Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jamaica can rise in 2017

by Jean Lowrie-Chin
published in Jamaica Observer column 9 Jan 2017

It is only January 9, and already the headlines here and abroad are challenging our resolutions for a peaceful and happy New Year.  Let us not be distracted from the work we must do, the part each and every Jamaican is called upon to play. 

The issue of crime is occupying our minds.  Betty Ann Blaine has pointed out that the monument to remember slain children has run out of space for the names! We keep saying that Jamaica is 99 percent good people, so here’s a reminder from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “When good men remain silent, evil flourishes.”

We know there are credible representatives on both sides of the House.  Would they be courageous enough to join forces and be of one voice in promoting zero-tolerance for any association of their respective parties with so-called ‘dons’?

Would our JLP and PNP leaders have a different approach to crime if they were not surrounded by security officers who drive them everywhere in the cocoon of their high-end vehicles? Government Ministers in countries similar to ours walk, drive themselves around and go shopping with no security detail.  Why should the tax payers of Jamaica to pay so dearly for politicians’ safety when ours is compromised?

Our police officers are understandably under the microscope of oversight agencies, the media and the public, and several have been sanctioned for corrupt or unprofessional behaviour. However, we should commend Dr Carl Williams, who has retired as Commissioner of Police after thirty-three years of impeccable service, and welcome the appointment of the widely respected Novelette Grant as Acting Commissioner. We cannot expect her to work miracles if our leaders are not committed to building a more peaceful society.  Most of the 1350 murders committed last year were gang-related and many others resulted from domestic violence.  Clearly, programmes for unattached youth and wholesome family life require urgent attention.

As we continue to bombard the police with criticism, let us be reminded that the Police Youth Club, started over 90 years ago by a humble police officer, is the largest youth club in Jamaica. Let us also remember that the Torch Run for Special Olympics is a decades-old JCF initiative. Let us hear more about similar initiatives from our MPs and Councillors.

Last week, I called the ever-courteous Supt Daley at Kingston West for assistance to visit my parents’ graves at the Calvary Cemetery in downtown Kingston. When Constables McPherson and Stewart arrived, I was so struck by their youthfulness that I became protective of them, remembering how one of their colleagues was ambushed and killed just a few weeks before in the same neighbourhood. 
“Please stay in your vehicle and keep an eye on us,” I suggested, but they insisted on walking through the very challenging terrain, staying with us as we prayed. (Our mother had insisted on being beside our father who had passed away in 1977, when Calvary cemetery was a much better place.)  The young constables were on a 12-hour shift, and said that depending on the demands, this can stretch to 14 hours.  While we sit in our comfortable couches raining accusations on police, let us spare a thought for these young officers who are creating a courageous barrier between us and the gunmen. Respect is due.

Some gripe, others grow
The happenings of 2016 challenge us to step up.  The brilliant scientist, English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author Professor Stephen Hawking, wrote an article published in the UK Guardian, headlined “This is the most dangerous time for our planet”.  

“Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to reject membership of the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president,” he wrote, “there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders.”

He described these disaffected voters as “the forgotten … a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity.” He called on world leaders “to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many.”

“With not only jobs but entire industries disappearing, we must help people to retrain for a new world and support them financially while they do so,” he urged. “If communities and economies cannot cope with current levels of migration, we must do more to encourage global development, as that is the only way that the migratory millions will be persuaded to seek their future at home.”

This brings to mind Jamaica’s nurses who must migrate in order to earn a decent living.  We have been bandying about the phrase, “health tourism” for years, but doing little to make this a reality, one that could provide higher salaries for Jamaica’s internationally respected nurses. 

Professor Hawking believes we can create this better outcome: “We can do this, I am an enormous optimist for my species; but it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year. To learn above all a measure of humility.”

Humility.  The ‘know-it-alls’ know little if the world is in such a terrible state.  How was that Fort Lauderdale shooter bearing arms legally, after his troubling confession to the authorities a few weeks before, that he was hearing the voice of Isis in his head? And here in Jamaica … why are we still selling so many foreign made souvenirs to tourists when talented lives are going to waste?  Why is solar energy still so expensive when tax incentives could ease our need for oil?  Why does the justice system seem to ‘remember’ certain criminals and ‘forget’ others?  We all need to humble ourselves to learn from the best practices of others.

 How will our little country weather the vagaries of world politics? A letter from our newspaper Chairman, Hon. Butch Stewart, speaks of his warm relationship with US President Elect Donald Trump and his expectation that Jamaica will continue to enjoy the friendship of the new US Administration.  This is encouraging, but we should not be over-expectant of anyone’s munificence when we are indeed very blessed in our own natural assets.

It is encouraging that there are three organizations focused on Jamaica’s economic recovery, which benefit from the voluntary work of exceptional business, union and civic leaders. They are the Economic Growth Council (EGC) chaired by Michael Lee-Chin, the Public Sector Transformation Oversight Committee (PSTOC) chaired by Danny Roberts and The Economic Policy Oversight Committee (EPOC) co-chaired by Keith Duncan.  Duncan succeeds Richard Byles to whom we are indebted for his dedicated co-chairmanship with BOJ Governor Brian Wynter, for oversight of the four-year IMF economic support programme which came to an end in November.
Jamaica can rise, not because of any single political entity, but because of the collective resolve of our dedicated patriots.  Join them by being resolute about your own personal commitments – together we can make this our best year ever.

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