#COVID19Chronicles-138: August 30, 2020-The leaders debate

Last night’s third national debate had much more bite and cut and thrust. This was a heavyweight bout and fireworks were flying. This wasn’t the hurling of brickbats we see in Parliament, but it also wasn’t the genteel fireside chat of the previous debate on economy and finance. Each man had his prey in sight and went for the kill shot early and often. That’s how we got to meet “Mas’ Tom” to help him with stories to lambast Dr. Phillips, whom he quickly dubbed “Pappa Tax”. Some may not like that, but it’s at least gives a sense that blood runs through their veins.

We saw a PM standing firmly on his government’s record of achievement. Getting things done was the mantra, whatever choice of words or actions described.

We saw an Opposition leader who had energy and clarity and qualities of a potential national government leader. His focus tended to be on betterment of people and opportunities for them to achieve that.

Questions were mostly well-pointed, especially those from Dionne Jackson-Miller, who was the real winner, for probing and persistence. But, that’s her norm.

George Davis punched well, too, but didn’t connect as well as DJM. She came with zinger upper cuts on matters to do with the PM’s apparent repeated disregard for the Constitution:

I, personally, put much store in the array of numbers trotted out in these kinds of debates, because I know that the ‘truth’ being delivered is whatever version of ‘facts’ the speaker wants. We may sometimes be asked to compare apples and pears, but without the option to clarify which. But, I notice where people stumble over numbers. So, the fuzzy maths about housing starts doesn’t really move me. But, I find odd that Dr. Phillips stumbled over the number of years of Jamaica’s independence “52…58”, not least because he has lived them all. 🤔 What did the PM mean when talking about “flattening the murder rate”? Too many COVID-19 updates, I fear. Who wants murders ‘flattening’ around 1000 a year?

I’m also not too bothered by what is really hype; image is part and parcel of the whole political game. So, we had the PM strutting onto the stage sporting his now iconic green Clarks shoes. If we didn’t see them during the walk-on, we got them at the end with the ‘elbow bump’ farewell (see below). But, not everyone likes the shoes.

I was bothered by the PM’s rambling answer to the question of how he’s dealt with corruption or misgovernance within his administration, for which I think he should get little credit for what has been at best ambivalence and at worst tolerance of corruption—and perception is key in that waving hands to show they are clean doesn’t cut it for most people when they see what ‘dirt’ has been blowing around. We have court cases pending, so the legal system may not come down definitively on the matter of crimes committed, but the stench that’s been lingering hasn’t been sweet.

The PM was duly criticized for the way he has accumulated power into his own hands (minister of 6 portfolios), and in the Office of the Prime Minister—“the Ministry of everything“. That allowed Dr. Phillips to contrast himself as being more about ’Team’. (In truth, that may be a way of making sure he doesn’t go down alone with the ship ‘Orange Manifesto’).

Again, time management reared its head, and both leaders struggled mightily to get their words out in the allotted time. In my opinion, the PM was guilty of this to an egregious extent bordering on rudeness in pushing through to the end of his desired words, despite calls to stop by the moderator. That’s disrespectful on several levels, but it’s also telling about how ‘power’ is seen by some.

The PM stressed leadership, strength, and stamina—a set of metaphors for youthfulness—and who can get things done.

Many people ‘scored’ the debate at worst a tie and a best a clear win for Dr. Phillips.

More elaborate polling is also underway:

Although, I thought the discussion panel for the economy/finance debate was weak in not committing themselves to identifying a winner, I wasn’t taken by the elaborate scoring method that was employed last night, which seemed like a means to force decisions.

On final optics, both remembered to urged voters to cast their ballots, appropriately. They were also each given a chance to send a message about voting safely in COVID-risky times.

The debate was a warning about polls. Dr. Phillips has been trailing badly in favourability ratings for months, by some 40 percentage points.

However, on his performance last night, whatever his ‘favourability’, he was at least a match for the PM. That may spur some to give PNP candidates a boost, feeling that the leader isn’t such a loser, after all. However, his performance may do little to change the other poll view that PNP has performed poorly and is disunited.

