Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Ronald Thwaites | Elusive productivity

Published:Monday | November 20, 2023 | 12:06 AM
In this file photo commuters are seen boarding a JUTC bus in downtown Kingston.
In this file photo commuters are seen boarding a JUTC bus in downtown Kingston.

This piece is intended to further the conversation promoted by the editorial in last Wednesday’s Gleaner on the themes of growth and productivity. It began with the prime minister giving one of his periodic hints of his understanding that prosperity can only be achieved through increased productivity. Of course he is right.

One of the intellectual and psychological defaults crippling our nation is our laziness in discussing and promoting a culture of productivity. Most of us who work believe that what we are doing now deserves much more pay and that it is others or “the system” which are keeping from us the just rewards we deserve. There is an underlying half-truth which we indulge that we are all “sufferers”, a people denied something by others.

Mr. Holness, Sir, the most basic spur to productivity and human flourishing in Jamaica would be if all of us had the ability to read and so think critically for ourselves.

At one striving high school recently there was an effort to counsel and correct a group of severely delinquent grade-11 boys. Unaided, they are heading for the gangs. They were asked to read a particularly appropriate verse from the Bible. Most could not. Several bragged about being sexually active. Their “trend” will have them leave school without certification, soon to become fathers, laden with destructive rather than productive tendencies.

I agree with Lisa that policy influencers and legislators should be sequestered, made to pray and fast for as long as it takes for us to focus on effective, affordable and constitutional measures to quell anti-social behaviour. Literacy for all is within our collective reach.


The schools of a religious denomination with which I am familiar are being enjoined to commit to the following basic steps towards sociability, productivity and godliness.

At their early childhood institutions, no child is to be passed out without satisfying all the Grade One Readiness criteria and the application of appropriate remediation and therapy where there are challenges or material deficiencies.

At the primary level, every child to be graduated must achieve a Grade 6 level of literacy, numeracy and attitudinal readiness. And at our high schools, every leaving student must be introduced to their personal pathway to work, service or further education and training. No more “graduation” to the street corners or the lying-in!

Achieving these minimum standards must be the sacred commitment of every parent, teacher, principal and board member. Rating of schools, retention of board members and promotion of school officials should be related to their efforts to attain these vital objectives. Family resources, philanthropy, church collection and the national budget must support these objectives in proportion to the particular need of each institution.


One good characteristic of the very powerful minister of works is that this Fuhrer does not dissimulate. Last week he was heard to celebrate with customary candour that the frantic purpose of designating Portmore a parish is to create a JLP garrison. As he said, the only thing he knows is politics. Indeed. And that is the most manipulative, warped style of politics which will keep this country in a chronic state of tribal dystopia. To quote the political philosopher Bugliari, “liberalism triumphant did not end history, but engendered an anti-democratic reaction.” And further to the point, “in depression people seek distraction. Politics becomes a reality show”. A gladiator’s joust in which people like this man become a lightning rod for every bully.

Could we have had a more revealing example of this attitude in the same week than the tussle over the flooding of Ward Avenue in Mandeville. First .there was the squabble between two competing political operatives as to who deserved credit for fixing the problem. Enter a squall of rain and it turns out that neither had done an effective job. So, what’s the point? This petty foolishness diminishes the sublime craft of politics as much as the recurring neuralgia afflicting the Speaker of the House.


The country is lurching towards a total of more than 400 road deaths for the year. Every tearful comment ends up with pointless hand-wringing and a call for more sanctions while ignoring a root cause of this growing problem – driver and rider education and re-training. Increasing thousands of us are obtaining or renewing licences without proper training or testing of continuing capacity. Here again, in a life-and-death matter, change is possible within our pocket and in the short term.


As the disproportionate slaughter in Gaza bleeds the world’s conscience, the Jamaican Government’s equivocation on the issue leads to a demand for more information of the details of our contract with an Israeli company to “upgrade” our electoral infrastructure. There is evidence of that country’s interference with elections in many countries. Until there is full disclosure there are bound to be suspicions. It feels like this government doesn’t care so long as it can get away with its heavy-handedness. Trouble is that brutishness at the apex of any institution is as contagious as COVID-19.


Straightforwardness is a virtue when communicating. Nowadays in Jamaican media, every advertisement for goods and services, from toilet paper to telecommunications, is qualified by “Conditions apply”. What conditions? Isn’t it deceptive to promote something and then reflexively qualify its availability with unstated conditionalities in small print? Talk straight or don’t expect us to buy ‘puss in bag’.

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. He is former member of parliament for Kingston Central and was the minister of education. He is the principal of St Michael’s College at the UWI. Send feedback to