Jamaica’s Fundamental Challenges

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - November 29, 2014

By Dennis Chung
CJ Contributor

ONE of the things I pointed out early in my second book is that before we can solve a problem we need to understand what the fundamental issues are. I say that because over the years I find that we tend to address the symptoms of our problems rather than the underlying issues.

This is also true when we engage in debate about what solutions are to be applied. I guess that’s because some of us are not able to really understand the issues.

I do find that this is not only a national problem, but also manifests itself on a personal level. So, as an example, many people who are uncomfortable with their weight tend to try to cover it with clothes or undergo cosmetic surgery, or apply other solutions, when the real problem is getting proper nutrition and exercise.

However, humans tend to always seek the easier way out, and so the cosmetic solution is often preferred. This reflects the approach to our economic challenges where, for a very long time, we have delayed having to take the necessary decisions to ensure a better future.

The result is that the delay in acting causes tougher decisions later, both nationally and personally. In other words, it is better to maintain good health than to get it back.

So recently, more than ever I have been giving serious thought to what Jamaica’s fundamental challenges are, and why we have not been able to make any real progress in over 50 years of Independence. Maybe because I am getting older, I am even more distraught at the suffering that many Jamaicans have to endure, especially the children who are abused, and after so many years we are still unable to fix these ills of society.

Instead, what we have done is focus on many macro issues while ignoring the plight of individuals in general.

One thing I have learned is that no matter how much you try to address the macro environment, unless we deal effectively with the smaller issues we will never sustainably solve the bigger problems. This is very true for organizations, as many people try to implement policies and systems without giving due consideration to the environment that the staff has to work in.

In both an organization and a country, the most valuable resource you will have is the people, as without people there is no organization or country. This is an important concept to understand as the main reason behind every activity on earth is life, or people.

The other thing that many of us fail to understand is that economics is all about human behaviour. So too is social studies. And whether you have a successful economy or society depends on how people behave. In other words, the vibrancy of an economy is not fundamentally about the policies implemented, but rather how people react to the policies. Do they encourage people to consume or produce?

It would stand to reason then that if we are to truly achieve success, or to achieve the objectives of Vision 2030, then any policies that we formulate must put people at the centre.

After all, policies and laws mean nothing if people don’t support them and act positively towards them. In fact, one of the main reasons why we have failed to achieve prosperity as a country, relative to other countries, is that we have failed to consider the importance attached to the welfare of our people.

I know that we have enacted many laws and that various structures have been put in place. However, for me, the success of policies and actions is not based on announcements and implementation only, as we have become accustomed to, but rather on outcomes. In other words, with all that we have done, and all the investments made, have we seen the desired improvement in income levels and quality of life generally? At the economic level, after all the debt that has burdened us over the years, have we seen the desired economic growth?

If the answer to that is no, then it means that no matter how much effort has been made, we have not achieved what we desired. And it must mean that we have been doing something terribly wrong, and of necessity must relook at what we are doing.

This is why we had to make a seismic shift in how we approached our economic and fiscal challenges. Based on the past two years, it seems as if we have come to grips with what needs to be done in that area. However, this is just a part of the bigger problem, as a country’s development, in the final analysis, is about improving the standard of living generally and providing greater opportunities to people, not just meeting economic targets.

So even after we have successfully achieved the economic targets we still have work to do.

We have to accept that we have not done a good job as a country in this regard, and it is not only because of poor governance, but very importantly a lack of our own personal responsibility, and how we understand our roles as citizens.

I think that the basic problem we face is the lack of proper parenting, and that we live in a time when roles are confused, as children want to act like adults and adults want to act like children. Just like the mosquito infestation, which has contributed to the CHIKV spread, if we were to all address the actions of our own surroundings then we would have better citizens contributing to development.

This problem crystallizes itself in social issues that, I think, are at the root of our problems. These include child abuse, poor parenting, unethical values and attitudes, general indiscipline and lack of enforcement of order by the people responsible, and the list goes on. The point is that if we have a society that does not produce good and productive citizens, then we will have economies and societies that are far from optimal, if we accept that economies and societies are nothing more than the interaction of people.

There is a lot more I could say on the subject, but suffice it to say that Jamaica’s fundamental challenges lie in how we build and maintain improved standards of living for our people.

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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