Image courtesy of 1SpotMedia

My takeaway from the debates, especially this last one, is what economics tells us is important: what shifts sentiments. Jamaica’s electorate is fickle and has shown it’s ready to dump an administration that has done many good things for the population, but can get overtaken by the lure of a juicy present (in 2016, ‘1.5’ [J$1.5 million tax threshold] did the trick). (People may now have views about how good was the cut in income tax being offset by increases in GCT and other indirect taxes.) This time around, I don’t thing the bag of goodies offered by PNP will do it, but a funny conundrum about what the current administration represents in all its pushing to archive may create its downfall. It’s often not really taken people along with it. Those with better memories will look at the road programs and how pretty the ‘cyaapet’ is but not forget the months of mayhem it inflicted on many of us, and how many loud concerns went unheeded. Last week’s heavy rains also showed that the quality of some of this work is shoddy. The management of the pandemic may be such an event, where the sense of calling elections when the spike is clear will strike some as another rung on the ladder of disregard for popular concerns. That’s separate from addressing what would have been a better time. So, I’m positioned to see a closer election than many predict. I have no money or reputation on the line, but want to see if those rumblings in my gut are meaningful.

Waiting to exhale: PNP President does the inevitable

I’m fascinated by the cult of the individual within Jamaican politics. It’s something that is clearly there, though intelligent politicians try to dance on the head of a pin to convince us that things are otherwise. You cannot appear to go against he or she who is at the head without being accused of disloyalty. But, what that tends to do is to stop change occurring smoothly and so disrupt the natural process of decay and renewal.

How a good political machine should look

If I can extend the decay metaphor into gardening, one tends to see things putrefying because they stay there as unbalanced elements. As any gardener should know, just piling things onto a heap isn’t enough to make good compost; it needs a good mixture of carbon and oxygen–brown and green materials, for simplicity, or older and younger elements. What that does is change formerly living materials so that, as they die and decay, they transfer their energy into becoming agents of new growth. I like this metaphor because the PNP has shown what happens if you do not allow natural decay to occur and if you do not take care to mix materials properly: you end up with a rancid pile. 

Clearly, the PNP has let its leadership fester and so was doing little to generate the new growth that must be there for it to compete as a viable political party. Little green shoots that started to sprout were often quickly yanked out of the ground and thrown to the roadside. Older dying wood was left in place, riddled with termites and unlikely to be able to withstand any major storm. The house that was PNP look tired and bedraggled. It was not the house that Norman built, and it was certainly not the house that Michael rebuilt.

With the gardening theme set, it’s worth recalling this:

‘A garden, you know, is a very usual refuge of a disappointed politician. Accordingly, I have purchased a few acres about nine miles from town, have built a house, and am cultivating a garden.’ (Alexander Hamilton, Letter to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney).

I’m not a cheer leader for any politician. Those who know me, know what I think of politicians and those who are in the heart of political machineries. I subscribe to the adage: ‘Politics is too important to be left to the politicians’ (variously attributed to Charles de Gaulle and John F. Kennedy, Jr.).

I’ve watched with a little interest the pseudo fight for leadership of the PNP. It couldn’t be started, really, because (as is the Jamaican wont) observing protocols meant that those interested had to shuffle around kicking dirt and whistling, acting as if they were not doing anything. Those who were likely to have big interest in becoming leader were already known: Peter Phillips and Peter Bunting. How much support each has and can muster amongst delegates is for us to learn. Who else with try to join the fray, we will await to see, and if they are really working with a substantial base of support.

To say that PNP needs an image makeover is as big an understatement as has been made for a while. I’m not sure if it’s amenable to aggressive surgery, though.

The party seems to have done something that is counter to what it says it stands for, by clearly ignoring what people want. That ‘betrayal’ has been rewarded by election defeats made more hurtful by a clear alienation of the voter base.

It also seems to have been caught by a generational shift that is easy to see and easy to deal with, but somehow appears to have been resisted. Then again, the older wood maybe didn’t understand well enough what was growing in full sight.

Modern life, like it or not, has become wedded to fast (and, sometimes, loose) communication. Of the two major parties in Jamaica, the JLP seems to have understood how to capture the public imagination by running with the pack…onto the track of social media. Without wanting to draw parallels with the USA, it’s notable how a man who spends a lot of time and energy on Twitter surprised many by winning the elections for president. Donald Trump is many things, but he is not someone who misunderstands how people think, and how to rile emotions. He rants and raves on stage, but he also does it online: it’s part of his persona. As far as anything about the ‘real Donald Trump’ goes, that part of him seems real.

