Sat | Mar 2, 2024

Ronald Thwaites | Our reality last week

Published:Monday | January 30, 2023 | 12:09 AM
The market in Linstead, St Catherine. Ronald Thwaites writes ... much of the cynical or negative behaviour of Jamaicans stems from their frustration at having no meaningful goal for their future nor a stake in this land.
The market in Linstead, St Catherine. Ronald Thwaites writes ... much of the cynical or negative behaviour of Jamaicans stems from their frustration at having no meaningful goal for their future nor a stake in this land.

“My dear, they terrified the children and the whole of us nearly to death with their long guns and battle gear,” a resident in the gated community where the SSL lady lived, told the audience at the supermarket. The ‘they’ were the police. “It was like Ukraine. Why did they have to do that? They violated our space. We are decent people. If my husband had been there, he would have got out his guns.”

Spare a thought for the children and communities downtown who get their doors kicked in routinely, whether it is by criminals or police. Are they ‘decent people’ too? In our effort to create a just and peaceful community, do we level up or down?

PRISON IS EXPENSIVE

Then there is the fervent discussion about minimum sentences for violent crimes. To keep a prisoner for 50 years will cost the ratepayers about $75 million. “So just kill them,” I hear the response. What about a judge-defined period of imprisonment with intense work, rather than crushing idleness; with rehabilitation- induced remorse, contrition and recompense? The murderer has destroyed a life so we, in our turn, feel righteous in expensively destroying another in retribution! Just saying. Sensible?

We are soon to hear about a higher-education policy so as to merit higher-level investment and avoid having to import labour. Look here, the shortage of highly qualified people is not only because students can’t pay for tertiary schooling. Higher education in Jamaica is comparatively cheap, and there are enough places in our institutions to accommodate thousands more.

The problem is the low level of achievement at the primary- and high-school levels. Most who should, simply can’t qualify. If by grade 11 every student had the equivalent of matriculable certification in English, mathematics, Information Technology and a marketable skill, usable for work and study, the problem would be on the way to solution by 2030.

Sorry, mandatory sixth form is not the panacea. That is turning out to be an ineffectual JAMAL for too many. I am pleading for implementing the Patterson Report in the upcoming Budget. Fix the base and the superstructure will take care of itself.

EFFECTIVE GOVERNANCE

We should give full support to the Prime Minister’s call for almost-universal apprenticeship. That would require dismantling the way HEART operates and giving industry and commerce back their contributions to fund a German-style, fully supervised and accredited work-based training scheme.

Just saying, again. Do you ever wonder why the Prime Minister has such great ideas – apprenticeship, National Service Corps – which don’t get done?

And again last week: don’t hold your breath for any conclusive settlement to either the outrage at the Newell High School, the crisis in children’s services or the much-lamented low productivity in the public service. Truth is, we have calcified a system which belies accountability. There are no effective sanctions – only dilatory procedures, justified on the premise of due process, but actually defeating the ends of justice.

Tell me about the school which has had to reinstate a gun-toting and threatening teacher because of a minor procedural defect in the disciplinary proceedings. The example is extreme. Similar incidents are not.

INVESTMENT THOUGHTS

At the stock market conference last week, it was interesting that all the market players we spoke to, made it a point to say that they had significant concerns about the company now in the spotlight and had stayed far from them or exited quickly. What a contrast to the Cabinet, the regulators and the investors who swear they heard nothing, knew nothing that was amiss. Credible?

The more opportunities that are created for ordinary Jamaican workers to invest on the stock exchange, the more equal the society will become, the more engaged will people be in the economy, and the more productive their instincts will be shaped. When workers own a share in the enterprises where they labour, the exploitative aspect of capitalism is mitigated by shared ownership and the anticipation of greater reward for superior effort.

Many years ago, on a familiarisation tour of the Jamaica Broilers facilities, having been asked to serve as a director of the company, when I overlooked a particular sanitation protocol, I was sharply chided by one of the factory workers. “You must comply. I am a part owner of this company. I have to protect my business.”

That business has an employee share ownership programme. That was Michael Manley’s principle and policy, one that drew many of us to his political movement. That was the initiative of Mr Kennedy at Grace a generation earlier.

Much of the cynical or negative behaviour of Jamaicans stems from their frustration at having no meaningful goal for their future nor a stake in this land. Why have the forces of organised labour not promoted equity participation in negotiations? The more people who have ownership of the means of production of goods or services, the less unequal, restless and fractious will our society be.

A 2030 target for me would be a Jamaica with two million credit union members and a similar number participating in the equities market. Start the financial literacy in primary school. That way, teach people to save for their tertiary studies, instead of splurging on dancehall and gambling.

RECKLESS IGNORANCE

Last, for now. Why not let us start addressing some of the fundamental concerns which urgently and unavoidably impinge on our present situation? For example, again last week, Mr David Malpass of the World Bank is projecting an immediate future of low growth for countries like ours. He is quoted as saying that the crisis of development is the likelihood of a “sharp, long-lasting slowdown of global growth down to 1.3 per cent this year”, and likely to fall even lower if the Russia-Ukraine war prolongs and climate degradation escalates. So, do we think we are immune? Are this Government’s own pessimistic GDP growth projections the best we can do?

Apart from one enlightened business discussion programme that I am aware of (Ralston Hyman on ‘Real Business’), when do our leaders encourage us to grasp such realities and plan for survival, or, better still, significant uplift? Why do we continue to major in the minors? Leadership?

Rev Ronald G Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.