Howard Mitchell | Jamaica in grave danger of failing as a nation
The following is an excerpt from the speech made by Howard Mitchell during last month’s 2023 Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica Hall of Fame banquet.
Jamaica has accomplished wonderful things. We lead the world in track and field and sport generally, in music, and in the deep and intricate texture and flavours of our cuisine, our people have spread to the four corners of the world and achieved much as individuals.
And more recently, led by two remarkable politicians, Dr the Honourable Peter Phillips and Dr the Honourable Nigel Clarke, in a unique effort of cross-partisan policy continuity. We have escaped from the fiscal valley of death.
It is said that as a country we punch above our weight … we also murder more than normal, scam more than normal and practice more general ginnalship than most other countries.
We have shown that we are capable of great things, we have made great strides in equipping ourselves for the changing paradigms of the 21st Century in ways that other societies have been found wanting.
But … I put it to you that we are in grave danger of failure as a nation, as a society, as a community of souls.
We are hell-bent on self-destruction because of our culture of selfish and divisive tribalism, which steadfastly ignores value unless it is clothed in green or orange.
We practise the doctrine of divide and rule that was practised upon us for many years past by our slave masters and refuse to acknowledge the damage that we now do to our future… we steep ourselves in the culture of piracy and mayhem and theft which is so ingrained in our beginnings but will be the cause of the end of us as a functional society… and we blame it on everything but our own refusal to establish for ourselves the values and attitudes that are critical to survival and to true prosperity.
More recently we are treating lives as commodities to be bought and sold by contract and we have substituted brutality and perversion for reasoned dialogue and loving correction.
Unfortunately, the pronouncements and behaviours of some of our political leaders encourage our less progressive elements to actions and attitudes that take us further down the slippery slope to hell … and even more unfortunately there is little or no chastisement and accountability from their peers.
A country with no beliefs, with no centrality of established values is a body without a brain, a computer without an operating system and no amount of hasty, inappropriately adopted legislation will change that.
Morality cannot be legislated. It must be taught, encouraged, exemplified and most importantly, it must be led.
When the laws that make up the rule book by which we function and prosper are mocked, avoided and flouted by leadership, when rules are applied selectively, enforced on the weak but not the strong, the gate to autocracy is opened and that spells doom in a society with immature institutions and confusing or non-existent values. I am deeply concerned that Jamaica today fits that model.
We are witnessing an unremitting atavistic and cannibalistic onslaught on our regulatory institutions by other state entities that should be supportive rather than destabilising and I regret that much of our civil society appears to be either obliviously asleep or compromised by complicity in the efforts of destruction of the social institutional framework of the country in order to maintain the status quo.
Our magnificent efforts to escape from our self-imposed debt trap will be for nothing unless we further rescue ourselves from the antisocial and savage culture that is growing within us despite the best efforts of some of the agencies of state and our well-meaning civil society change agents.
Ladies and gentlemen, we need first to change our immediate behaviours and secondly to restructure the Constitution and the legislated rules and incentives that no longer serve our purpose the state by itself cannot stop the rot in our behaviour.
No number of states of emergency can prevent the rising tide of contract killings and savage domestic violence.
The first step has to be a positive manifestation of the majority of our civil institutions and of our citizens desire to reverse the corrosive deviance in our social relationships … civil society must speak up and speak out. And we must act.
I therefore, propose a national values and attitudes campaign encompassing all of our society and driven and motivated by a broad-based national steering committee, sufficiently funded by civil society, the diaspora, the state and with any international assistance that we can mobilise.
Yes, Prime Minister Patterson, I know it’s not an original thought ... but it’s a thought that has never been given a chance. Never been properly strategised and implemented and if you stop and think about it, Jamaica suffers from a massive vacuum of communal beliefs. Our motivations are largely tribal or individual, and we are socialised accordingly.
All of our organisations, our social structures are designed around tribal or individualised contests for self satisfaction, devoid of respect or civility or of any care for the consequences of a win at all costs value system.
