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EDITORIAL - Jamaica's urgent need for revolution

Published:Monday | January 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM

If the Government's recent hapless handling of its fiscal and taxation policies confirmed anything, it's our argument of Jamaica's urgent need of a revolution, not the class conflict of the calcified left-wing ideologues, but a radical overhaul of its public bureaucracy and a reassertion by civil society, in particular the private sector.

Indeed, Finance Minister Audley Shaw's three embarrassing attempts during the current fiscal year at presenting a credible Budget is symptomatic of the deterioration of the public bureaucracy, its abrogation of its responsibility to manage and just how much it has allowed the political executive to usurp that responsibility. The consequences have been bad for Jamaica.

It has produced a state that is driven largely by a political rather than a development agenda, whose institutions are weak, where corruption is endemic, social disorder is rife and economic growth is mostly anaemic. Should we need a rough comparison of how badly our country has faltered in the nearly 50 years since Independence, we might glance at Jamaica's achievements against Singapore's.

Sustained economic growth

In 1962, Jamaica appeared to be on a path to sustained economic growth and development. Singapore was still largely a roiling port city. Today, Jamaica's per capita income hovers at around US$5,000, or over five times less than Singapore's. In the year just past, there were more than 1,600 homicides in Jamaica, or around 60 murders per 100,000 citizens. In Singapore, the murder rate is under five per 100,000.

Singapore is wealthy, we are poor. Singapore is orderly, Jamaica is disordered. Jamaica, however, can be better if we want it to be, but it requires the will.

Public-sector reform is a good starting point for this turnaround, but the effort has to be far more robust than what appears to be contemplated by the project that was ordered by Prime Minister Golding. It must be more than a fiscal exercise - although that is also important - to manage cost.

It demands, as we have argued before, an appreciation of the crisis of management in the public bureaucracy and its need for an infusion of talent. The fix will, perhaps, require public-emergency arrangements, allowing for the suspension, at least for a period, of anachronistic civil-service concepts that, effectively, provide security of tenure.

Poor policy formulation

In the reordered environment, the political executive must retreat from the roles for which their jobs were not designed and of which most, by training and, particularly, temperament, are ill-suited. Management must be left to the public bureaucracy, which must be held accountable by the political executive, having established policy.

The inept management by Minister Shaw and his officials of the recent tax measures was partly the outcome of poor policy formulation, which is a problem across the administration, not only the finance ministry. In the case of Minister Shaw's missteps, he failed to engage appropriately with stakeholders.

Civic leadership can no longer wait to respond to the invitations of political executive and the public bureaucracy. It must demand and lead the engagement, speaking loudly and clearly on policy and the issues of the day.

They must identify weak leadership and inappropriate policies and be willing to publicly declare on them, wherever they exist. Politicians and the public bureaucracy must know that they will not accept incompetence and corruption and that they will withdraw their resources from those who are resistant to change - to the revolution.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.