Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful. — Margaret J Wheatley
ALL choices have consequences, whether positive or negative. This is a basic rule. The most wonderful gift that God has given us is freedom of choice. But how we make these choices and what do we do with our choices is the serious issue. Right choices will bring success and wrong choices failure.
If you are a student of Jamaica, as I am, you may swiftly reckon, as I have, that this is, in fact, the state of play in our nation. It is now accepted and often stated that one of our nation’s biggest problems is non-enforcement of our laws.
Every man does what is right in his own eyes with little regard for the interest of others or consequences. I would argue that a large majority of our nation’s social and economic problems are rooted in the average man’s belief that there will be no consequences to his unethical or unlawful behaviour.
Good governance must be sensitive to this and correct the breakdown in any real attempt to re-order society. Two stories in the past week or so serve to drive home the point.
Moved to action
The first is the story of a concerned Portland mother who took the decision to move her first-form daughter from her new school — the school of choice no less — because of the ‘lapping’ conditions the child was subjected to on public passenger buses. The second story was the report from Justice Minister Delroy Chuck on the very high percentage of traffic tickets that are ignored because there is no follow-up from the State on these prosecutions.
Neither of these issues sprung up overnight. They are, instead, the end result of a long and continuous decline in our ability or willingness to enforce standards of behaviour and to apply the consequences for breaching the rules.
Lest we forget, the re-introduction of a State-run bus system was, in part, an answer to the reckless conduct that had become institutionalised in our public transport sector. Jamaica has paid a huge price to try to wrest the system back into some kind of order — remember the payouts that had to be made to the franchisees who lost their routes?
Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to serve all our needs through the State provider and still have to rely on privately owned buses. This should not be a bad thing — private enterprise provides jobs, serves needs, and benefits the economy. But an under-regulated, under-policed sector, operating in a general atmosphere of permissiveness (offering no consequences to unlawful or unethical behaviour), and a lack of moral clarity is a bad thing. This is what we have come to — allowing our children to be manhandled, literally, so that they can get to school!
Every day the reckless and hoggish behaviour of drivers on the roads cause me to shake my head. How many times have you had the thought that the police should be here to catch this one in the act? But it seems that even if the police do catch them in the act, because of the breakdown in the enforcement in the system, the callous driver can take the ticket and just throw it away since there is unlikely to ever be any consequence to him or his pocket.
But, as I said, this did not just happen. It’s been coming for decades. The culture of lawlessness has become so pervasive in Jamaica that virtually anyone who stands up for what is right opens themselves up for ridicule. How often have you heard the retort: “Ah Jamaica dis!”
Such a retort suggests a resignation to accept the situation; believing that nothing can or will ever be done about it. Although this may often be the case, we cannot allow ourselves as citizens to accept that nothing can be done about it. We must consistently reject the wrong, bad, disgusting, and untenable behaviours wherever we see them.
Something can always be done, and you and I are the ones who must do it when we see no organised action by Government or private sector. We can take personal action in situations like the mother of this child did. We can speak about it and challenge others to join us for corporate action.
Where the authority for resolution lies with Government we must use the channels available to us in a democracy to press for change. Nothing changes unless we change it.
The problem over the years has been that, as a society, little things happen and nothing is said or done about it, so it spreads out of control and becomes entrenched in the fabric of the society.
A good example is squatting and stalls on the sidewalks in unapproved areas. The lands near the University Hospital of the West Indies is a shocking example. Look at the example of Mona Commons. An article last year in The Gleaner (February 12, 2017) gave the astonishing figure of 1,000 residents in the unauthorised community — homes, shops and businesses. The University of the West Indies principal, Archibald McDonald, explained that it was no longer possible to move the residents. He was quoted as saying,“It would take an army to do that.”
So, on the very doorstep of what is supposed to be the region’s premier medical training facility is a community occupying some 10 acres of land, with 1,000 residents and no infrastructure — no roads, sewerage system, electricity, and let’s face it, it is a seedbed for crime and gang violence.
The question is: Why was it allowed to develop until an army was needed to transform it?
Whenever there has been a particularly bad flare-up of violence or talk of decertification of the hospital the authorities have offered plans for relocation and resettlement or improvements to the infrastructure. The same kind of knee-jerk reaction is heard when some tragedy occurs because of a situation that has been allowed to get out of hand. When it becomes inconvenient the authorities move to punish it. But immediately as the furore dies down, so does the purported action.
Should we punish what we permitted?
