Jamaicans are selfish and often rewarded for it

If the USA is the land of opportunity, then Jamaica is the land of opportunism. I am often struck by the fact that Jamaicans act with good economics rationale in many situations; they are really creatures of incentives. Driven by the urge to be selfish, people act in a way that gives them what they want, and really do not anticipate negative consequences, in part, because they rarely come into play. I will cite just a few random things that I saw this morning.

Man pilfers ackees from branches overhanging the road in an uptown neighbourhood. Stoops on sidewalk, and pegs the ackee fruit, throwing the pods over a wall into a gully. Many would see this as simple theft. In many respects, it is, but it’s also about survival. I was driving, so did not get the chance to discuss the action with the man, and though I thought of yelling “Stop, thief!” from my car window, I did not. Either the man (or someone in his household) was hungry and he saw the possibility for breakfast. Or, he was in need of money and saw the opportunity to obtain goods for sale, which he could obtain at zero cost, so maximising the profit potential. Jamaica has no social safety net that sits under most of the population: it’s every man, Jack, for himself, most times. So, what should one do if hungry or in need of income. Those in comfortable situations will start to talk about obeying laws, and morals, and conscience, but none of that matters when your belly is rumbling. Of course, the man may be a good-for-nothing low down thief, in which case all the lah-di-dah about laws, etc. is wasted. He possibly thinks the owners ‘can afford’ to lose a few ackees. The environmental issues of his garbage disposal are lost on him

Two lanes of traffic are possible on a stretch of road. In the morning rush, as the road heads to a traffic light, there is an additional lane for those who wish to turn right. There is congestion, and a driver wanting to turn right, crosses into the lane for oncoming traffic, hoping to get to the turn lane before he meets another car. Quite sensible, from the view point that he need no wait in line to do what he wants to do. However, he meets and on coming car–driven by me–which blocks his progress. Fortunately, I know the road, so had not been driving so fast as to collide. The corner where we met is not blind, so he probably thought he could make his manoeuvre without problem, but he was wrong. Up until the meeting of the two cars, he could have assumed that his actions were going to endanger no one. A lot of accidents in Jamaica happen because of similar manoeuvres: doing the wrong thing on the road and misjudging the possible outcomes. 

I go to a gas station to fill up my car: the indicator says 5km range left, and I have to go out later. The station also has an automatic banking machine (ABM). Whenever I’ve been to the station to use the ABM, I see a sign warning ‘out of service’, or I try to use the machine and get a message ‘out of service’. This should be fixed, or the machine taken out of commission. The staff at the station tell me that the malfunctions have been reported repeatedly, yet, here we are. Fortunately, I do not need cash to pay as I can use the same bank’s debit card, and I can go on my way. But, why has the bank not dealt with the problem? It has a good reputation for caring about its customers and the community in general. How many people waste their time stopping to try to get cash and go away dissatisfied? If the bank monitored the machine with a closed circuit TV, they could see the stream of customers, either walking away without trying to extract cash, or walking away having tried and failed. The bank suffers little every day, thought it is losing fees from the withdrawals not made, so most of the pain is borne by its customers, most of whom I suspect just bear it and go on without the cash they need or do as I did and pay with the card. Is inertia driving this process or negligence? I’ll check.

Socially responsible and random acts of kindness

Jamaica has many generous corporations. Several of them are celebrating major anniversaries this year, and using that to raise their profiles. Part of such initiatives involves ‘giving back’ to the community.

This past week, Scotiabank Jamaica, celebrating 125 years in Jamaica, has been making ‘random acts of kindness’, including treating people to ice creams at Devon House, paying bus fares for a host of JUTC passengers at half Way Tree Transport Centre last Friday, and this afternoon visiting Truston Basic School bearing gifts. (The instances can be seen on the Scotiabank Facebook page.) None of the beneficiaries needed to have been bank customers. The bank is no stranger to corporate social responsibility, and has been giving back in many other ways, such as the ‘Bright Future’ program.

Scotiabank Jamaica acting kindly
Scotiabank Jamaica acting kindly

The Jamaica Gleaner is 180 years old, and is marking that in many ways. One is to organize a 5k run, which will benefit University Hospital of the West Indies’ (UHWI) Physiotherapy Department and PALS (Peace and Love in Society), each due to receive a third of the amount made from a minimum of 3,000 paying participants expected to take part in this charitable event.

Another major contributor to the social responsibility effort has been Columbus Communication Jamaica Limited, who operate Flow and Columbus Business Solutions, and was the 2012 recipient of the award for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), for its contribution to education, sports, arts and culture and community development.

Digicel, too, is at the forefront of social responsibility, with a wide range of initiatives that have been undertaken over the past 10 years through the Digicel Foundation and Digicel’s Caring Connections.

I, therefore, found it very strange that Digicel should decide to mark the fact that it got a one millionth data plan customer in the way it did. It chose to reward that lucky customer, who happened to buy a J$100 credit for a two day data plan, with a gift of J$1million (about US$9,000) and a Samsung s5.

(Courtesy of The Daily Observer.)
(Courtesy of The Daily Observer.)

I could easily understand a product giveaway like the phone, but the money? Knowing what they do about community needs, what rationale says that this windfall makes sense? It’s their decision, don’t get me wrong. It’s money that almost anyone in Jamaica would be glad to have–and what a return on a J$100 lucky dip–and the lucky ‘winner’ is a student training to be a teacher. I know one customer who is incensed, feeling that customers who were there from the outset were slighted badly by this. One commentator in the newspaper echoes the sentiment: ‘I think this is unfair… ive been a customer of Digicel for almost 10 years, topping up at least once per day, buys phones tolerate their many un-welcomed 2am promotional messages and i have never been rewarded. Guess digicel is just following suite; reward without doing anything. the excited Smith — a student at the Church Teachers’ College in Mandeville–said that she did nothing extraordinary to cop the prize.(direct quote), no grudge against Miss Smith just think digicel cud have spread out the winnings. make more persons benefit.’ I also know one person who over the past weekend was just going to try a Digicel data plan for her child, but thought better of it, because of the expense. Maybe, there are only three people who feel uncomfortable about this–though, I doubt that. Just to put things into some sort of context, Jamaica’s average income per head is about US$5,500, according to Trading Economics.