Tuesday, May 6, 2008

‘Talking up’ my Jamaica

Like a smitten girl bent on defending a scruffy boyfriend, I have written a restrained “State of the nation” speech to present to our Alpha Alumnae Toronto chapter. I know they get a steady diet of our scary headlines on the internet, but I want them to be aware also, that foreign direct investment has never been higher.

I will share with them excerpts from Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s enlightening and enlightened Budget presentation (his dear mother taught us at Alpha). His address has signaled that the government has taken a 360-degree view of our challenges, taking steps that should reduce mendicancy and promote sustainability. Relief for the poor, food production and processing, energy conservation and diversification, improving our tax reform, investment and job creation are well explored.

Contradicting the Opposition’s accusation that his Government does not have people “at the centre”, the PM citing his speedy introduction of free high school tuition and free health care, declared, “They are at the centre of our minds!” Whatever your party preference, it must have been heartening to hear his resolve to make education accessible to the poorest. “Education is the ladder that will enable poor people to escape from poverty,” he rightly observed, “and therefore we want to do something extra for those students who are registered under the (PATH) programme and who are at risk.” It was gratifying to read the stories of three such students, twins Venecia and Valecia Johnson and Rochelle Batten, who have excelled in the CSEC examinations.

But even as we congratulate the Government for these bold moves, we have to cry out against the escalating number of murdered and missing persons. There are countless crime plans and good intentions but the monster is gaining on us. Those of us who have remained steadfast even while our relatives left us in the dust during the 70s and 80s are asking, “When, O Lord, when?”

One prospective donor of a surveillance system for Montego Bay’s Hip Strip is about to withdraw his offer, because no one seems to be in any particular hurry to take it up. At a time when people are even afraid to make anonymous telephone calls, only technology and forensics can save us now. Crime Stop is a great programme, but it could do with a marketing makeover. Just as phone or beer companies continue to update even their wittiest campaigns, Crime Stop should be revamping its messages.
As we watch Americans rationing and hoarding rice, we realise that a food crisis is upon us. It was after 9/11, when we started to get blow-by-blow coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we saw the dusty, sandy environs of those countries that we realised how truly blessed Jamaica is. Prime Minister Golding’s idea to do a massive planting of fruit trees on Labour Day is a good one, because our fertile soil will certainly send them up quickly. He should know however, that there are many bearing fruit trees being cut down because of the unbearable vandalism that is occurring throughout the length and breadth of Jamaica.

Our nutritionists also have their work cut out for them, because although we are in the enviable position of being able to produce enough food for ourselves, we have spoiled our palates (and our health) by giving up the habits of our grandparents. The complex carbs so celebrated in the South Beach diet are our yams, cocos, dasheens and sweet potatoes, but our children have been weaned on rice and flour.

There is also the problem with all good ideas in this country: doing the work to ensure that they are properly executed. I remember a lady complaining that “where I am from, the problem is not food, the problem is money.” How will we convert that abundant food into money? The Agricultural Marketing Commission (AMC) of the seventies was a good idea, poorly executed. During that time, many were the tears of farmers, standing by the roadside, waiting in vain for a promised vehicle to arrive to collect their produce.

As we look at the global issues, we are hoping for a quick and smooth resolution to what some are calling a looming constitutional crisis in the dual-citizenship debacle. Politicians who put country ahead of self, will be the ones who will stand tall in the challenging months ahead.

We like to boast about how bright we are in this country, but it is only when brightness is translated into urgent, concerted action that we will make the change. Committees meet, decisions are made, but the action lists sit on desks or in inboxes for days on end. Depending on the company or ministry, lives or millions could be lost to Jamaica’s soon-come culture. Again, technology can assist in ensuring accountability and our software experts should be kept busy, creating programmes that will promote transparency in all our dealings. We are hearing that some of the complicated hoops that investors have been forced to jump through, were created by unscrupulous individuals bent on collecting “a bly”. Let’s use the technology to unmask them.

In the same spirit, we should not dismiss, but encourage the People’s National Party, celebrating 70 great years of service to Jamaica, to be a vocal and just Opposition. This is how we will keep each other honest. This weekend, therefore, I will face my friends in Canada bravely, and tell them that we are not giving up on cleaning up our diamond-in-the-rough Jamaica.

Congratulations: Heartiest congratulations to the heroines honoured by the Kiwanis Club of New Kingston last Thursday: Mrs Sarah Newland-Martin, courageous social worker and 1965 Jamaica Sportswoman of the Year; Sister Maureen Clare Hall, OSF, legendary and iconic retired Principal of the Immaculate Conception High School; Mrs Faye E.G. McIntosh, high-achieving Financial Director of the GraceKennedy Group and Dr Olivia “Peaches” McDonald, world-renowned family planning expert. They inspire us!

Vote for MaryKay – ABC News, in their “Picture of Health” competition, has nominated lifestyle coach, Jamaican MaryKay Mullally as one of five finalists. Please let Queen MaryKay reign – cast your vote before midnight May 31 at www.abcnewsnow.com/pictureofhealth.
Published – Jamaica Observer – 5 May 08

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