I looked on at the PNP President many times, ranting and raving on public platforms, and jabbing her finger in the air, and in the direction of whoever was annoying her, then I wondered why she would dissemble from this character, which seemed to be her real self. It was the perfect persona to take on line, instead of a series of insipid pieces of non-information that dribbled out. She was a firebrand, so why act like dying embers? She admired Fidel, and as his name means, he was always true to himself–long speeches, and all. You never doubted which Fidel you saw.

If one thing seemed to mark that leadership was doomed, it was the lack of sincerity and realism in the persona that was being put out to the public. Take a look at the Twitter account @PSimpsonMiller. Note that it says that her own remarks are ‘signed ~PSM’. Now, just do a check to see how many such tweets there were. There are precious few! So, what was/is the point of the account? To post bromides in the forms of pictures of flowers and teddy bears? You cannot be serious! Even, images of the leader doing political activities were not signed by her. Not, so odd, in a way, but it goes to the point that this was a front. I struggled to find any substantive remark about any major issue. Why?

Look, it’s nice to get the homilies each day, but many people can get that from many other non-political sources. This is a sign of the ‘unspiring’ of Mrs. Simpson-Miller, if I can coin a term. She was made duller by a group of people managing her. I say that without fear of contradiction: the Twitter account proves it. Once that duller politician was rolled out, the die was cast: she was no longer the leader she was. She was not allowed to be herself. By betraying what was the real Portia, it fed the lack of interest in her and her party. People didn’t know what they were getting any more.

I mention the lack of inspiration in the online presence for several other reasons. First, as a gauge of public interest. Andrew Holness, now PM, has about 29,000 followers on Twitter; Portia Simpson-Miller has about 7,000. Yet, people rattle on about how she is the most popular politician, in Jamaica. Something isnt adding up. Second, it treats the population with a degree of disrespect in not having substance at its core. If the leader is about disseminating trivia, then trivia becomes the MO. How can you go to the electorate on issues having laid this basis of prettiness? If you want to argue that social media is just one sphere, I heard you, but show me the written tracts or speeches that laid out the positions.

Personally, when the leader went off and screamed at the crowd in St. Ann, I would have loved to have seen a tweet or a post on Facebook embracing that rant: ‘Dis gyal jus tell dem de peeple a St Ann dat she nuh freyd a nubaddy’ Signed ~PSM. My respect would have shot up ten-fold. Instead, what we got was rumblings about how this ‘moment’ had been captured by a news media cameraman and disseminated. What’s the problem with being who and what you are?

As people crawl over the legacy of Portia Simpson-Miller, they must try to chart the point as which she crossed over from being her real self, to being a creature operated by others. 

I remember seeing her in person and hearing her speak passionately about issues related to women and child abuse, especially. I had no doubt that I was hearing what this lady truly felt. But, such feelings about utterances have been long gone. For that reason alone, the announced departure was too long in coming, but then again, when you’re on the strings of puppeteers, they call the tune.

Moral compass reset needed

I keep saying in different ways that the things that Jamaica has done wrongly are not necessarily major, but they have gone uncorrected for so long that people don’t know how to put them right.

People make much of the fact that Jamaica has the highest number of churches per square mile or per head of population, as if the presence of those wonderful buildings is enough to guide the souls, hearts and minds of all the people. Clearly, it is not: we know the murder statistics. I wrote yesterday about the Jamaican interpretation of the ‘entitlement society’: people take what they want, sometimes facilitated by politicians, and they get confused about what are their rights.

