Wanted: A Jamaican Obama

In the past, I have written bemoaning the fact that there seems to be a lack of political will and leadership in tackling the problems that have and are afflicting Jamaica. The media have done likewise and this affliction is not exclusive to either of the major political parties. What we have seen and continue to witness is a reluctance on the part of the political leadership (a.k.a. the government) to honestly and forthrightly tell folks what the real deal is.

Everyone knows, or should know, that there is a worldwide recession, the likes of which has not been seen since the Great Depression of the 1920s to 30s. Folks are losing jobs and their retirement savings and companies that aren’t retrenching are closing their doors.  This economic meltdown has claimed one government – the government of Iceland. That nation’s government has collapsed and elections are scheduled for May 2009. In the meantime, a caretaker government is being put together to carry on the affairs of state ’til then.

In a little over a week now, Barack Obama officially became the 44th president of the US (no, not the 44th person to hold the job, as he mistakenly said. Chester A. Arthur was president twice but on non-consecutive terms) and his inauguration speech is one that I would hope that Jamaica’s leaders would look at to see how one can and should address the issues now confronting us.

In perusing President Obama’s inauguration speech, I was struck by the sobriety of the tone and by the fact that he did not try to sugar coat the issues. It was a speech that was meant to be a wake-up call that the same-old, same-old ways and days are over. He reminded Americans that they were as much a part of all that went wrong as much as the Bush Administration and the dolts on Wall Street. This was very much understood when he said, ‘Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.’ That sentence, in a nutshell, can just as easily be applied to Jamaica and what has been allowed to transpire all these years now.

From the time of P.J. Patterson to now, our leaders have been reluctant to make the tough decisions to get the Jamaican economy on a more solid footing and to seriously address and arrest the problems and issues confronting us. Political brinksmanship and point-scoring have become the games du jour while crime, corruption and cronyism have seemingly become more prevalent and entrenched in society. Scandals have become so prevalent and the principals, like the violent criminal class, do not have to worry about facing Lady Justice. MPs involved in scandals don’t have to worry about being expelled from Parliament.

As for all those reports commissioned by PJ when there was seemingly a scandal a month on his watch, whatever happened to them? We know of boards and commissions of inquiry that were set up to investigate and suggest what should be done to and with those involved and that was that.
The media got all over these scandals for a few days and then forgot about them just as quickly. I guess that’s what happens in the absence of a press shield law to protect journalists and their employers from pursuing the truth and reporting it without being subject to legal (and possibly worse) repercussions that could potentially put them out of business.

Jamaicans have heard lots of talk from those who have led and are leading that they were and are going to be different from their predecessors. We have heard that their leadership, whether of party and/or country, is going to usher in a new and different direction for Jamaica. It is supposed to be one of transformation and inclusion, of maturity, responsibility, and transparency and of doing away with ‘bandoolooism.’ We have heard that corruption and incompetence will have no place in any administration and that those deemed to be either will be dismissed from their positions. So, what has happened?  Well… nothing.

The truth is that nothing of the sort mentioned in the prior paragraph has happened.  It turns out that these are the usual ploys and platitudes that the PNP and JLP have used/resorted to in order to form the next government. It has also not been lost on this writer that the leaders of both parties are not too far apart in age with one in the late 50s and the other the early 60s. That they came of age in one of the most tribalistic periods in Jamaican politics and have behaved as such should probably not be too surprising nor should the fact that most of the government ministers are veterans of those periods.

Perhaps, what is needed in Jamaica is new leadership for a new age. What is needed is a Jamaican version of a Barack Obama. It has become quite obvious that neither Bruce Golding nor Portia Simpson-Miller is that person. Perhaps there are folks within both the PNP and JLP with a vision and outlook of a Barack Obama who are willing to tell society not what it wants to hear but what it needs to know. Someone who is willing to more than just talk about doing the right thing and actually be seen to do it, in terms of crime and corruption. Someone who is willing to get government to work effectively and efficiently by reforming, restructuring and reducing the bloated public sector. Someone who is willing to tell Jamaicans that in a more interconnected and technologically-driven world, the old ways of doing business are over and that its schools and colleges/universities must do a better job preparing prospective employees and entrepreneurs for this world.  Someone to tell the unions that demanding ever-increasing wages for your members without a corresponding increase in performance and productivity just cannot continue anymore.

I am reminded in watching the 2008 Summer Olympics on TV what Ato Boldon, who was commenting on NBC, said after Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser won their respective 100M dashes. He commented on their relative youth and on the fact that they ‘had no baggage.’ He explained that he meant that their primary goal was to run a good race and, in the case of Bolt, just win – a point Usain Bolt made in his on-track post-race interview with the NBC reporter. For Shelly-Ann, she was just expected to show up and race and the fact she won was icing on the cake. Shelly-Ann herself even implied as much in her on-track post-race interview with the NBC reporter.
The point here is that Jamaicans should ask for nothing but the best from those who would aspire to lead.  Jamaicans should ask more of their leaders than to just simply show up for a coronation. We appreciate the fact that you’ve shown up but now is the time for action. If you’re all that you claim to be then put those attributes on display for all to see.

