Monday, December 5, 2011

Jamaica – not all about elections

Patricia Sinclair McCalla - CEO of the Jamaica's Public Sector Transformation Unit

Observer column for MON 5 December 2011
by Jean Lowrie-Chin

Don’t let the headlines fool you. Today’s Jamaica is not all about elections. As a matter of fact, because we know what must come right after elections, regardless of the winner, discerning Jamaicans know we are in a serious plight. What must come very soon, is no indictment on one party, nor a recommendation for the other – what is coming is akin to an unstoppable weather system, where the global economic storms demand clear thinking and preparedness.

Lucky for us, our geographical position, natural beauty and the gift of the English language, bestowed on us by General Penn and Admiral Venables, have made us an attractive destination. However, the international community which has been hugely supportive in the past must now attend to financial crises on the home front.

Jamaica really needs to grow up and have a conscience. How some of our benefactors wish that they could produce crops all year round, that their summer facilities could remain open after October, that their homeless would not be in danger of freezing to death. For decades, Barbados gave tax relief to homeowners who installed solar water heaters. I am still not sure what incentives exist to harness this unlimited solar power around us.

We have to make productivity a priority. Patricia Sinclair McCalla, CEO of the PSTU recently gave us a snapshot of the public sector in a public lecture: “Sixteen ministries, approximately 230 entities, including statutory bodies, limited liability companies and other public bodies, to include executive agencies that are departments of Government, all of which comprise over 120,100 public officers, excluding the 4,500 Jamaica Defence Force personnel. The Government is in fact, the largest employer contracting just over ten per cent of the Jamaican labour force.”

She reminded us that we have a public sector wage bill of $127.9b, which currently stands at 10.4 per cent of GDP in the current financial year, “and which is expected to be reduced to 9.0 per cent of GDP by 2015/16”

She had good reason to cite the Singapore transformation, explaining that their public servants were not only well-trained, but also well paid to minimise the temptation of corruption. “The enabling environment was created by Lee Kuan Yew, through the provision of education to its citizens focusing on, English language, science and technology,” said Mrs Sinclair McCalla. “He challenged old cultural norms ...ensured that his ministers were already successful businessmen who were highly educated and well resourced.”

“In Jamaica where there resides little faith in political agencies and government institutions, governance is vitally important,” wrote Al Edwards Caribbean Business Report’s editor in his timely lead in Friday’s Observer. “The country has declared that it wants to hold developed-country status by 2030, that status would be difficult to attain without adhering to good governance practices.”

Such practices have to be underpinned by strong values. Our impressionable youngsters are fed a steady diet of images on television and the internet which create false expectations and lower their self-esteem. Unfortunately, they are getting a lot of these very images on the campaign trail as well, and we should be watching to see how the leadership of both parties panders to this element in the coming weeks as election fever takes hold.

As we look back on a successful Journalism Week spearheaded by dynamic PAJ President Jenni Campbell, and the tributes to the brilliant Dr Aggrey Brown, media practitioners are reminded of their responsibility to nation building. Certainly, we have the attention of the nation and therefore we are important participants in Jamaica’s development.

Women’s Media Watch’s new study and training manual, “Whose Perspective: A Guide to Gender-Aware Analysis of Media Content”, describes the negative effect media images are having on impressionable minds and challenges us to move out of our comfort zone.

Judith Wedderburn of the FES Institute pointed to the expanding impact of social media, commenting, “This now makes the process by which the media itself shapes and reflects political culture and public discourse far more complex, fluid and challenging.” Those of us who have been blessed with an education can use social media to enlighten and inspire. Nothing wrong with the great jokes, but let us stay away from bile and vulgarity. We have young minds to mould and a country that needs positive thinking and action, to take us beyond Election Day.

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