A Success Strategy for Jamaica
by Dr. Basil Waine Kong
One finger may not make much of a difference, but fingers coming together as a fist can be a formidable weapon. There is no doubt that Jamaica needs a unifying direction and a winning strategy. The list of our woes get longer with each passing day. So far, we have allowed the tyranny of the urgent to prevent us from implementing prevention strategies. Imagine that we are sitting on the banks of a river. We look out and to our horror we see babies drowning. I would hope that we would make every effort to rescue and revive these children, but we cannot afford to stop there. We must also quickly run upstream and stop the man from throwing the babies off the bridge. Mediocre doctors only diagnose and treat disease. Superb doctors also prevent disease. Our government is stuck on crisis management with no investment in long term solutions.
1. A prevention strategy. Intellectuals and politicians try to solve problems; geniuses prevent them. The number one killer in the Caribbean is heart disease. It is a disgrace that so many of our grand parents succumb to this disease when it is a lifestyle problem and entirely preventable. Crime, poverty, motor vehicle deaths are also preventable if we can be smart enough to implement the strategies that will address these problems adequately. When we were implementing half day schools for our children, couldn’t we have predicted that with ten hours of idle time on their hands young people would form gangs, get into sex, drugs and crime?
As social theorist John Ruskin reminds us, “Punishment is the last and the least effective instrument in the hands of the legislator for the PREVENTION of crime.” Of course, it’s necessary, but we should be mindful that when we get to the point of punishment, at least as regards that one individual, that’s an opportunity we have ALREADY missed. I would rather focus on preventing crime than catching criminals. Each Government Ministry should be asked to come up with an effective prevention strategy.
Our current water crisis is a case in point. This urgency will force us to spend a great deal of un-necessary time and resources trucking water around town, including to our hospitals, but when the crisis is over, we will go on to another crisis and do noting about preventing the same problem fom occuring again next year. Water shortages are preventable.
2. An educational strategy. We can solve a great deal of our problems if we properly educate our people. I am ashamed of the fact that a third of our people cannot read a newspaper. Not investing in education is a predictable way to prepare our people for failure, poverty and crime. Japanese children are in school for twice as many hours as Jamaican children. As the educational level of any population increase, uncivil conduct decrease, health status increase and wealth is less concentrated in the hands of a few. Our English-oriented educational system dictates that we concentrate our resources on the talented tenth. The difficulty with this model is that most of the beneficiaries of this educational investment leave the country and you can find them contributing significantly to American, Canadian and European societies. Ninety percent of our nurses, doctors and pharmacists live foreign.
3. A change strategy. We cannot continue to react and keep going back to watering holes that have dried up while squandering new opportunities. This is a new world reality that cannot be ignored. In 1998, Spencer Johnson wrote a parable entitled: “Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life”. From this little parable, he points out that:
(a) Change Happens: We cannot continue to make horse drawn carriages and buggy whips when the demand for these products is gone. While there is strong demand for our athletes, music and entertainment, alcohol, coffee, honey and our unique tourist product, interest in our sugar, bauxite and bananas are waning.
(b) Anticipate Change: The only thing that is certain is change. We must anticipate what products will have value in the future and start offering them even before the demand peaks. Jamaican banks have a bad reputation for not loaning money for innovative ideas and will only lend money to support tried and true business ideas whose usefulness may have passed. The government has a huge coordinating responsibility to develop new business ideas.
(c) Monitor Change: We need good data and have our eyes and ears open so we can anticipate the winds of change. Someone needs to have their ear on the train track to let us know what is coming. But with so much data available on the web, it is not difficult.
(d) Adapt to Change Quickly: The quicker we adopt, the more competitive we will be. How many Jamaican businesses are going after the huge solar energy market?
(e) Engineer Change: Instead of becoming victims of change, we can become agents of change. We can develop and market new products. Health tourism, alternative energy and call centers are huge industries. Wouldn’t Americans prefer to come to an English speaking country right next door for these services than go to India if they had confidence in our skills and customer service? We must produce goods and services that will be attractive, replace imports and obviously export more than we import. We continue to chase after markets in the United States, Europe and Canada when there are tremendous markets in Africa and Asia. Why don’t we have a direct flight between Jamaica and Nigeria?
(e) Be ready to change and enjoy the ride! Our legal system, our government bureaucracies and banking systems are not business friendly and need to be updated to address the reality of a changing world. Our civil servants should support and facilitate business not hinder them. We should have an ethical, educated and motivated employee pool to support our various enterprises. We will have no difficulty attracting foreign investments, particularly from our various foreign nationals if we become more business friendly. Right now, the World Bank ranks us 75th in the world for doing business. A simple procedure of paying business taxes in Jamaica require that business entities spend 17 days in lines and make 72 tax payments per year to meet their tax obligations. I congratulate Trinidad and Tobago for their extremely efficient handling of this detail. We should learn from them.
(4) A nation building strategy. Rather than attacking each other politically, we need to find common ground and a shared vision. We need to recognize that we are in this boat together and a rising tide will lift all boats. There are tremendous opportunities in Jamaica where we can find synergies to improve the welfare of all our citizens. Let us set aside the differences that separate us, stop blaming each other and focus on the bonds that unite us. I believe we all love Jamaica. We just need to be a little less selfish and share the wealth.
(5) A self reliance strategy. Not only should we develop a food policy that will have us eat what we grow and grow what we eat, there is so much more we can do to reduce importation of foreign oil and dependency on imports. We can be a reliable source of food because we have a twelve month growing season, lots of available land waiting to be put into production, ample rainfall, good soil, expert farmers and inexpensive labour. There is no reason why we cannot feed ourselves. With regard to energy, we have wind, the sun, redundant cane fields that can be converted to grow avocado pears and other vegetable matter that can be easily converted to diesel fuel. We must think outside the box to survive. It is not going to be business as usual.
It is imperative that we develop a new way of thinking for the changing world in which we live. This proposed five-finger strategy is a start.
Bullet Columnist Basil Waine Kong has written several pieces for this journal and especially likes to expound on his favorite subject: his beloved Jamaica. He is a former Atlien (resident of Atlanta GA), and was the CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) for 22 years before his retirement in 2008 to return to Jamaica. This article is reprinted with his permission from his blogsite; Coming in From the Cold… Bob Marley