To start this campaign should not cost a lot of money, because once we have established the specific targets in terms of behavioural change, we can simply work the message into our existing marketing plans … many companies in this room tonight are there already in promulgating positive messages and good values.
By way of examples …
• Sandals have for decades lived a culture of excellence, discipline and caring for others that has global recognition. Tonight I am honoured by the presence of my friend Adam Stewart and it has added considerably to my already overflowing heart.
• Island Grill has for years promoted love and harmony in its operations.
• JMMB and the Duncan family have built an admirable ethos of love and caring that permeates its entire culture and positively affects all who come in contact with them.
• National Bakery with its Bold Ones campaign promotes ethical entrepreneurship and is in itself a pillar of positive values.
• The Ministry of Health and Wellness with its Jamaica Moves campaign and more recently its Know Your Numbers initiative.
• The Jamaica Constabulary Force that is using socia media not just to report criminality, but to send positive messages to our citizens..
• GraceKennedy is leading the way as usual in establishing an environmental, social and corporate governance strategy to guide its activities. Again it should not require an increased budget for that programme to carry a positive attitudinal message.
• Finally, let us not forget the PSOJ’s Star initiative to which many of us have contributed, and which is already having a positive impact.
Let’s face the facts, our political leaders, adept as they are in messaging prosperity and patronage, find themselves conflicted in carrying a message of peace.
Love and harmony while preaching that the other half of the nation are deviant scoundrels who wish to steal our porridge.
It is civil society that has to lead this initiative and it is the private sector who must make the first move. We have played this role before ... We are influencers ... We
can do it again. We must.
I ask our leaders and influencers here tonight to give this values and attitudes initiative your serious consideration and your thoughtful actionn … I have another, no less important concern.
We are currently embarked upon a clumsily introduced proposition of consulting our people on the reform of our Constitution, which appears to my layman’s eye to be focused on the goal of removing an irrelevant archaic holdover of a paper monarch, while hiding our true intentions as to the much more substantive issue of a final court of justice and ignoring the even more critical questions of whether our parliamentary processes serve our people, or accomplish even average efficiency in the making of our laws.
The truth is that our problems are caused by dysfunctional and inappropriate political systems and processes. Not primarily by aberrant and deviant human actors. Those people are the symptoms not the cause.
They are acting out against badly designed rules and incentives produced by structures and systems that don’t work for these modern times … for instance how
Can a lower house that meets together in full only half day a week for two thirds of the year produce laws that really address our needs?
The current constitutional reform initiative appears to be majoring in the minors. Playing a game of self-deceit while ignoring systemic inefficiencies which frustrate
Our well-meaning elected representatives and facilitate the tendency to corrupt behaviour among the ill-intentioned and misguided few.
My friends … we know where the roadblocks and impediments are in our current Constitution and we should seize this opportunity as leaders of civil society to influence our political leaders to make our Constitution a functional and efficient framework for the development of a modern society that fully serves our people.
This is our duty and it is in our own interest to do it.
When I was thinking of what to say to you tonight a friend said to me, “If this was your last public speech what you want to say to your fellow Jamaicans?”
Well ... I have tried to express that message and I sum it up as follows. It is quite simply up to all of us who want true development to become the driving force for that positive transformation of Jamaica.
It is our mission to work collaboratively to push back the negative forces and promote the values that build and strengthen. The days of taking what we are given and of leaving it to others to build in their own image a society that does not reflect the tremendous good that is in us, that stifles our true destiny … those days must be left behind us and we must find true Independence in a world that increasingly demands more from us than a government left to its own devices can provide.
We must demand to participate with the state in building a nation that lives and grows with integrity, with ethical principles and energetic and constant consideration for the upliftment of all of us ... Not just 50 per cent on a rotating basis according to our tribe.
Howard Mitchell is a prolific businessman, commercial lawyer and transparency advocate who was inducted into the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica’s Hall of Fame in October.