People have talked about a dearth of political leadership in Jamaica. I have no idea what it’s like to lead a country, let alone one that is full of seemingly headstrong individuals. But, I do know about trying to lead people who are difficult to control, namely, young children. I’ve coached youth soccer for well over 20 years, pretending to work as an economist at the same time. One of the things that’s clear about dealing with children is that they like structure, despite what they say and what some believe when ‘letting them run wild’ seems in vogue. They can be very creative within boundaries set by adults, mainly. But, also watch and listen to children when they are without adults steering them. They are a bunch of little rules setters. “It’s my turn!” is a cry that is about order and fairness, even if the person saying it has just had a turn. When the child holds the ball tightly to his or her chest, it’s an attempt to ensure that order prevails. Kids set up their rules and stick to them. They can often play without supervision so long as the group observes the rules. “Dad! Sara isn’t sharing…” tells me that someone has broken a rules about what is fair. I usually intervene rarely, but say, “Start the sentence with ‘I did…’, then tell me the rest of the story.” That way we get an idea of what is cause and what is effect. (I’m an economist, for pity sake.) Order is usually restored quickly.

I have met, but do not know well Jamaica’s prime minister. I know people who work closely with her, and they tell me she is a wonderful person, who works really hard behind the scenes to help people. I won’t doubt that. But, her role of national leader is not about working, working, working, hard behind the scenes. Like the football coach doing the same on the training ground, the need arises for him or her to stand up and make a stink because the team is playing rubbish football. Or the opposition are kicking lumps out of us and we are either not protecting ourselves well, or the officials are not protecting us. Or, when the officials have lost the plot and make decisions that are hard to understand and/or inconsistent. Then, you get out of your technical area and pull out your folder marked ‘Colourful phrases to hurl in public’. You are well-organised and start with the ‘A’s’: “Listen, A***hole!…” Having gotten the listener’s attention, you turn to the ‘B’s’: “A b*****d’ like you didn’t deserve a mother!” Attention now fully locked in (and remember the Zidane-Materazzi moment), you flip a few pages and look up the ‘F’s’.

Because you are a quick thinker and fast reader, all of this took about 8 seconds. If the referee was the object of your hurling, he is now on his way towards you for what is called in refereeing school (I’m a qualified ref) ‘a quiet word’. He has his back to the rest of the field and his mouth is close to your face. “What did you just say?” You reply, “Nothing,” remembering what you did as a boy. Like you dad, back in the day, though, the ref is not having it. “Nothing, you say? You sure? I heard something.” You try to step back, but his face seems glued to your nose. “Well, I was a bit upset with…” The ref puts his hand into one of his shirt pockets and pulls out a pad, which contains his dreaded yellow and red cards. He pulls out the yellow one and starts to jot down a few words. He then pulls out the red one, and makes a few more jottings. He calls his assistant to his side and they talk for a few seconds. The crowd has been whistling all this time and some are singing a rude song, popular in England: “The referee’s a w***er…” He shows you the yellow card, and then the red card, and asks if you read what he’d written. You nod, and walk back to your technical area and sit down with you arms folded. He walks back and restarts the game.

Shaggy dog story, aside, the point is that you have to lead from in front. The coach stood up for the team and showed everyone that he was in charge of his team and was there to deal with all issues. The referee has control of everything within the lines, so he too had to show his leadership skills. They had different styles. The coach got the ref’s ear and attention. The ref showed the coach who had authority in a certain area. They exercised their rights. But, no one was left in doubt that leadership was on display.

The cry for leadership is not something that should keep going unheard, and it’s not something that gets answered by sending surrogates to talk to the people. Like the crowds at the Roman Colosseum, or at a major boxing match, or at a music concert, they want to see and hear the main billing. “PSM! PSM! PSM!” they are saying, and when she walks up to a podium (and it’s a pity we do not have somewhere like Buckingham Palace, with a grand balcony), and waves, wearing one of her signature yellow dresses, the crowd goes wild. When she utters “My people…” The crowd shout back “Yea!” Alright, that’s all a bit romantic, but I’m making a point.

Where current leadership seems to be lacking in the most evident ways is what is happening when the ‘team’ are not playing well. The coach should yank the player and send on a sub. Or, at least, take a moment to call the player over so that everyone can see, say a few words and let him or her continue for a while, but show that the weakness has been noted. The crowd then knows that the warning has been issued. I do not need to name names, but the country knows who has not been playing well and wonder, with good reason, why they are still on the field, miskicking every ball that come their way. Some have cost us matches with own goals so bad that they have a top 10 of their own on YouTube. The problem with that tolerance is that the rest of the team does not feel they have to play for their places. They do not appear threatened by young stars playing in the reserves; they have the manager’s eye and ear. I’m for benching some of those players, and if possible, sending them to the reserves, or selling them to another club, so that they can wreak havoc there.

