Cedric Stephens | Building trust and digitalisation must go hand in hand
This newspaper’s editors highlighted Chief Justice Bryan Sykes’s call to judiciary members “to play their part in facilitating the digital transformation of Jamaican society”.
His remarks were made in the context of the implementation of a strategic plan where one of the goals was for the island to have a “faster, simpler, and more effective court system enabled by digital data and technology”.
Justice Sykes was speaking at the annual Assize Service to mark the opening session of the Michaelmas term of the Home Circuit Court last Sunday, at the Mona Chapel at the University of the West Indies. The strategic initiatives in the justice sector are guided by Inter-American Development Bank recommendations.
The newspaper report did not refer last Wednesday to the first-rate and passionate sermon – see YouTube, Assize Service Jamaican Judiciary, September 18, 2022 – that was delivered by the retired pastor of The Bethel Baptist Church, Rev Dr Burchell Knibb Taylor.
Baptist clergyman and author Devon Dick quoted other pastors in an admiring article in this newspaper on January 10, 2018, as saying that Rev Taylor is a servant, a saint, scholar, and prince of preachers. Dr Taylor’s scholarly and spiritual attributes were on full display during his short lesson. He encouraged members of the judiciary in discharging their functions to be guided by ethical and moral principles and to build a culture of credibility for the public good.
Credibility is a synonym for trustworthiness. Lack of trust is a big problem in the Caribbean and Latin American societies. Mistrust was the subject of a 2022 book published by the IDB titled Trust: The Key to Social Cohesion and Growth in Latin America and The Caribbean. I wrote in a June 19 article that the book’s co-editors argued that “trust is the most pressing and yet least discussed problem confronting Latin America and the Caribbean” given that it is lower in the region than anywhere else in the world.
“The economic and political consequences of mistrust ripple through society. It suppresses growth and innovation; investment, entrepreneurship, and employment all flourish when firms and government, workers and employers, banks, and borrowers, and consumers and producers trust each other. Trust inside private- and public -sector organisations is essential for collaboration and innovation,” it says.
Rev Taylor, after 50 years of pastoral ministry, recognises the important role that public trust plays in the judicial system and the wider society and the inherent risks that are posed by mistrust.
The IDB book says: “Latin America and the Caribbean exhibit low levels of institutional trust. Data from the Gallup World Poll over 15 years (which covers most of the world including 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries) confirms this. In 2020, trust in the national government, judicial system, the honesty of elections, and the military were all lower in Latin America and the Caribbean than in other regions of the world.”
Talking about things digital is commonplace. Three articles about digital transformation were published in this newspaper last Wednesday. There were also two advertisements about using information and communication technologies to invest and conduct illicit activities.
Even though the trust deficit in this and other societies in the region is the most pressing problem, there appears to be a lack of awareness about it. When supposedly influential voices like the Rev Dr Taylor speak about the promotion of a culture of credibility to members of an important institution like the judiciary, the print media ignores the message and the messenger.
Earlier this month it was reported in this newspaper that one of the leading financial groups was placing “new emphasis on its digitalisation effort” through the recruitment of a new executive. A few days later, it was the launch of a new application by a rival entity. The app will enable users to top up and withdraw money from a digital wallet using its network of automatic teller machines. The company stated that it spent $800 million last year to upkeep its ATM network. However, it omitted to offer information about what actions it had taken to improve public trust. Both financial groups own and operate banks and insurance companies. Maintaining public trust is critical for these entities as it is for the judicial system.
As stated in my earlier article, one of the key takeaways from the IDB study was that building trust offers a tremendous opportunity to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. By making trust and digitalisation – which are not mutually exclusive – goals of public policy, and not simply by-products, countries can accelerate growth and employment.
Decisions to invest, employ, produce, buy, or sell all depend on trust. The most productive, skilled, and innovative individuals have greater economic opportunities in high-trust societies. Greater trust will unleash growth. Media practitioners should also listen to what people like Rev Dr Burchell Taylor say.