Bully beef: heavy-handedness, Jamaican-style

The past few days have brought up instances of something that seems common when dealing with social problems in Jamaica. Let’s call it the ‘big stick’ approach. Whatever the transgression, the most extreme solution gets preference.

I addressed the way that illegal street vendors were treated–their stalls were broken down.

Yesterday, I noted a recurrent discussion, about lateness at school; it surfaced some months ago with some schools in Kingston. Common solution: lock out the students. The National Parent-Teachers’ Association of Jamaica takes issue with this practice. Education Minister, Rev. Ronald Thwaites, has also called for schools to stop locking out students. Why cannot it be made mandatory that schools not do this? CamperdownB20130916NG

What do the schools expect when children are then left to fend for themselves for the duration of the school day? Let’s think. They get up to…mischief. (A flurry of sex videos made people shudder when seeing some of the mischief—made easier when kids are locked out of school.) They become prey to others who need some young bodies for tasks (these need not all be bad, but we know that a lot of sinister things can be done). They may not be reachable by their parents (not everyone has a cell phone): normally, issues at school can be addressed by trying to contact parents; parents can raise issues with schools that affect their children. Educational opportunity is lost.

Travel is not simple in Jamaica, and it’s hard for children, who do not have special transport to/from school. They generate lower fares and can often be left behind by some public transporters in favour of adult passengers. Children do not have the means to control all of their movements. I just met some parents bringing children to school late; in every case, it was the parents’ fault. Should children suffer for the fault of their adult caregivers?

Other than locking students out, does it take a rocket scientist to come up with other solutions that would still provide a ‘safe environment’ and ensure that chances to learn are not lost completely?

Is it too difficult to let late students enter late, join their next class, record the lateness on their official school record, and let that count against the student in final assessments? Any mitigating circumstances can be noted, and need to be attested by a 3rd party, but would not expunge the late record. Admittedly, students who are habitually late tend to have other academic negatives on their record and this may compound that, but it can be part of a ‘warning system’ about students’ vulnerabilities. Yes, it will take time and people to address the problems, and parents, teachers and students will need to talk about what is going wrong.

If I arrive late for a doctor’s appointment, would it be reasonable to lock me out for the day? If the doctor arrives late for an appointment, should he/she be locked out and not be able to perform duties?

Yes, timeliness in important in our society. However, the cost of it should be proportionate to what is being lost by lateness. If I’m late for a flight, I miss it. I can try to get the next flight, and that may be anything from a few hours to a few days. It’s costly to change tickets and costly in terms of what I lose by being late. I will try not to be late, but sometimes I cannot control the flow of events.

But, guess, what? Just slamming the door and turning people away is easy. Lazy, did you say?

Note, too, that this is another instance of how adults want to treat children in a less tolerant way than they would treat other adults. Are teachers who are late for school also locked out? Do employers routinely lock out employees who are late for work? Replace them, maybe, in time; sanction them in some other way, too, is the norm.

Discipline is learning to do the right thing without being told. It is not about being punished.

Do as I say not as I do: how Jamaica suffers from lack of stick-to-it-ness

Jamaica doesn’t do ‘law and order’ too well. I wrote yesterday about the heavy handed approach of Kingston’s municipal government to roadside vendors. My reaction was to a brutal response to law-breaking, not condoning law-breaking. KSAC said it had tried over several years to get vendors to move and it had not work. That does not justify breaking up the people’s means of a livelihood; other options exist.

We know that law-breaking has a negative effect on some of those who experience it. Yesterday, we heard about reports that a jet ski killed a tourist swimming in Negril. Last fall, the Ministry of Tourism imposed a short-term ban on importing jet skis, after a series of incidents on the north coast.SONY DSC The Minister talked about a sector “rife with indiscipline”. The government also stated it would impose a “Clamp down on all illegal commercial operators of Jet Skis in all areas.” This was the government approach–a clampdown…after years of lax enforcement. For a few weeks, we read reports of jet skis being seized. Announced…but apparently NOT ENFORCED is part of the mantra of Jamaican life.

Therein, lies the root of many of Jamaica’s problems: we are not accustomed to real and consistent enforcement. People, therefore, don’t expect to be penalized for long, if at all, for not abiding by rules or laws.

That said, we see plenty of evidence that Jamaicans will follow rules. For all the carnage on Jamaican roads, we usually see drivers sticking to some basic laws. They stop at red lights. I am amazed that bus lanes in Kingston remain free of cars almost all the time–I’ve no idea what the restrictions are because there are no signs to show that, only the road markings. But, dutifully, drivers avoid the bus lanes, even on Sundays and late at night, when traffic is very light. It cannot be the risk of being caught that is working: there are no surveillance cameras, or police posted along the way. Jamaicans get it!

But–to flog a dead horse–Jamaicans don’t get it in other simple road uses. Yesterday, I watched a man on a high-powered motorbike speeding up the hills with a young boy (about 7 years old) clinging on as a passenger. Neither wore a helmet.

So, a major problem that policy makers need to address is why and how the disconnection works between laws being in place and people abiding by them.

Initial reports indicate that the operator of the jet ski (not identified) fled the scene after the swimmer was struck, and we await a full police report. Lots of valid questions will be asked: Why swimmers are not in areas segregated from motorized water crafts? The envrionmental arguments will come out again about the oil discharge. The topic of regulating the sector will be aired, again. People will wonder what legal actions may follow this latest incident. Job opportunities will again be discussed. And so on.

We know that initial reactions will involve trying to control damage to the image of tourism in Jamaica. But, can we be confident about meaningful action that fits the fine words that have been uttered? History tells us no.

Jamaican law makers often confuse utterance with governance and act as if it’s enough to say that something will be done, rather than ensuring that things are done. Sooncomeism, again?