Mon | Jun 14, 2021

Benevolent dictator, anyone?

Published:Sunday | September 29, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Ronald Mason

Jamaica has a tradition of only changing governments by way of the ballot. It's admirable, but should one just accept that, even if the evidence suggests that successive administrations since 1962 have been less than successful?

The indices are all showing us not meeting the needs of the people: low GDP, high unemployment, increasing poverty, ever-increasing debt, and inadequate educational outcomes. The list is long and most unimpressive.

This has been the history over 51 years, and at some point we, as a people, must acknowledge failure. The persistent plea to endure hardship and struggle for a better tomorrow has become hollow. Today, we are one natural disaster away from chaos.

Yes, one will acknowledge that the rating agencies have increased the favourability ranking of our economy. But are you impressed? When you analyse this, splitting the outcome from different party administrations diminishes the difference. In 1972, the date of the first post-Independence PNP administration, the unemployment rate was above 23 per cent. Our GDP per-capita income in 1960 was US$3,395. In 2010, the figure stood at the measly US$5,275. Some progress.

strong foundation

We inherited a strong foundation from the former coloniser. Language, rule of law, respect for property rights, and then trade preference. All have been one way or the other squandered. We babble about the primacy of Patois. The rule of law is not so revered when the courts have case backlogs numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

Respect for property rights has been eroded by squatting and criminal activity, and globalisation has eroded trade preferences. Just recall banana, cane and the livestock industries. How much longer are we, the people, to accept this as the norm? How much longer are we the people to be subjected to belt-tightening, with no hope of a better tomorrow?

Benevolent dictatorship is a form of government in which an authoritarian leader exercises absolute power over the State through elected representatives. A benevolent dictator governs in a spirit of doing the best thing for the country as a whole and in doing whatever benefits the majority.

This undisciplined, tribal society, with a cultivated freeness mentality, must be compelled to seek alternatives to what exists.

The JLP and the PNP have divided us into warring tribes. A person's long-earned integrity can be wiped away in an instant because of this virulent tribal divide. Ask Dr Herbert Thompson and get the imput from Burchell Whiteman.

We are sick. The discourse is coarse. Ask the minister of education, Ronald Thwaites, and the leadership of the Jamaica Teachers' Association. Note the examples provided herein as an institution that is viewed as a success, that being the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, and while the other is disgraceful in the educational system.

There is no safety in this society. Even those who reap the best that is available are leaving. The immediate past president of the Senate comes to mind.

Enough. No more loose talk of our potential to be the greatest little country on earth. It's time to realise the dream.

The thoughts of a benevolent dictator came in the acknowledgement of the 90th birthday on September 16 of Lee Kuan Yew. The Sustainability Institute has published an article titled 'Singapore leads the good life under a benevolent dictator':

"Singapore has achieved the American dream, but not in the American way. It is a prosperous, clean city, with imposing skyscrapers and glittering shopping centres. The multinational corporations of the world are welcome here: You can buy any brand name you've ever heard of. The highways are lined with tropical flowers and crowded with BMWs. And at the head of this thriving free-market state is a clever, socialist dictator.

"Just 40 years ago, Singapore was a war-battered British port on an island off the southern tip of Malaysia. It had a rapidly growing, poor, uneducated population living mostly in slums and houseboats. Singapore struggled along until 1965 when it became an independent nation with Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in firm control.

"In the next 20 years, Singapore's economy grew eightfold. Average income per capital rose more than fourfold. The percentage of families living in poverty dropped to 0.3 per cent (in the US, it is near 20 per cent). Singaporeans' average life expectancy is now 71 years. No one is homeless. Population has stabilised. Virtually, everyone has a job. The place runs like a Swiss watch."

No coup

Lee Kuan Yew did not stage a coup. No soldiers marched in the streets. He won an election to begin his term. However, he shortly thereafter intervened in every aspect of life. Free family-planning clinics, all workers have to save 25 per cent of their salaries, which cannot be drawn until age 55.

The money is partially matched by employers and is used as the capital pool for building roads, schools, hospitals and housing. The creation of business is highly encouraged. Antisocial behaviour is not permitted.

There is no such leader or aspirant for leadership here in Jamaica. Lee Kuan Yew is not the only benevolent dictator. Josip Borz Tito helped Yugoslavia. Upon his death, it broke apart into warring tribes. Jose Ferrer of Costa Rica is another candidate. He abolished the military, expanded citizenship to blacks, established welfare, and guaranteed education. He was transformative.

Poor Jamaica! There isn't even one candidate for benevolent dictator.

Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney, mediator and talk-show host. Email feedback to and