I say to my charges: “You can’t keep asking for second chances; that’s not how life is”. Whaddya mean coach? But, Jamaica’s PM is all about second, third, fourth, n-th chances. What has happened is that leaders, of which she is the latest, have set up a country where accountability has not meant anything serious in the eyes of the people. Mess up; stay in post. Do wrong; stay in post. Lie and connive; stay in post.  Why so much faith with people who seem incapable of doing the right thing? Well, they don’t know the right thing to do, and it’s not been reinforced on them what the right things are to do. Their moral compasses have been set pointing towards wrong, not right. They keep following the pointer and head off to the land of wrongness with full confidence that they are headed in the right direction. When they get to complete wrongness, they don’t seem to suffer any major consequences: a parent has sent a car for them to take them back home, driving in comfort and having lemonade and cakes to eat on the drive; maybe, even a change of clothes.

I had a vidid example of how that moral compass has been misdirected last night, when a current cabinet minister was introduced to me by my wife. He asked if I played tennis. My wife told him I played golf. On our first meeting, he chose to allude to the fact that the balls men play with get smaller as they get older: footballs, as a boy; then onto little golf balls, as we age. Was I mistaken that this was a double entendre? My face didn’t crack a smile–it wasn’t funny, and my tee-hee button wasn’t pressed. I raised my eyebrows, but it was semi-dark, so that might not have been seen. My wife didn’t say anything. We let the ‘joke’ pass and continued on our way out of the reception.

Generally, the way you greet people on a first meeting is indicative of how you act usually, but with a little more circumspection. I shuddered at that thought. “What was he thinking?” I asked myself. Clearly, someone for whom he should have regard, his female PM, had not impressed on him well enough that he needed to act with a certain decorum and bearing–not silk stocking and ermine, but some common decency. Let the matter rest there, for the moment. But, as I often say, “You are what you tolerate”.

I want to see the PM grab the national moral compass and give it a hard reset. If she doesn’t then the ship is already on a course towards some nasty rocks, and I haven’t found my life jacket yet.

It’s the deficit, stupid

For most of its over 50 years as an independent country, Jamaica has been plagued by its deficit. The IMF came and went and came again and went again, and are now back once more to deal with our fiscal profligacy. They seem to have gotten the message across about the need to address the fiscal deficit. But, we are still facing a huge deficit that no one seems to be willing to tackle–the deficit of leadership, some call it.

This morning, I saw a range of headlines… ‘We have no history of taking bold and imaginative steps‘–this was referring to a series of readers’ comments about what Jamaica should do to take advantage of a wave of countries wanting to legalize and decriminalize use of marijuana. That’s going to be one that tests those whom we have as leaders.

We see the national urban bus company, JUTC, fighting a physical and moral fight to assert itself as a viable corporation, in the face of much internal indiscipline (fraud, etc.), against much competitive pressure (from other operators and the travelling public), in a dire financial state, and facing criminal guerrilla-style attacks from stone-throwers, who have damaged vehicles and injured passengers. The reckless behaviour one sees on the roads from some minibus drivers has its match in the cowardly attempts that come from throwing rocks at a bus.

A volatile urban community in Kingston, Tivoli Gardens–the scene of much continual violence and criminal activity; the focus of attempts at ‘garrison’ politics; the centre of attempts to revitalize a community with housing and sporting amenities–is in danger of exploding again, as gangs and their supporters flex their muscles. The MP for the area, who appears to be trying to be a peace maker now faces local opposition to this efforts. Angry residents burnt T-shirts bearing the image of their MP, Desmond McKenzie, and demanded that he leave the constituency.

Desmond McKenzie feeling the wrath of some residents in Tivoli
Desmond McKenzie feeling the wrath of some residents in Tivoli

He represents the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (colour green) and many protestors were in the ruling People’s National Party’s orange. Tribal wars still being waged.

