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I read this week news reports about Jamaica’s Auditor General’s reports on public institutions. They were damning in their outlining of failures to do what they are supposed to do. One of the things shown by the reports is a Jamaican, even regional, tendency to do a little less than enough, or do things that are clearly wrong, and try to get away with it. If exposed, the reaction is often “It ain’t my fault”. Cue the child in us.

In most cultures, you have slackers or freeloaders. I can’t say that we have more than our share, but we seem to carry it off with a certain aplomb. Much slacking in the region comes in the form of “We don’t have it”, even if ‘it’ is a basic element of what should be provided. Where else can you go to a Kentucky Fried Chicken and they have run out of chicken? An electrician came to my house to fix some cables and asked me if I had some spare cable. Hello? Then, he asked if I had pliers. Sir, if I had all of that you wouldn’t be lying on your back trying to fix the doohickey.Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 10.13.11 AM

Imagine the national bus company not having manuals or equipment for the fleet of buses it runs? Yes, that’s Jamaica Urban Transport Corporation. Result? We have to get an ‘expert’ to do the repairs–and we love it more if these come from abroad. All things foreign are better than home-grown. This process means a little extra money for someone, true, but costs us all in the process in terms of time and real dollars we already don’t have. As Jamaicans say “A so we dweet” (That’s how we do it).

In Jamaica, we’re used to “calling the contractor” because that puts a buffer between the real provider and the customer, which can mean that resistance is useless. The man has to get his money for disconnecting your electricity, and he’ll do that without question because he’ll get money again for reconnecting it. Power to the people? Not if you haven’t paid, sometimes.

We are also accustomed to “calling our good friends”, especially if they are politicians, often preceded by “You know who you’re talking to?” Try to cut off someone whose electricity or water bill has been months in arrears and you’ll soon be getting a call asking “What you think you doing? That’s my good friend…” To which the answer is “Yes, Mr. Minister, I understand…” If you’re the tough-skinned kind of public servant manager, you’ll make sure that your workers don’t do the reconnection straight away and inflict a little pain on the recalcitrant payer. If they call again to complain that they still can’t get power to light their pool area for the party, you remind them that their ‘friend’ had cancelled overtime for your staff and ask them if they would want to work for nothing. The silence that follows is often very sweet. What’s scary in this process is the number of people who seem to be living a good life but it turns out that they’re living way beyond their means, and the same late- or non-payers appear a range of utilities.

We’re so used to ‘taking what we want’–I don’t know if that is some kind of hangover from slavery–but what Jamaicans call the “two-footed puss” (a cat on its hind legs) is a national nuisance. I’m going to save that one for another day, though.

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