Make the people real stakeholders in the country’s progress

Raulston Nembhard

Saturday, August 18, 2012

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EUPHORIA has a way of taking people’s minds off the reality of their existential situation. However, there is the danger of euphoria becoming normative to the extent that real, practical living becomes a mirage. When our athletes return we will continue to bask in their achievements. The euphoria will continue and the political directorate may even give a public holiday or two to celebrate the occasion. We cannot do enough to honour our athletes who have done the country proud. But even in honouring them we must be mindful of our existential situation and contain our euphoria within the context of our limitations. There can be no expectation that euphoria should become normative for there is serious work to be done in the country.

The most pressing problem on the economic front is concluding an agreement with the IMF. There have been the strong suggestions that we will not have an agreement by the end of this year. Meanwhile, the slippage in the exchange rate continues and there are indications that interest rates will come under pressure with a corresponding rise in inflation. The net result of all this is uncertainty in the business sector as businesses and potential investors are watching to see what will happen before introducing new projects or expanding existing ones. The "fiscal cliff" that we face is that without the IMF imprimatur the cost of money on domestic and foreign debt will increase. When this happens it is not enough for the current administration to say that the previous administration was merely manipulating the interest rates. There is already the fear among some business people that we may be returning to the days of astronomically high interest rates which, in the context of today’s global economic crisis, can spell only doom for our economy.

It would seem to me that we need a national consensus to deal with the intractable problems in our midst. Since 1962 we have been switching from one side to the next with the often desperate hope that one party can lead the country to a promised Utopia. Yet, we have grown increasingly impoverished and socially divisive. Our tribal politics has not allowed for the kind of growth that can engender the pride we felt each time our athletes mounted the podium at the London Olympics and our proud anthem was played. I have become convinced that no one political party can pull us out of the mess we are in. It is the greatest hubris to believe that a 20-member Cabinet with 40-odd members of parliament has all the answers to the problems of the country. Yet they behave as if they do. They seldom listen to the suggestions of other people, especially if those suggestions are coming from those they perceive to be their political enemies. They do not have the courage to employ others who do not share their ideological positions, even if those people have the expertise to do a better job than their own. If one party should have a good term it is dismissed by an electorate that has been duped with promises and unrealistic expectations. When the new party goes in they begin to dismantle what the other side did. Often it is not that a policy position is wrong, but because the winning side wants to stamp its own imprimatur on the process, and more sadly to re-christen the project to reflect the dubious glory of his or her personality.

We cannot go on like this. This national consensus of which I speak must be governed by the philosophy that drives the people to believe that they are stakeholders in the country’s development and progress. Politicians like to talk a lot about their love for the people and how important they are in the development of the country. "The people are the country’s best assets," we are often told. While this is true, the ordinary citizens have not been helped to understand that they truly matter; they are often relegated to the periphery of the political process and made to feel that they are mere bystanders as the rich and powerful lap up the largesse of government, as party hacks are given cushy jobs, and as politicians go on wild spending sprees, often building monuments to their own egos. From the fringes of society they grow increasingly disillusioned and bereft of any hope that they have it within them to better their own circumstances, much less to contribute to the building of a strong and vibrant Jamaica.

The people cry respect and ought to be treated with respect. What we have lost sight of and what we need to recapture urgently is an understanding of the intrinsic worth of all persons. This may sound esoteric in a country that scrabbles daily with the rudiments of survival, but it speaks to the moral sense of who we are. This thought applies to those who live uptown and those downtown; those living in their mansions in Beverly Hills and those living in their zinc hovels in Majesty Gardens.

Dr Raulston Nembhard




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