Some Tivoli residents, wearing the colour of one party, accuse their MP (of the other party), of taking sides
Some Tivoli residents, wearing the colour of one party, accuse their MP (of the other party), of taking sides

Several public corporations have been getting the wrong kind of media interest, with internal squabbles surfacing, for example, with the Housing Agency of Jamaica. Its chairperson, Maureen Webber, resigned along with three board members, in the wake of the mass departure of senior managers and allegations of political victimization; nearly 50 employees had left during the course of April-December 2013. Ms. Webber says ‘she believes criticisms of her leadership style stemmed from the fact that she was a woman heading an agency in a male-dominated industry’. That’s speculative, but may be true. The board will now be headed by former Bank of Jamaica Governor, Derrick Latibeaudiere, who himself was ousted from his post several years ago. This could be a case of politics and good management showing again that they are uncomfortable in bed together.

I come from long line of meritocratic people mainly from rural Jamaica. You get up early. You work hard. You help your neighbours and like it if they help you. You don’t tell tales. You don’t push your friends under the bus. You earn respect; it’s not a right. You earn your position; it’s not a right. You do not kiss butt. You shun those who try to kiss yours. I don’t do affirmation, if it’s not merited. If you want a stroke on the back for everything you do, I suggest you do it yourself; it’s devalued if it’s constant. I don’t like signs of gravalicious or licky-licky behaviour. Jamaica, however, is not made up of clones of me.

While writing this morning, I asked my father (now 85, and a stroke survivor) some simple questions.

  • “Did Jamaica have good leaders?” Not anymore, he replied.
  • “Were Busta and Norman good leaders, strong and decisive?” Yes.
  • “What happened after them?” The country mash-up.
  • “Have we had good leaders since them?” No.
  • “What about Michael?” He was frail.

I thought that last point was deep, so I had to explore further. Frail has several meanings, including ‘easily damaged or destroyed’. That fitted.

  • “How frail?” He was given a job to do and did not do it. He could not lead the country.

All of that is just one person’s view, and anyone can challenge it. But, I was struck by the clear line drawn. My father was never openly political; he voted and kept his views to himself about political figures. He had strong views about some policies, especially education, which he saw as one area where Jamaica had gone terribly wrong and not done things to develop a strong nation, as opposed to some strong class divisions. His mother was a strong woman, who came to Kingston and sold coal; cooked and kept house for a living later; looked after her own and other people’s children, proudly raising all of them to be good people, honest, hard-working, good cooks, and respectful. My father never talked much about himself, but was a great story-teller about characters in his family.

I’ve met some Jamaican politicians, but cannot say I know any of them personally. I have seen them operate inside the country and abroad. I have seen them with their backs against the wall in need of financial support from international financiers. I have met and know personally politicians in other countries, including one president and a few prime ministers. I have also seen them facing financial problems for their countries. I have seen them get fired for not succeeding and also fired for succeeding–odd, but that’s politics. I’ve worked with politicians so afraid of the retribution from their national leader that they could not function properly if their phone rang with a call from that person’s office, or if they were invited by one of that person’s aides to attend a meeting with ‘the man’.

 

I know many civil servants in many countries. I’ve worked for a central bank and for an international organization and seen people work to implement national and international policies. I’ve seen and experienced political interference to help and hinder the mandate that I was supposed to be following. I’ve seen public servants consumed by self-survival and totally oblivious of those whom they were supposed to be helping. That’s part of the broad tapestry that is ‘the corridors of power’. Thier careers flourished and people suffered, but no concerns were expressed for the latter by those flourishing.

I’ve known public officials who took public money for their own use and used their positions to salt away public funds out of sight of their nation for their private use.

I have met some business persons in Jamaica and know a few personally. I met business people in other countries who were more powerful than any politicians except ‘the man’, who was their principal benefactor and protector, who could always get an audience, and were feared because of what they could do financially and whom they knew politically.

I have met a few educators in Jamaica and know some personally. I know some of them have their political affiliations, some of which is apparent in their work. I’ve seen educators in other countries who were in no position to be anything but supporters of the ruling party or lose their jobs. I was taught by many educators at university who were themselves close to political power, being advisors to one or other party, or being connected by family to political power.

What does my experience tell me about leaders in Jamaica? I’ve yet to see many who really command respect for having vision; I’ve heard much talk, but seen little real doing to back that up. I’ve not seen many who seem to have true courage. I’ve seen none who want to be truly transparent. I have heard talk of dismantling support bases in the ‘garrisons’ but seen any real commitment to doing that. I’ve seen many politicians stuck with a real example of the prisoner’s dilemma, who have not understood the losses they have suffered through lack of cooperation.

