Jamaica has not been built around the notion of orderliness: it does not resemble paragons in that league, such as Germany or Switzerland. It is not so different in that regard from many developing countries. Roaming around other Caribbean countries, Jamaica seems not that different. It has many characteristics that I’ve seen in west Africa. Whether our cultural background from Africa has determined that I will not venture into now. Improved education and wealth have brought changes, as the country has tried to introduce ‘good’ things that could be seen abroad, and were available through imports. However, Jamaica and many developing countries cannot buy themselves into a developed country because they lacks the finance to import the trappings and output needed to bridge that gap? Many developing countries understand that while imported goods may give a better look to life, ideas and practices need to change to move from being under developed and poor. But, bringing in ideas and processes is much harder than just paying for goods from abroad.
In the areas of process and ideas, Jamaica has a lot to do to make significant progress. One necessary change is that Jamaica has to grapple with its love of disorder. When I read that Finance Minister Phillips wants to improve the business climate, I ponder what that really means for many budding entrepreneurs and customers in Jamaica. I also think about what it means in terms of ‘brand Jamaica’ as an economic agent.
In the business world, ‘time is money’ should have real meaning. So, how can a nation notorious for being liberal in its interpretation of timeliness hope to succeed if it takes that attitude to the world? If ‘Jamaica time’ is always behind everyone else’s time, we will always be missing the boat.
Take also our attitude of ‘Soon come’ (also known as ‘never reach’). If we can’t be relied upon to do something and do it promptly, why would we think we have a fighting chance in a world where some are striving to do jobs ‘ahead of time’?
I laughed last week when I read stories of high school students in Kingston being locked out of school for being late. I wondered where they had had timeliness reinforced in their lives.
My wife told me about some meetings she was due to attend, and people preparing to leave their offices to travel to the venue elsewhere in Kingston well after the meeting was due to have begun. Or persons arriving late and being surprised to see people leaving when they arrived, asking if the meeting had really finished.
We are notorious for arriving on time for dinners or parties, and still can’t get used to people being shocked and unprepared when we show up, as scheduled. I always think about what one does when hoping to get a train or plane. Go on, be late! Again, that is as much a Caribbean trait, as it is evident in Jamaica, and we’ve also seen plenty of it in tropical countries.
The island image of everything being cool and easy with no need to hurry is perfect as a selling
point for holiday getaways, but it’s dangerous for business. Jamaica is not alone in this, by the way. I’ve had my unfair share of people in the USA not showing up for scheduled appointments. If I have the option to choose someone else, I will take it and the business can go hang. But, we are often captive when it comes to public utility companies or specialists serving us.
I always laugh when I travel past the little settlement in Clarendon named ‘Wait a bit’. I wonder if it should be the centre of our attentions and be marked as the new capital.
So, go ahead and make it easier for businesses to operate, but make sure that we don’t get more of the same old attitude to how things will operate.