I don’t want to go on a ‘bash Jamaica’ rant, but I am going to go on a ‘bash Jamaica’ rant. I want to believe that this country has the capacity to do better, otherwise, I may as well pack my bags and find a pole on which to squat. But, I have to ask “Can we get there from here?”
As an economist, I learned about the profit motive, and how it is supposed to result in the effcient allocation of resources. I have never been truly comfortable with that principle when I looked at how private companies operated. I saw lots of inefficiency and many aspects of ‘slackness’ that affected the companies and those who used their products or services.
I know that this phenomenon is not Jamaican, so it’s not my experiences here that lead me to feel ranty. I’ve seen it in the USA. In fact, I lived it yesterday with the telecommunication behemoth, Verizon–from whom I am awaiting a refund from closing my cable service months ago, but who seem unable to get the money to me or figure out what they did with the money. But, I will make that a story for another day.
What Jamaica has is an interesting conundrum: some seemingly very capable and affable people working, mainly in the business of direct interaction with people, providing services or selling goods. But then they are in the hands of ‘managers’ who leave me wondering what it is they think they are doing.
Friday has become ‘my day’, i.e., I try to use it to do my business over other things or just to suit myself: I usually don’t have to focus on picking up from school or after-school activities. I go to take breakfast at a little ‘health shake hangout’ and think freely in a very relaxed space. Yesterday, I did that and felt in a very cheery mood till mid-morning, when I decided to follow-up on an email message I had received while drinking my aloe and shake.
For my sins, I’ve written a lot since coming back to Jamaica, and a few of my thoughts have found their way into the newspapers. The Gleaner has published some of my musings as their ‘letter of the day’. I got a wonderful surprise a few months ago, when I received and email from the paper telling me that my letter entitled me to a book voucher from Sangster’s book store. I followed up and arranged to pick up my voucher, or so I thought. I went once to the store in Liguanea.I was told that the voucher was not there, but would be contacted when it came it. I took it that this would be in a matter of days. I’d been advised that I had to respond to the entitlement message within 30 days or it would be void. I thought I had acted in a timely manner.
Because I am truly sinful, I kept on writing and the Gleaner kept on publishing, so I racked up a few of these ‘letters of the day’. I followed up again with Sangster’s. I still had not gotten the first voucher (and my first letter was in July). That struck me as being a bit slow, but I was content to hang in there. Then I got my post-shake message and, because I was not far away, and had time, I decided to head off to Liguanea again to pick up my voucher. Here’s a cameo of my visit:
Me: I’ve come to collect the book voucher for writing a Gleaner letter of the day.
Assistant: Let me speak to a supervisor. She exits, stage centre, and returns moments later. He says he doesn’t have it.
Me: But I got an email from Mrs. X saying it was sent to the branch for collection. I’ve been through this before and I still never got the voucher last time and no one called me, as promised, to say it was here. That was 2 months ago. Let me speak to the supervisor. (I realised at that point that the latest message had not said “immediate”, and the “sent” could merely mean that it was going from somewhere but not yet received somewhere else.) I went with the assistant to the man’s office and I posed my question to him directly. He went back into his office and within seconds came back to the door.
Supervisor: Here it is! I did not see it on my desk.
Me (to Assistant): What life lesson should we draw?
Assistant: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
Now, all the people involved on the book store side seemed both intelligent and charming, in fact, wonderfully good-natured, as far as the assistants were concerned. We laughed at this experience and tried to see the good side from our interaction. But, what was really going on? Could the manager really not see the envelope with the voucher? Why did he not have a ‘file’ with them stacked? The Gleaner publishes a ‘letter of the day’ every single day. I didn’t go into that but spoke about “processes need to be made better”. The supervisor agreed. I want to trust his good nature and believe that he will try to work with others to get around the basic problems that I experienced.
But, the other side is about what is going on in many Jamaican businesses–and, I understand that this goes on too in public sector agencies, and they get bashed for their bureaucratic failings. Are people working hard at being the best they can be? Our ‘productivity’ has been measured as being low, and in a broad sense that’s part of our problem in being competitive. Book stores face plenty of foreign competition, especially with access to the Internet making the world the market place. Sangster’s has local competition. I am presuming that Sangster’s has been profitable and the company is striving to stay in business, grow its business, and provide excellent service. Maybe, they do that in the core activity of selling books. But, given that they have more to do than that, do they manage the activities well? Do they review what they do to see that it’s efficient and effective? Do they plod along doing things without much regard to what results they are getting and the experience that their customers are having?
Jamaica, I’m really patient, but you can’t keep making people try and try again!!