Jamaica, ready for growth prime time? Not in my ‘bly’ time

As usual, I don’t have to think hard to find reasons to be curious. How ready are we to take even one step forward, away from the ledge, over which we could fall and be consigned to worse than a footnote? Seems harsh? I’m pondering that, in the context of asking myself whether Jamaica is ready for ‘prime time’ in getting to be a much faster-growing country. You see, growing fast isn’t simply about producing more things. It also involves giving better service, across the board. It involves fixing things that are broken, quickly and durably: patch and mend won’t do. It’s about how you do everything so that you are much better than you were before and much better than your competitors. Part of getting to that point is the mindset, but another part is what we may want to cal ‘get up and go’. I won’t use terms like ‘lazy’ because they involve value judgements, and may confuse people into thinking that there is some racial undertone. The ‘get up and go’ idea is important because if you cannot get out of the blocks–to use a metaphor that seems to fit us as a so-called ‘sprint factory’–we cannot even fall on our faces, and that’s really sad.

People talk about ‘Jamaica time’, meaning being late and ignoring all the consequences of that. But, that’s just a specific instance of ‘bly time‘, ie everyone seems to think that life is full of second chances, so don’t get things right from the get-go. But, the honest truth is that no one likes people who’re habitually late (except perhaps philanderers, who can count on this to get up to their business and get away…in good time :)).  We take being late as a badge of honour. Wise up!

Let’s look quickly at one of the things that we constantly hear policy makers tell us matter to them–road accidents and deaths.

Motorcycles and their riders have been a growing scourge on the roads, with all manner of misdeeds, like permanent learner’s licences, and no helmets worn by riders or passengers. Result? More crashes and more deaths. The country pays the cost. But, over a year ago we heard of ‘concerns’ (Jamaica-speak for a long period of inaction on a problem). We were promised a ‘clampdown’. Where is it? The deaths keep mounting. More hand-wringing. Just go back in time and you’ll see that these concerns were expressed even earlier. Yet, we let the years pass and cobwebs grow, and wonder why we are lagging behind others.

Just last month we were promised another clampdown on general traffic violations. A three-month, six-days a week clampdown–‘Operation Zero Tolerance’ (oh, we love the fancy monikers). Why? Do we believe miscreanants need a day of rest? Do we believe the enforcers can’t keep at the task for a full week? Boredom? Attention deficit disorder? We need that extra day to do the paperwork that comes from a rapid increase in violators caught? The logic of the would-be enforcers escapes me. But wait!  The road transport operators said they weren’t properly consulted. You mean, after disregarding the rules constantly they felt they should have a say in how to curb the misbehaving? Wait there.

Sadly, our police force is amongst the habitual slow dancers: frequent late arrivals to the ball, then coming with some of the most colourful excuses: the dog ate my police car, Miss. Their resistance to adopt good practices and to get rid of those who seem to not get the concept of developing firm public trust in what you do and say leads them to make the same silly missteps again and again. Do they really think many will believe they were  committed to hold onto ‘Timmy’? Try to convince me that the police officers were fully committed to holding the suspect. The man surrendered himself, after allegations of his killing his young daughter. Why would he then try to escape? He had been free. Did he need to be committed to an asylum for doing the mad thing? Did he find so much to fear when he was being questioned? What could turn the man into a Ninja to rival Bruce Lee? But, did he really jump or was he ‘pushed’? Your people who are there to protect and serve should not leave you with these kinds of concerns.

Things like this are examples, in my mind, of the kind of blockages that exist and hamper our ability to be really very productive. We are only prepared to go so far, not the whole way. We come up with pathetic excuses for our bumbling and bungling. We love to talk loudly about what we plan to do. But, really! Like someone inside a house using their voice to try to frighten off the people outside who are about to beat down the doors. “I’m warning you! You really don’t know what I can do! I’m warning you!” Like the wolf and the three pigs, who then huffs and puffs and blows down our house. We are standing there looking at the broken sticks or strands of hay at our feet. Our bluff was called, and we’re there naked. Oh, if only we’d thought of being smarter and building a house (country) with strong foundations (values, work ethic).

Let’s not even talk about the slow and archaic workings of our legal system. Talking big about death sentence in a system where case take years to come to a conclusion, let alone go to court? Where judges can’t seem to value ruined lives more than stolen mangoes? Really!

But, this malaise is not restricted to our public sector. So-called bastions of the private sector seem to be as guilty. Take a recent experience with ATL Automotive. Their byline is ‘Unbeatable’. Well, the competition must be dead. I called them a couple of weekends ago, trying to arrange a service for my car. The service centre was closed, I was told, and the nice-sounding man took my number and promised someone would call me the following Monday to arrange the visit. That was two weeks ago and I have still not heard. Now, I ask you. This is supposedly our premier car dealer, opening up new, glitzy showrooms that ooze prosperity. But, they offer a poverty-filled service. Is it the people or is it the systems (or lack of them)? Notwithstanding Butch Stewart’s ability to have ideas to jump start our economy, one of his enterprises has stalled and left passengers waiting. So, if this is an example of unbeatable who can we truly beat?

So, my basic concern with moving forward is whether it’s remotely possible with the current squad of misfits and failures. We’re not Leicester City! We may be better off going into the transfer market and try to beef up the calibre of our ‘players’.

Our problem-solving skills are so low that we can barely survive in the less-than-complex mess of Jamaica, so chance do we have against the world’s brightest and best?

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. :)

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