Thursday, February 14, 2008

Only results matter

When I was thinking about this article two experiences came to mind that were informative of the way us Jamaicans think. The first was over ten years ago when a well respected retired public servant said to me, “when you introduce someone to me, I am not interested in his title, as the title and position can go away but the man is always present”. In other words it is the integrity and character of the man that is most important and not the position he holds.

The other is when my son was relating an incident to me, about a year ago, when he was at a school concert where the DJ Busy Signal was performing and some other students were jumping to his performance. My son went to them and asked what he said, after he introduced himself on stage, because he was reeling off the lyrics very fast. The response was “we don’t know but it sounds good”.

Jamaican culture
Both incidents illustrate the psyche of the Jamaican mind. Our culture is one where form is of greater importance than substance. So when you look at the Jamaican roads and compare it to Trinidad you see much more expensive cars, unlike in Trinidad where factories and businesses are as prominent as the cars we drive. Never mind that they are growing at rates of 9% per annum, and produce oil, while we are struggling to get to 2%, even in the best of times, and can hardly afford to pay our energy bill. We are suffering but we look good.

It is also instructive how we decorate many with CD’s and OJ’s, supposedly for the service they have provided to this country, and many have done well, but after 45 years of independence where are we. We are always much more concerned with the plan than the implementation. So when I was driving in from the North Coast over the weekend, on approaching Spanish Town, I looked up at the gadget that clocks your speed as you approach, to check how fast I was going. Of course it wasn’t working because what was important was the political opportunity when it was being launched rather than the function it provided. And we can go on and on.

The important point though is that as a country we have to move from where we create the plans only, such as the many reports on crime and other commissions of inquiry we have produced. And this has been the way we have approached crime solving over the years. We have produced many reports that tell us what the reasons for crime are, and have held many expensive functions to launch and celebrate the writers of the reports. We have even created special “crime” squads within the police force with great panache. But in the end crime has always escalated, as if all our efforts in the past were to spur on rather than inhibit the crime figures.

The new commissioner, Lewin, is taking a very practical approach to dealing with this crime monster, which people like me have been suggesting for a very long time. The approach is one of dealing first and foremost with discipline on the roads, in the society and within the police force. It is obvious that he has launched an assault on road indiscipline and the blaring night noises that some feel they have a right to impose on others. He has also taken a practical approach to policing, which is to get them patrolling on the roads, instead of sitting in police stations that we can’t afford to properly maintain anyway. It is more important to see the police on the roads than have a police station up the road. After all it is the police that solve the crime and not the building. So once again I encourage the security minister to keep peeling away at the apple rather than take a big bite only to find out that you have taken a chunk out of the worm.

Missing approach
This approach of properly focusing on getting results is what we have been missing as a country. Even though we have always been seeing declining productivity, aneamic growth, escalating debt, annual fiscal deficits, and slowing investments, we are always applauding the efforts and approach of those responsible. So tell me if the results are not forthcoming doesn’t it mean that there is something wrong with the approach. This lack of logic amongst some of our leaders (public and private sector) has always confused me. I mean why do we always seem to celebrate plans but fail to look at the results. It’s as if the “nine-day wonder” is not only just about scandals but everything, as after nine days we seem to forget what the goals were. I am convinced that we need to check the quality of the water from the National Water Commission, as this must be affecting us.

I remember a few years ago while we were having a significant public debate about the quality of our education system (which faded like everything else) that there was a discussion around pay for performance for teachers. Whatever happened to that concept? The teachers seemed to reduce their wage demands after this concept was introduced. I hope not fearing that they would not be able to meet the standards. But isn’t this something that we should be looking at. The argument was that it was difficult to measure the performance. Well if it is difficult to measure the output of the education system then those responsible may need some education themselves.

But certainly we need to move to a culture where we are measuring results and not just discussing the objectives. As an example, the growth projections since 2002 have, for the most part, been far from met, as shown in the table.
If we were to even go back further then it would be the same pattern, where we would see missed fiscal and growth targets. It is the failure to measure ourselves against initial targets that have helped to keep us where we are. And if we were to measure ourselves against our international competitors, even much smaller states, then it would be worse.

So the decision that we all face is, do we intend to go on ignoring targets and constantly making excuses for not meeting them. The common thing is that when targets are not met we give an excuse as to why, such as higher than expected salary increases. Never worry that salary increases is something that is for the most part within our control. It sounds good as an excuse so we will use it. Then after not meeting our targets we go on to set the same unrealistic ones we did the year before, even though the conditions that caused us not to meet the initial targets have not changed or have worsened. If we continue to set ambitious targets then all will be well.

This is a culture that we must change if we are to move forward. If we continue to operate as we always have then we will continue living in “la-la-land”, while our international competitors face the real challenges, analyze performance against initial targets and eventually do better than us.

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