West Kingston Commission of Enquiry: How it shows Jamaica’s management and productivity problems to be endemic

I know that I’m not the first, and I hope I wont be the last to think that some of the goings on in the Tivoli Enquiry are ridculous. I really thought that the session before Christmas had the potential for most mirth, when the worlds of lawyers collided with that of regular citizens; when the world of standard English clashed with that of Kingstonian Patois. I really didn’t think that I would get a sense of mirth from listening to government officials deal with their inner feelings about what they did and thought at the time of the operations to ‘catch’ Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke.

But, part of that sense that nothing funny would unfold was a belief that politicians and government officials were doing their jobs. What I have since discovered is that this is barely the case.

I have heard a string of “I cannot recall”, “I was (or ‘am’) unaware”, “I was not informed”, and other comments from the former PM and one of his other Cabinet ministers, that I wonder who really was running Jamaica. Clearly, in a simple sense, Bruce Golding was not commading the security forces: that is neither his role under the Constitution, nor, it seems, in his nature. He trusted those in charge of the JCF and JDF to do what he thought was right and was assured by their telling him that they did so. That’s as hands-off as it gets.

His security minister, Dwight Nelson, also had this posture. Mr. Nelson added a twist, though. He now seems to realise that the sea of ignorance in which he bathed might have covered many things that he ought not to have accepted. He has used a turn of phrase (for which I cannot find a term), which goes as follows: “I was not told that [fill in the blank], but that does not mean that it did not happen….” The thing that he did not know about was usually something horrible, like how security force personnel were brutalizing citizens of Tivoli. That stance is not very far from the three-monkeys posture, but it suggests that he had, or now has, an inkling that evil was occurring. It is not at all edifying. It’s not as blatant as the position taken by Pontius Pilate. But, history knows a hand washing when it sees one.

Basically, Messrs. Golding and Nelson sat on their hands, and let others do (‘dirty’) work without much, if any supervision. They were managers who were kept out of the loop, and it seems sought not to inform themselves by asking difficult questions of those over whom they had some degree of control. We also get the clear impression that subordinates and other functionaries filled gaps in leadership and decision-making by doing what they understood was needed in the circumstances. The politicians really thought the JCF and JDF would go hunting for a wanted criminal ‘don’:with a mood of kumbayah and sweeter? KMT!

A clear impression that I gained is that it is not in the ambit of a Jamaican manager to seek to know, to question, to press, to guide, or to lead. I have seen a few who do this. But, more often I see the cajoling and forcing of people to follow ‘orders’, but if they do not, to remain passive and withdraw, to let whomever get on with whatever they feel they want to do.

Former Justice Minister and Attorney General, Dorothy Lightbourne, has started her testimony in similar vein, citing that she was unaware of matters to do with compensation of victims, even though such things should normally go through the AG’s office, and that her opinion was not sought.

One really has to wonder what a Cabinet meeting must have looked like at that time, with no competent minister having a clue about what was going on and so having nothing to share with his or her colleagues.

That is at the heart of what many people in Jamaica see as our inability to obey rules: we do not have a group of people in charge who press others to do what they should. So, as is quite rational, the people ‘being led’ do what they should when no reins are being tugged. The ‘riders’ then put up their hands in horror as all manner of chaos ensues. You don’t believe me? Just take a look around.

What we call unruly taxi drivers and minibus drivers are merely people operating in a space where they are not managed, either by their employers (if they are not truly self-employed), or by the ‘administrators’ of the system (be that government departments, the police, or the travelling public–yes, you passengers contribute to the anarchy by your willingness to tolerate and encourage misbehaviour, for instance, by riding in unlicensed vehicles).

Just this weekend, we read reports about a phony insurance scam. How does that happen? Because we all collectively turn a blind eye to things that people do for expediency sake, and from which we benefit by having things offered to us more cheaply. We trade safety for a small financial gain, not realizing that the true cost is much higher as it involves our lives or the ability to be compensated for injuries or loss of life.

Sadly, people in Tivoli paid the price, and it was unacceptably high.

In that sense, The Enquiry has shed yet more unpleasant light on to where we as a nation have fallen. They call England ‘Blighty’, but they could easily call Jamaica ‘The Land of The Bligh’.


Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)