First Look

Jamaica has no distinguished record of accountability says JCC President

Jamaica Chamber of Commerce | 2015-03-31 00:00:00

Jamaica does not have a distinguished record of accountability. As a society, too many of us have tended to focus on ‘intent’ rather than ‘outcome’ as the primary factor in our assessment of actions that impact our people. Thus, if we can point to what we meant to do, we can absolve ourselves from the results of our actions – when the results are contrary to what we set out to do. The fault is never ours.

At the same time, many of us in civil society work ourselves up into a rage about particular malfeasances –but often only for the length of time that the issue remains in the headlines. The smart politician or public sector official knows that if only he or she can keep his or her head down for a week or so, then the pressure will blow over – and it will be business as usual again.

In my view, this has been a significant contributor to our anaemic economic performance over the course of our many decades as an independent nation. To my knowledge, no administration has come to power over this period claiming other than that if they are elected to office their policies would result in economic growth and social development. As we all know, with the exception of a few years over that period, we have had the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s worst economic performers when we look at year-on-year growth rates over the last 50+ years.

Our political leaders (and some of our key public officials) have never paid much of a price for sub-par performance, because by and large they have had the cushion of a social environment where their ascent to power has had very little to do with past performance. In the case of the former, it is true that every now and then they may be voted out of office, but they know that if they hang around long enough many of the same faces will be voted back into office. Their inept performance individually or collectively will not be a major obstacle to their re-emergence.

This may go some way to explaining what I would describe as somewhat muted praise emanating from our political leadership in response to the recent passing of one of the world’s most transformative - and at the same time one of the most pragmatic - leaders of the past half century, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. It is worth noting that while many of our political leaders, not just here in Jamaica, but throughout many of the countries that achieved independence in the 1960s, would give lip service to the accomplishments of a city state that so dramatically transformed itself over the course of two generations, there would always be a caveat: those accomplishments resulted from autocratic rule characterized by an absence of political freedom, limitations to civil society action, and nanny-state restrictions on use of chewing gum or urinating on the sidewalks. Jamaicans (one can insert any nationality here) it would be asserted, would not tolerate such restrictions.

One other favourite refuge has been the argument that the cultural norms of Asian cultures are so different that Singapore’s achievements must be viewed in the light of those long-standing differences: social cohesion; familial bonds etc.
One would be foolhardy to dismiss any or all of these arguments totally. What I would say though is that glancing back through the pages of recent history, let us not forget that many of today’s nations that achieved independence in the 60s went straight on to impose their own autocratic rule (some of those autocrats are still in power today) and in the process drove their nations to economic ruin. Autocracy, in my mind could not have been the deciding factor.

Is culture a factor? Possibly – to an extent. I am no sociologist, but I find it very difficult to contemplate that some very basic human values are foreign territory to the vast majority of Jamaicans who want to live in a nation that is peaceful, to see their children and grandchildren grow to achieve their potential, to see their country of birth achieve international prominence not only for our athletes and musicians, but for our industry, productivity and integrity.

I have always been of the view that some of those arguments were more than a little self-serving, meant to rationalize the shortcomings of a political leadership that promised a lot, but which, over time delivered little... an average of just around 1.0% percent GDP growth over the period since independence.

What is the relationship between Jamaica’s accountability gap and Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore? One of the key things I have learnt over the many years that I have been paying attention to Singapore is its intolerance... An intolerance regarding shoddy performance, corruption, crime.... Its leaders set out to build a meritocracy where every citizen could rise if he or she had the ability – not if he or she had the political patronage. It acknowledged that no society was ever likely to be corruption-free, but it dispensed sanctions with such severity and without favour, that the country is today acknowledged to be one of the least corrupt worldwide. It recognized that its public sector must be a top-notch facilitator for private enterprise to the point where salaries throughout the top private and public sector entities are on par. That country’s best and brightest have come to know that a public sector post is not a sinecure but is integrally related to the country’s growth.

In brief, the country’s leaders promised a lot – and went on to deliver on their promise that a tiny nation-state without more natural resources than a harbour could join the ranks of the developed world. The country’s leaders took their constituents into their confidence and made it clear that they had to be prepared to go through trying times in the process but that if they stuck it through, the entire population would see the benefits.

Jamaica, on the other hand, has over the same period endured repeated cycles of economic stringencies without much to show. Today, we have the same message – endure today’ sacrifices and we will be better off tomorrow. IN all fairness, we all want to believe that this time around we will break out of our traditional cycle of underperformance, and many of the objective indicators suggest that this time around there is a determination that the outcomes will be different.

Yet we, civil society, must always be vigilant – including playing our key role as the engines of growth, that the enabling environment that is the responsibility of government is created – that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past and that today’s sacrifices are not being made in vain. And that means we must insist on accountability.

Posted By :Jamaica Commerce

Company Name : Jamaica Chamber of Commerce

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