Are we prepared to do what is necessary?

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The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr Hoover didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. — Will Rogers


Let me commend the Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett and the Government for tremendous strides and growth being made in tourism. Just recently we saw highlighted the strengthening of faith-based tourism with the visit of Bishop T D Jakes and 1,800 visitors on a stopover cruise. Bartlett held significant talks with Bishop Jakes on further cooperation in expanding faith tourism — an over US$15-billion industry.

Are we prepared to do what is going to be necessary to attract a significant part of this business? To date we are merely scratching the surface of this area. Yet we see, conservatively, in excess of 150,000 faith-based tourists annually without trying any special incentives or attractions. It is a sleeping giant waiting to be awakened.

Some time ago I officiated at a wedding at one of our north coast hotels. A large contingent of Christians overnighted after the ceremony and reception. We enquired of the hotel’s entertainment manager if there was any faith-based entertainment for us. She apologised profusely and encouraged us to write the hotel management. We did, and even suggested a package of entertainment. No response.

So let me ask my question again: Are we prepared to do what is going to be necessary to attract a significant part of this faith-based tourism business?

A few weeks ago, on Monday, August 5, 2019, this newspaper reported that ‘Bartlett challenges farmers to meet the demands of tourism sector’. The report expanded on the headline by saying: “Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett has challenged the local agricultural sector to make a greater effort to satisfy the demands of Jamaica’s tourism sector for fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry.”

Three months have passed since the farmers were so prompted by the minister. Can someone tell me what has happened since then?

Let me tell you exactly what has happened. Absolutely nothing. When will we make it happen?

This is not the first such pronouncement by a tourism minister. We all know of tourism and its importance to our economy. In addition, and illustratively, the Eat Jamaica campaign recently took prominence again in August. We at Fellowship Tabernacle continue to endorse this campaign. It was actually launched in 2003 by the late Governor General Sir Howard Cooke. The church service commencing the launch was hosted by us with Senator Norman Grant, Lawrence Madden, and the Jamaica Agricultural Society in attendance. The initiative was brilliant: “Grow what we eat and eat what we grow.”

This concept is of great importance and must be maintained because it is beneficial not only for the tourism sector but for our own self-sustenance, self-reliance, and prosperity. We must eat what we grow and grow what we eat so we can build a strong economy so that everyone can prosper. But what will it take to make it happen? Is the development plan and process in place?

Here’s that nagging question again: Are we prepared to do what is going to be necessary to satisfy the demands of Jamaica’s tourism sector for fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry?

This matter highlights and speaks to the overall development of our country and whether we are positioning ourselves to maximise the opportunities presented. I believe we must pause and take an objective and critical look at our development approach of the past to inform our present and guide our future.

Developing a country vs people

The road to development must also see us wrestling with these questions: Have we been wittingly or unwittingly seeking to develop our country at the expense of our people? Or should we be developing our people to develop our country?

Over the last 40 years national development has been functionally the development of things, not the people. Although the rhetoric of the country’s leaders, policymakers and technocrats has claimed to have been about the development of the people, the practice has been on the development of things intended to benefit the people — an intention that, sadly, often does not materialise.

The things developed are nice and good, but the people remain underdeveloped and in so much poverty that they cannot take advantage of what is developed. This development at people’s expense seems to happen because we have this bad habit of putting the cart before the horse.

It seems a case of ‘populist development’ vs ‘real development’. This old-style development thinking must give way to new-era development thinking which places people at the centre, not things.

For instance, education has not been a central focus, but a sidebar. When we look back at what our political parties have held up as their greatest achievements, we see buildings, roads, hotels, airports, importation of cars, infrastructural development, institutions, etc. These should be applauded, but isn’t real national development about the improvement in the quality of lives of the citizens — their social, educational, cultural and economic transformation?

Our inherited colonial educational system was understandably designed to keep us subservient to The Crown. But a subservient people cannot properly govern self or grow a nation. Therefore, our system of education should have long been transformed to one that encourages independent, critical, creative, and entrepreneurial thinking.

When the lives (thinking and behaviour) of people are transformed a strong people — educated in mind and morals — will naturally develop things, systems, and structures that will, in turn, transform and contribute to our necessary national development. Whereas we can argue that development has to be holistic and balanced, we can agree that it ought to be weighted on the side of people’s educational and healthy development in a sustainable framework of governance.

It is my humble opinion that our current development approach encourages patronage and dependence. That was an understandable approach by our colonial oppressors decades ago, but should it still be the praxis?


Looking to the future

As we look to the future there has to be new-era thinking. This requires brave leadership that will break the accustomed mode and apply a people-centred development approach. To date the economic theory of our policymakers can be described as one that seeks to prosper our nation from the top in a manner that only grips or pulls up the top five per cent to 10 per cent of society, so very little changes in terms of real development for most people.

The macroeconomic landscape may look better, but the suffering of people and communities remain. The new-era economic methodology needed is one that lifts our nation from the bottom tier of citizens, up. This way everybody moves higher.

Bangladesh’s largest phone company is Grameenphone. It began as the brainchild of Iqbal Quadir. He began with an innovative scheme which sold cellular handsets to citizens with loans from a microcredit agency called GrameenBank. A phone buyer could then rent the phones, with airtime, to neighbours. The Harvard Business Review 2003 issue fills out the Quadir story better than I could: “Today, Grameenphone has nearly 1 million direct subscribers, in addition to the 30,000 entrepreneurs whose handsets provide phone access to 50 million people… Quadir argued that investing in local entrepreneurs, rather than funnelling aid to their governments, may be the best hope for the world’s developing economies.”

Our new-era prime minister must more aggressively allow for this kind of economic thinking and approach if his stated objectives of prosperity for all is to be realised.

It is good and right when the minister of tourism challenges the farmers to meet the demands of the tourism sector, but is the agricultural sector being prepared for what it takes to meet the challenge? Many of the farmers to whom the challenge was given will need resource support and technical training in order to respond accordingly. The tourist industry needs consistency of product delivery and specificity in size and quality. Will we therefore make a Quadir-type investment in the average farmer to allow him/her to take advantage of the market opportunity?

It will not just happen. We must now have boldness in leadership. We must enact policies to ensure that even when ministerial leadership changes or Government changes the path to people development remains sure. It is the only way that prosperity will really come.

Copyright © 2019 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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