Jamaica has set itself up as tribes, warring factions, divided groups–some call that ‘silo mentality. Leadership in Jamaica has never sought to destroy or dismantle that; it has often accepted it and tried to work with it. That’s been a failure. Sharing information is feared. Transparency is feared. Accountability is feared. Failure is feared. More people in powerful positions lead through fear than through the example of good decision-making. Listening skills are in short supply. A nation built on constantly showing that one is strong, keeps things close the chest, and answerable to few or none, is a nation built like a house on sand.

With its human and natural resources, Jamaica should be sitting higher in the world rankings in many areas than it is now. Natural resources have been used to buy political power and keep it at the expense national enrichment. Money has been borrowed to buy political power and keep it at the expense of national enrichment. Favouritism has trumped the wise use of available talent. Vindictiveness based on political affiliation has been commonplace; it has been ‘our time now’ every time. Rob Peter to pay Paul. All have been losers, even those who thought they were winners. Ruling by fear means always having to resort to fear, and often each time of a higher degree than before. Fear has been allied with the ‘handing out of candy’. People scrabble to get and keep power to be able to exert the most fear and give out the most candy. Letting extensive poverty continue is the perfect condition to keep using fear and giving candy.

We could have done much better. We can do much better. Do we have it within us to start looking at those who want to do better?

 

How many crabs in the barrel?

I like to say to my youngest daughter that I want to give her chances to succeed, not to fail. Jamaica seems hell-bent on doing just the opposite. I read yesterday a report about one of our premier athletes, a Taekwando fighter, Nicholas Dusard. He’s been caught up in a controversy about whether he should have been nominated for ‘sportsperson of the year’ honours. The national federation was up in arms that he’d not been nominated. Now, he has come forward to tell a bit more of the story, which is basically that the national federation have been neglecting, even hampering, his progress. Here’s the story briefly.

Dusard won gold at the 2013 International Sport Kickboxing Association World Championships in North CyprusScreen Shot 2014-01-06 at 9.15.27 AM, in November 2013. But, he says he has suffered years of neglect by the body responsible for national sporting honours despite his achievements on martial arts mats all over the world. In other words, he had succeeded DESPITE lack of support.

In his words, “I was barred from representing Jamaica at the World Taekwando Federation (WTF) World Champs in 2013 despite being a WTF black belt and having full sponsorship, just because I could not attend a five-day training camp in Boston, in May, at my expense.”

Why did he have to go abroad to get national assessment? Jamaica Taekwon-Do Federation (JTF) president Chris Chok confirmed that Dusard was omitted due to his not attending the Boston camp, which, Chok said, was a necessity. He added: “We appointed a coach who had a dojo in Boston. We took up this opportunity to train there to evaluate the guys. We already had four athletes representing Jamaica in Boston. Would it be fair for them to come to Jamaica to train?” Chok also said, “Yes, he would have to travel at his expense because we don’t have that amount of funds.

So, our premier athlete in a sport was forced to go abroad at his expense to meet the needs of an appointed national coach based abroad. These are IMPOSITIONS, if you make them necessities. The national federation claiming poverty as part of its rationale is just laughable.

In making strategic decisions do leaders in Jamaica ask themselves some basic questions?

  • Is what I am doing really necessary?
  • Is what I am doing truly reasonable?
  • Is what I am doing helping to develop that for which I am in charge?
  • How will what I am doing appear to a neutral person?

If they are and coming up with good answers, then let me be silent. But, let’s just put the Dusard case simply in a different context. Imagine if our national athletic association decided to appoint a coach who was based abroad. Would it seem reasonable, sensible and good for development to have as the ONLY OPTION our top athlete(s) go to his/her training facility AT THEIR EXPENSE? Would we refuse them the chance to be assessed locally?

We have to stop these processes that set us up to fail rather than to succeed. Our talent is an asset that is being wasted all too readily. We are not investing properly and our priorities are skewed, and we will rue this because we cannot develop without investment, in the economy and its people. Either we’ve been crabs in the barrelcrabniggas so long that we do not know that we can do things otherwise, or we somehow get perverse pleasure from constantly shooting ourselves in the foot.