 1959, they resolved, early, to fight corruption as a strategic imperative to sustain a healthy state of governance, rule of law, and economic and social development. The leaders took it upon themselves to set good examples for public officers to follow. They created, by personal example, a climate of honesty and integrity and made it known to public officers, in no uncertain terms, that corruption in any form would not be tolerated.
I will leave our prime minister with this prescription for prosperity: political will and commitment to excellence, an efficient service-delivery system, total eradication of corruption, confidence in public agencies, accountability and public participation, application of ICT, and social innovations.
Members of the public should exorcise from their minds that their participation is something they are doing for the ruling party. We are doing this for ourselves and the future of this country.
Glenn Tucker is an educator and a sociologist. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.