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?