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.

About Trevor Dawes

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