Wed | May 31, 2023

Orville Taylor | Lee Kwan is not You

Published:Sunday | January 23, 2022 | 12:07 AM

Maybe Transport and Mining Minister Audley Shaw and Rev Dr Rohan Ambersley, of the Sterling Castle New Testament Church of God, live in different countries, because they didn’t make the connection with the other. Thank God for the sociology; we learn to think systemically because everything is connected. Miss Ivy, my mother of blessed memory, often used to say, “Save at the cock; it leak out of the bung!” Another favourite expression was, “Bird can’t fly and dem pickney walk!”

Momma was no sociologist but she clearly understood that there are relationships between causal variables. Nothing happens in a vacuum and we are simply unhappy with the corn we have reaped, having sown grain of poor quality. Shaw, at a recent event, lamented, using the hackneyed reference to Singapore, our comparative lack of progress since the 1960s. For him, “We have a problem of underachievement, and we have a lot of catching up to do. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore came to Jamaica in 1964, two years after we achieved Independence, because he was inspired at the rate of economic growth that was taking place ... and in 1971, in one single year, the Jamaican economy grew by 11 per cent.”

So then, what did he do right and what did we do wrong? Well, let us be honest. An uneducated population cannot lead development. Nowhere in Lee’s strategies was there the creation of all-age and junior secondary schools. There was no examination which was not ‘common’ to most poor people and certainly gave little entrance to the few post-primary schools available. For decades, we condemned 12-year-olds to curricula that did not lead anywhere. Indeed, when we changed the junior secondary schools, added two more years to them and called them secondary, the teenagers were not initially given the CSEC high school syllabus. Rather, they were relegated to a Secondary School Certificate SSC regimen.


Myriad studies from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have pointed squarely to the inverse relationship between social/economic inequality on the one hand and productivity/economic growth on the other hand. Of course, in the 1960s, the University of Sussex’s Dudley Seers, and others, recognised that to achieve sustainable and true development, social inequity had to be significantly reduced in countries such as ours. We got what we paid for.

Thus, unlike Lee, we had a vested interest in keeping and even exacerbating the inequalities in the post-colonial society. For the fortunate among us who can read, access to the research is revealing. A 2001 World Bank study published in The Journal of Law and Economics showed “that income inequality, measured by the Gini index, has a significant and positive effect on the incidence of crime. This result is robust to changes in the crime rate used as the dependent variable (whether homicide or robbery).”

Hold your breaths, but my own research, which I first presented at The UWI Mona academic conference in 2000 and in subsequent publications over the years, show irrefutable evidence that social inequality, especially in the context of ‘indecent’ work practices, leads to both low productivity and crime.

Yet, there is another element of inequality that is the most insidious: corruption. In the simplest of terms, this is the misuse of positions of power or influence to benefit or victimise. Lee did not hesitate in the zero-tolerance approach. Nepotism feeds crime and is crime itself. Dozens of officials, including his closest allies, were imprisoned and the certainty of punishment for other crimes was the norm. When did we do this; or why not?


Ambersley is spot on. “We have underperformed despite the richness of our heritage, despite the skills of our people, despite the bounty of the blessings of the Lord on our land, and I suggest that this underperformance is significantly related to the accumulation of the wrong things done and things done wrongly.” Too many are wrong and strong.

In previous columns, I have stressed the zero tolerance for illicit money being paid under our Proceeds of Crime Act. My position was and still is that not even taxes, attorneys’ fees or court fines should be exempt. True, we go after persons whose lifestyles do not match their declared incomes. However, even their taxes should be scrutinised.

Still, even the Church much accept its role. Recently, bishop of the Christian Holiness Church in Jamaica, Dr Alvin Bailey, called for the dismissal of Security Minister Horace Chang over his failure to reduce crime and violence. While he is right that Chang is failing by these indicators, what does he say for the Church? Why are young men staying away? Has he and others proportionately “brought more youth to Christ?” Is he staying silent on the rich pastors whose very lifestyles run counter to Jesus’ teachings? After all, if you fail at your primary job of bringing in the sheep, what moral authority do you have to criticise anyone else?

That is the essence of equality, until we call spades spades, look at the logs into our own eyes and take personal responsibility for the social pathologies; all the efforts will fail.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets. Email feedback to and