Social Justice and Economic Development in Jamaica

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - August 15, 2014

By Dennis Chung
CJ Contributor

EVERYONE should know by now that I believe Jamaica’s economic programme is being managed properly, as the fiscal and legislative adjustments being made are definitely the right option for creating a positive environment for economic development. And certainly, more importantly, is that the leadership of the programme, headed by Peter Phillips, has shown the willingness to see it through to a successful end.

Even with this, though, the economy is still in a very fragile state, with unemployment still too high, and despite improvements in the fiscal and other macroeconomic indicators, we still have a very far way to go. Importantly, any letup on the implementation of the programme, or even a natural disaster, could cause us to be back in dire economic circumstances. So it is important for us to stick to it.

On the other hand, we also need to realize that sustainable economic and social development cannot be achieved merely by implementing this programme, or getting in significant foreign investments, as has happened in the past. The only way for us to truly see sustained development is for any such development to be inclusive of the masses of people. In other words, any path that we are on must of necessity provide opportunities for the ordinary Jamaican to excel, and very importantly Government’s primary role must be to ensure that the vulnerable are not only protected, through social programmes, but also have equal access to the opportunities for elevation available.

So everyone should have access to the best education, justice, and social welfare protection where needed.

It is with this in mind that it really hurt me when I heard about the Mario Deane situation. Not because it hasn’t happened before, and similarly I was outraged, but because he died on the day we were celebrating our 52nd anniversary of independence as a nation. And my perspective is that independence not only means the right to govern your own affairs, but of necessity independence comes with the responsibility to ensure that we treat others right, as well as manage our own affairs properly.

So a child who attains adulthood is not just independent because he/she earns money. Those allowed independence must practise good citizenship and must manage their affairs properly. Any mismanagement of that independence results in it being taken away. So if you are reckless with your finances and have to rely on others to support you, then you are once again dependent, and similarly, if you break the law your independence can be taken away from you.

Similarly, a country that cannot manage the responsibility of Independence will also become dependent. This is our case with the dependence on the international lending agencies, and other countries that we rely on for aid. Even though we attained Independence in 1962, the way we have managed our affairs has resulted in us losing much of that independence. So, to be independent implies being responsible.

One of the responsibilities of Independence is being fair to all; even those you think may offend you. Because it is when we can truly forgive the indiscretions of others that we have really matured as independent people, and a country. Remaining independent also means accepting responsibility.

The Mario Deane case showed both sides of this argument, as first it showed that the response from the police involved demonstrated that they never accepted responsibility of the power to detain persons against their will. I would have expected a statement to the effect: “We regret to inform the people of Jamaica that Mr. Mario Deane was severely beaten by other detained persons. We accept the responsibility for persons in our care, and will be vigorously investigating this matter to see who is directly responsible and will make our findings known in the shortest possible time.” Instead the response was to first deny culpability and then charge two persons, with no apology. It took the ministers of Justice and National Security, the acting commissioner, some politicians, INDECOM, and civil society to express outrage and apologise. Still no one from Barnett Street, from what I know, has issued any statement of apology. If so then I stand corrected.

What as a country we have also failed to understand is that in order to have sustained economic development, it is necessary to also have social justice. Whenever there is no social justice, it results in lost opportunities and wasted talent. It also results in wasted productive hours, as instead of cleaning up the mess caused by some functionaries of the state, we could be planning how to increase agricultural and other production. If we were to do an analysis on the amount of time and resources wasted trying to correct social ills I am sure that it could significantly add to GDP.

This means of course ensuring that law and order exists in the country. And this does not only apply to the citizens who should be abiding by the laws of the land, but it also applies to those with the responsibility for creating and enforcing laws.

As Peter Tosh said, everyone is crying out for peace but there can be no peace without justice. I want to go a step further and say that there can be no sustained economic development without social justice and stability. Just look at the Middle East.

As a country we have made strides. I find that the policymakers are more willing today to engage stakeholders. We see that with the response to criticisms of the recent legislative changes, which has been to engage stakeholders. I personally also see improved customer service within the public sector, and improved service delivery. This even extends to the security forces, as the police are a lot more courteous than days gone by.

However, in order to make that next step to sustainable development, and achieving Vision 2030, social justice must be at the top of the agenda.

Dennis Chung is a chartered accountant and is currently Vice President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica. He has written two books: Charting Jamaica’s Economic and Social Development – 2009; and Achieving Life’s Equilibrium – balancing health, wealth, and happiness for optimal living – 2012. Both books are available at Amazon in both digital and paperback format. His blog isdcjottings.blogspot.com. He can be reached at drachung@gmail.com.

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