Monday, November 1, 2010

Time to work on our strengths

TURNING THE CORNER ON CORRUPTION... DPP Paula Llewellyn and Contractor General Greg Christie greet each other heartily after Prof Trevor Munroe (centre) revealed that Jamaica had improved its standing in the Corruption Perception Index. (Photo: Aston Spaulding)

Jean Lowrie-Chin | Monday, November 01, 2010 | Jamaica

EVEN our non-VIP tickets for the Bill Clinton Lecture last Monday were pricey, so I hope that by sharing it in this column, readers will get my money's worth. The audience hung on to Mr Clinton's every word — not because he told us anything we didn't know, but because this former leader of the world's most powerful country laid out his findings so well.

Mr Clinton said the mapping of the human genome revealed that, regardless of race, colour, creed or financial status, the genome sequence is almost exactly the same (99.9 per cent) in all people. This is the "common humanity" which was the theme of his address. He appealed to us to change our mindset from focusing on the 0.1per cent of what makes us different, to the 99.9 per cent of what we have in common. "We have to find solutions in which everyone can win," he urged, as he described himself as a "clear-eyed, hard-headed idealist".

When moderator Nigel Clarke posed the question, "How would you restore hope?" Mr Clinton related the rise of Rwanda from the massacre of 1994, in which 10 per cent of the country's population, an estimated 800,000, was lost in a terrible genocide. "In 1998, Rwanda's per capita income was $268 per year. Ten years later, it was $1,000... The people of Rwanda made up their minds to imagine a future that was different from their past."

He told us the story of a Tutsi basket-weaver, "Miss Cassi", who had lost her husband and seven of her 10 children in the massacre (her other three children were serving elsewhere in the military). She reached out to another lady from the other ethnic group and said, "Let's begin again." They created such exquisite baskets that they became popular, even in New York department stores.

As the business grew, young men joined the workforce. One day a 26-year-old worker confessed to his boss, Miss Cassi: "I killed one of your children." So filled with remorse was he that he told her that she should send for one of her sons in the military to come and kill him. "What good would that do?" asked the noble lady. "Go back to work!"

Could our human rights groups challenge themselves to this higher form of thinking, instead promoting this toxic atmosphere of conflict in our society? Could they use their influence to help the PMI heal our communities?

The former US President also commented on Jamaica's burdensome cost of electricity. Referring to our access to solar and wind power, he said, "The Caribbean could be the only region in the world to become the most energy self-sufficient." But where is the political will? Nearly 20 years ago the Jamaica Flour Mills sponsored a solar-oven project implemented by the resourceful Claudette Wilmot. She used about $300 worth of material - cardboard, glass and aluminium foil - to create the solar oven in which a three-course meal was prepared for the media and several officials. Representatives from the then Ministry of Energy all sent their apologies for absence at the last minute!

"Rising countries like Jamaica need to improve and build against the onslaught from destructive forces," said Mr Clinton. "No one expects you to be perfect." He then described Colombia's fight against the narcotics trade. Narco-traffickers "owned" 30 per cent of Colombia until the government and people pushed back, to the point where they have reclaimed their capital Medellin, which recently hosted the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Inter-American Development Bank. In the Colombia experience, he gave us this Q & A:

Q: Are the people in charge accused of excesses? A: Yes.

Q: Have they made progress? A: Yes.

Mr Clinton said that "disagreements are natural" but appealed to us to agree to "a core of central objectives ... Do not be discouraged by failure. Don't quit - do something else."

He referred to the once 'paralysed' Middle East that now has a new generation of leaders who have forged a partnership with Israel. In Bahrain, their government has agreed to share power equally with the private sector, with the single objective of improving their economic rating. Mr Clinton said that they had a world ranking of number 49 three years ago and had now moved up to number 13.

Mr Clinton wants us to look at Jamaica's strengths: "There is a reason why people keep coming here ... don't just work on your problems, work on your strengths."

Bill Clinton would have been pleased at the news that emerged the following day, when Professor Trevor Munroe, director of the National Integrity Action Forum, announced that Jamaica had improved her standing in the 2010 Corruption Perception Index. He said that Jamaica had "improved its global ranking from 99 out of 180 countries to 87 out of 178 countries after successive fall in rankings in 2007, 2008 and 2009."

People power seems to have had significant impact on this. Prof Munroe noted, "In 2008, a Don Anderson poll showed that Jamaicans for the first time regarded corruption as the second most important thing wrong with Jamaica ... This sentiment fuelled the widespread and overwhelming public demand for Christopher "Dudus" Coke's extradition and for upholding of the rule of law. Nine editorials/columns/letters in three newspapers in January 2010 rose to 216 in May."

Signs are that Jamaicans may be moving away from the constant haranguing which has neither dignity nor direction. On Thursday, news came that five private sector organisations had decided to resume talks with the government on the Partnership for Transformation, based on PM Golding's decision to establish a Commission of Enquiry into the Christopher Coke/Manatt issue.

Like Paula Llewellyn, Greg Christie and Danville Walker, let us be honest and energetic in doing the nation's business. Like the brave people of Rwanda, let us imagine a future very different from our recent past.

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