By Dennis Chung
Recently, I said to someone that one of the challenges Jamaica has as a country is that we are too focused on immediate gratification, and not on the long-term effects of our actions.
As a consequence, we react to what people, or the media say, and throw out our long-term, well-thought-out plan in order to conform with the popular opinion of the moment, or to prevent the public saying anything negative about us.
This is not only a fault with our politics, but in many instances occurs in private companies also. Managers will often listen to the office talk and act based on that, rather than properly investigating and applying an objective process to finding a solution.
So, as I said to the person, it is not the best thing to manage your affairs based on what is being said, but rather manage based on whatever well-thought-out plan and long term objective you have, and ensure that you apply the right principles. You might not be “popular” in the immediate term, but that is only important if you are in a beauty contest. One of the primary responsibilities of being a leader or professional, is to always do what is right even in the face of being unpopular.
At the current time there is much debate about what are the right economic and fiscal policies to pursue, as there is no doubt that the economic climate is difficult for many in the labour force and some businesses. It seems paradoxical that many in the business community, buoyed by the business and consumer confidence numbers, are saying that the programme is going well and they see improvements, expecting a better economy. While there are others, and rightly so, who question the path we are on because it has become very difficult for them. Included amongst them are many well-qualified professionals.
I don’t doubt that, as I have seen and heard about such situations. And I empathise with them, as there has been a significant change in the economic environment.
What we must not do, however, is bring about any radical change that will affect the long-term viability of our plan. I have seen many times in the past where at the first sign of criticism we falter and throw out all the accomplishments we have achieved. This is what leads to the view by many that new governments abandon all the good programmes and policies that are in place because of politics.
But, as I said, this is not unique to the country’s governance, but also private sector companies which may have the wrong leadership; because I have found that when it comes to success, leadership is first, second, and third.
Great business leaders
And I know what it is like to come under severe criticism by people who either can’t see the long-term vision, or those with different agendas. I have also had the experience of working with some great leaders, who have always looked at the bigger picture and don’t worry too much about the immediate criticism.
Two such people, whom I worked very closely with on the Air Jamaica divestment, were Dennis Lalor and Don Wehby. I remember during that process that there was severe criticism from many, including comments also that we were securing financial reward for ourselves from the transaction. The irony of it is that none of the directors even received the normal stipend, and in many instances the bills were taken care of by Lalor.
In the face of the criticisms, however, these gentlemen would say to me that we have a job to do and we have to think about the long-term objective. Is it any wonder that both GraceKennedy and ICWI are very successful companies that have been around for a very long time.
I remember also when I was on the board on the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission, and being much younger then I received a very important lesson from the chairman at the time, Gordon Robinson, who said to us that irrespective of what people say out there we will do the right thing — even if it means that we will eat bun and cheese for the rest of our lives.
The fact is that credibility does not come from being popular. It comes from doing the right thing all the time.
This doesn’t mean that as you go along the journey you don’t make adjustments. In fact, having the flexibility to make adjustments is very important. Richard Byles always says that the economic programme is like driving to MoBay. You may change your speed or may get a flat along the way and have to fix it, but you should never forget that you are still driving to MoBay.
So we are at a critical juncture of the economic programme, and the change in the economic competitiveness, and reduction in government programmes is taking a toll. And I think we need to make adjustments where necessary but we should not make any decision that will cause us to be thrown off the long-term objectives. Any action that causes that will only lead to even greater hardship, as has happened in this country over the past 40 years.
What it will require is strong and visionary leadership. Leadership that must be able to communicate effectively — not only what we are doing — but the long-term objective and path to get there. Leadership that can sell this vision to the country so that they also are fully engaged.
One of the things I have always warned against, which we must not be tempted to do, is to install taxes as a short-term gap for the fiscal accounts while hurting the long-term objectives. I have seen us do that too many times, which ends up causing even greater fiscal challenges.
As citizens we also have a responsibility to engage constructively with the government. Criticism and disagreement is good but it must be done in a constructive and respectful manner, while in the long run doing what’s necessary to achieve our objectives.
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 email@example.com.