It will likely take a new generation of leaders to bring out the best in Jamaica. Someone with a dynamism and vision, like a Barack Obama, who is willing to shake up the system and make changes in government and governance. Someone with the testicular fortitude to tell Jamaicans the truth while reminding them of times past when adversity was confronted and overcome and why it must and will be once more. Until then, I’m afraid, Jamaica will be stuck with the same old, same old.

     

7 comments on “Wanted: A Jamaican Obama
  1. The Obama presidency brings to the world needed transformational leadership and major paradigm shifts, during this worldwide economic crisis period. Throughout history, adept US presidents have answered the call to serve as positive change agents in crisis periods. Fortunately, Obama is a scholar of history and government, as well as law, thus he does not have to “create the wheel” but can improve on the social and economic solutions that worked for previous administrations (e.g., FDR, LBJ, and even WJC).

    Jamaica has also had its fair share of positive change agents and major paradigm shifts. The most recent was the PNP’s paradigmatic shift from the Democratic Socialism Model to the Free Market Model (i.e., accepting capitalism pursuant to sustained growth) that was fermented under PJ. Thus, it cannot be said that “our leaders have been reluctant to make the tough decisions to get the Jamaican economy on a more solid footing and to seriously address and arrest the problems and issues confronting us.”

    Prior to that, Seaga’s JLP administration took the bold step to defy Keynesian thinking by changing from a fixed or pegged currency to a freely floating currency, therein shifting from reliance on only Fiscal Policy to more emphasis on Monetary Policy. The fact that a PNP administration would implement Friedman’s “rapacious capitalist” techniques shows that our leadership is not afraid to give us the “medicine” we need to foster change, come hurricanes, droughts, or recessions.

    Change cannot be top-down only, but requires our nation to accept and embrace it, and pursue continuous improvement. Change does not occur in a vacuum but it interacts with both the internal and external environment, therein requiring our leaders to find optimal solutions that will maximize benefits and minimize costs. Not only do we need good top leaders for change, but even the grassroots person has to also adapt, adopt, and innovate. We must never be afraid to challenge the political framework of our government.

    A dominant theme of Trevor’s article (s) deals with entropy wherein it is claimed that, due to the disorders within our system of government, we lack the initiative to change and/or are powerless to make changes. To some degree this may be apparent, but we need to consider if our system of government was designed for flexibility and change. Herein is the real problem that I have previously debated. Most of our problems are structural as our governmental systems have not evolved as times changed.

    We need to develop a dynamic governmental system that will continually review and positively change in response to the rapidly changing internal and external environment. For the US, this is centered in a flexible constitution that mandates three fundamental civic duties: Initiative, Referendum, and Recall. Jamaica chose a fixed constitution that virtually blocks the PEOPLE from engaging reforms except through our politicians. We can change this if we raise our level of political awareness and activism.

    We must be aware and cautious of charismatic leaders as “We don’t need another hero… All we want is life beyond”, Jam-down. We must rely on each others abilities and skills to move use forward instead of seeking charlatans and demagogues.

    Give “Us” Vision Lest We Perish,

    Richard G. Williams

  2. Mr. Dawes, you have stated your points competently and unambiguously. I particularly like your message that calls for less utterances from our political representatives and aspirants in Jamaica but more demonstrations of an ability to make salient differences in the challenges that currently face Jamaica in the forms of crime and poverty for example. We can merely hope that your words don’t fall on the proverbial deaf ears.

    Well said.

    Joshua

  3. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Jamaica: Local Obama?

  4. Richard, I’m in agreement with you that change cannot and should be in government only. You are correct that society itself has to be willing to embrace change but for far too long Jamaicans have been promised new, different and better leadership and governance and, subsequent to Michael Manley’s departure, have not gotten it. I’m starting to believe that only a generational change in leaders will likely bring about desired change and better government and governance.

  5. Generational change is a must to resolve our problems. Unless the current generation is willing and able to engage change, we will have to wait until they are not relevant. Jehovah did just that when after He miraculously freed and evacuated the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, they had the gall to say that they were better off in Egypt, then worshiped handmade idols. Hence, He made them wander in the desert for many years until that generation died, leaving only the faithful to make it to the Promise Land.

    That being said, we need to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery and dependence upon a monarch or charismatic leaders. We must also rebuke the spirit of fear that we put upon ourselves when we moan and groan, and then be silent like lambs in the presence of the shearer’s knife. New leadership is important; however, Jamaica has to radically change it system of government to allow full participation of all its residents in all national and local decisions. We have long buried the yoke and shackles…

    Up You Mighty Race, You Can Achieve,

    Richard G. Williams

  6. Trevor – You and I have previously discussed nearly all of these issues at length. One thing I might not have stated is that government involves four levels of administration, each of which has uniquely different tasks, which are:

    (1) Policy (i.e., Prime Minister and Cabinet),
    (2) Legislation (House and Senate), and
    (3) Planning (Permanent Secretaries and Directors), and
    (4) Implementation (Managers and Supervisors).

    Due to our authoritarian and abusive culture, many do not understand these separate tasks much less appreciate the NEED to separate Politics from Administration (vital for assuring progress and reducing corruption).

    Politicians lead us to believe that they do the planning and implementation tasks, and they refuse to acknowledge that they cannot do all these tasks in a nation of over two million people; this attitude is the bane of JA and a barrier to progress.

    Give Us Vision Lest We Perish,

    Richard

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