Crime, garrisons and the donmanship culture were all allowed to develop incrementally. We allowed small increments from day to day, week to week, month to month, year after year. We watched and did nothing. Now we seek to redress by punishing the offenders. Personally, I take strong objection to this approach, as I believe it is morally wrong to punish what we deliberately permitted to develop.
Those of us who allowed it should first admit that we shouldn’t have allowed the development. We should then show clearly why we cannot any longer permit same because of the consequences. New direction and culture would then need to be set, with clear and swift consequences for breaking the new status quo. This is the only approach that would be just and fair. I implore our leaders to embrace this approach to governance.
Back to our particular Mona example: If the first attempt at building in an unauthorised place was stopped and demolished, the second would not have happened. But the first one is erected and nothing happens, then a second and then a third, fourth…tenth and so on. The Government, over the years, has allowed the people to stay, accepting their votes.
The status of the University Hospital as a teaching hospital continues to be imperilled because of the unchecked issues stemming from the illegal settlement on lands adjacent to the hospital. If we now move to address this issue by resettlement, this will have to be done by the Government. Therefore, lands would have to be identified, infrastructure and houses built, and, of course, all of this will have to be paid for by the Jamaican taxpayer. No consequences become consequences to all society. This is the consequence to the whole society, of failing to enforce consequences for unlawful or unauthorised behaviour.
The intolerable levels of indiscipline and disorder in our Jamaican society is costing us millions in corrective measures and millions in lost earnings. Had our nation been a disciplined and ordered society, the consequences of our discipline and order would be as evident as the current consequences of our indiscipline and disorder.
Strong leadership needed now!
Strong focused determined leadership is absolutely essential to produce real change for nations in decline, disorder; are crime-ridden, undisciplined, injustice-dominated, and overrun with a ‘badman attitude’ culture.
Can we do it in Jamaica? A resounding yes! It will, to my mind, only happen with:
1) a strong benevolent dictator, which would not be our cultural preference.
2) a strong governmental leader of high moral standards with a clearly articulated vision, inspirational rhetorical communicator, with a committed supportive team, and possessing a ‘Jamaica first’ and not a ‘party first’ or ‘me first’ philosophy.
Can either of our current political parties adjust to become like this? Or are they willing to humbly acknowledge their weakness and recruit the kind of personnel to fill the gaps that will enable them to deliver what is needed now?
If they cannot or are not willing, then it is a signal that it is time for a third party, ably constituted as mentioned above, to arise and do what is necessary.
What is clear to my mind is that the nation cannot circle this mountain of self-defeat or disorder anymore. Without intervention, social and economic disaster is inevitable. And if it descends to that, it will take generations to recover or we could experience serious implosion.
The time of action toward real change has to be now. As I said in an earlier article, the nation is on the brink, either for take-off or fall-off. Our choice of societal action and leadership direction will determine which.
Our governance actions must be firm, fair and consistent. For, without firm, fair and consistent enforcement of consequences for contrary behaviour, there will be no change. We must stimulate our people toward thinking change for behavioural change, but it is equally necessary to attack the behaviour that needs to be changed by having and enforcing consequences.
The transformation of the Singapore we often reference, along with Colombia in recent times, would not have occurred without this approach. We could experience the same socio-economic positives if we embrace a ‘Fresh Start’ approach (a declaration by both political parties that they are turning away from the past ways that have led to tribalism, garrisonisation and donmanship culture; seedbeds for crime and setting a new course toward progress and prosperity).
Our new-era prime minister must:
1) surround himself with a Government committed to building a new Jamaica, experiencing transformation, as it experiences prosperity;
2) employ a zero-tolerance approach for a stipulated season to critical nation-hampering issues such as crime, public behaviour, land distribution, and the use of public space;
3) put together an Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC)-type Social Transformation and Mobilisation Team to help stimulate our people towards positive societal transformation. The team must be charged to apply the Fresh Start approach to support his stated desire for transformation towards a new and prosperous Jamaica.
The Opposition, in turn, must renew itself, recapture the positives of its philosophical underpinnings, support the Fresh Start approach, and put Jamaica first. Both must embrace a mature political culture less on confrontation and one-upmanship, and more on cooperation for best national good. Then, in electioneering, the parties must present evidence to support who can best manage and lead the process of building the new Jamaica.
When there is no consequence for unethical, unlawful, evil, and negative behaviours in a society, the consequence is disorder and all that disorder produces.
Again, all choices have consequences — whether positive or negative. This is a basic and fundamental principle that should be taught to children early and reinforced as they grow. If negative behaviours appear to have no consequence, they soon become accepted as normal and our standards shift and change and our people live the negative as the norm to their personal detriment and that of our nation Jamaica, land we love.
Copyright © 2018 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.