Jamaica and Leadership

Over these last few years, I have often wondered why is it that the Jamaican government, regardless of which party forms it, has had such a difficult time doing right by the Jamaican people. We all know that there have been any number of issues and problems that have arisen but the seeming reluctance to take the necessary steps to resolve or, at least, forthrightly address them is baffling, to say the least.

A brief history is in order here to make the argument about leadership.  Since Jamaica gained independence from Great Britain in 1962, it would seem to be that things have steadily gone downhill. In the 1972 election, Michael Manley and the PNP ran on the platform that income inequality and the divide between rich and poor was such that there had to be a better way to bridge those gaps, and that he and the PNP would be able to do so. In fact, the PNP slogan for the 1972 election was ‘Better Must Come’.

The PNP won the ’72 election and Jamaica was introduced to ‘Democratic Socialism’ and all that it supposedly entailed, and not long after the economy started going to hell in a hand basket.  Government started intervening in the economy and shortages of some basic items in stores started to occur.

This economic crisis continued until 1980 when Edward Seaga and the JLP formed the government after one of the most violent election campaigns.  In the decade of the 80s, the Jamaican economy rebounded and this continued until into the early 1990s when Manley and the PNP again formed the government (the PNP won in election held in 1989). It is interesting to note that in the 1980s, Edward Seaga and the JLP adopted austerity measures to turn the Jamaican economy around. These measures were not exactly popular with the masses but they, for the most part, accomplished their mission.

When the PNP became the government in 1989, Manley continued with the policies he inherited from Seaga and the JLP. He attributed his change to the fact the world, from the time of the 70s through the 80s and early 90s had changed and that he had to change as well.  The PNP were to remain in charge for the next 18 years and in that time the Jamaican economy grew at an average rate of one per cent per year.

All this at a time and period when its other English-speaking Caribbean neighbors were experiencing between 4-6 per cent annual economic growth. The JLP, with Bruce Golding at the helm, became the government following election in 2007 and, so far, not much seemed to have changed in terms of economic growth.

The negative impacts of such anemic, some might even say pathetic, growth have been a growing crime problem, an over-the-top unemployment rate, fiscal and monetary woes, kids leaving school  functionally illiterate, and young people looking at a bleak future in terms of good-paying jobs with any upward mobility.

It’s fairly safe to say Jamaica has had a generation that came of age and whose life prospects are bleaker than those before it: an indictment of the system of governance and the leadership it has had for too long now.  All this against the backdrop of Jamaica looking at joining the ranks of developed first world countries by 2030, according to the PIOJ (Planning Institute of Jamaica).  The question therefore is this: what can be done to turn Jamaica around and who has the courage and fortitude (intestinal, testicular or otherwise) to do it?

There was an editorial in one of the Jamaican newspapers that asks that Bruce Golding and his government seriously address the sorry state in which Jamaica currently finds itself.  The truth is that it should not be just the Jamaican media asking this of the government but all Jamaicans.

It’s no secret that times are tough and that a global recession with its genesis in the US has not been helpful, but why has the government, whether led by Bruce Golding, Portia Simpson-Miller before him and P.J. Patterson prior to both been loath to do what’s right by Jamaicans?

The truth is that politicians in general and the government in particular need to stop insulting the intelligence of Jamaicans.  It is high time that the government level with the populace and let them know that times are tough and that measures that seem to be rather austere will have to be adopted to help get us through these rough times.  It is rather silly to believe that when you have a global economic crisis that there won’t be some adverse repercussions.

I have advocated that the government become smaller by reducing the number of ministries and that the Parish Councils be scrapped in favor of County Councils.  You achieve two objectives by doing this: a) reduction in the number of ministries, constituencies and councilors and their respective staffs and b) less in expenditures as a result of the reduction in personnel.   You also want a smarter government.  That is, you want a government that is willing to think outside the box in trying to solve (or seriously address) the issues that are currently facing Jamaica.

Right now, both the JLP and the PNP have smart folks within their ranks but in the pecking order of both parties these folks are relatively low on the totem pole.  Yes they do come up with ideas that, if given a chance, would likely help in reversing the fortunes of Jamaica but these ideas are often co-opted into a broader message by party leadership to make those folks look good rather than serving their original intended purpose.

Is it any wonder the degree of disillusionment among the populace?  If there’s one thing that this past US election should teach is that there comes a time when change should be more than just about a different political party assuming power.

It should be about a new generation of party and party leaders who will look at the world through different pairs of lenses, and who are prepared to buck conventional wisdom (at times) in order to remake and repair a broken society.

Leadership has to be about confronting and seriously addressing crime and corruption not only within government agencies but also within society.  It’s more than just paying lip service to the notion of community and organizational involvement in trying to stem these scourges.  Leadership has to be about prioritizing and making the unpopular decisions that may not help in getting you re-elected but will set the country on the right course for future growth and development.

It is about being straight and forthright with society about the issues and selling them on the notion that while the solutions may not sit well at first they are what are needed.  In other words, it’s partly a sales job. It’s become very clear that the old ways and old(er) veterans of the political wars are not doing Jamaica much good at this point in time and they should graciously allow fresh blood to run the show.

Someone once said “What’s right isn’t always popular and what’s popular isn’t always right” and these are words that all aspiring leaders should always keep in mind.

Today, when I look at the present government in Jamaica I am left to wonder if Bruce Golding really has it in him to really and truly lead.  I am sometimes left with that nagging feeling that he has achieved his long-held ambitions of becoming the leader of the JLP and Prime Minister of Jamaica and that, if nothing else, he’ll die a happy man for having done both.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that as I would imagine most folks would not mind living and knowing that all they ever wanted to do in life they’ve done.  However, if this is the extent to which he’s prepared to go then he should seriously consider stepping aside and let someone younger take over.  It’s possible that he will not have much of a legacy in terms of what he did for the wider Jamaican society outside his constituency.

Jamaica can turn itself around but it will only do so when we all decide that we no longer want the ‘same old, same old’ ways of doing things. When you take the initials for ‘same old, same old’ you get ‘so-so’ and why settle for this type of leadership and government? To paraphrase Barack Obama, Jamaica is better than these last almost 20 years now and it’s high time we ask and demand more from those who are leading us as well as from those who desire to lead, regardless of whichever sector of society they’re in.

     

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