Monday, April 28, 2014

Social behaviour - the missing link for Jamaica's development

Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses. Chung lauds the JUTC and the Ministry of Transport for their efforts to streamline the bus system.

AS we start the 2014/15 fiscal year with the reports that we have successfully passed all four IMF tests so far, and with a feeling of greater confidence and hope for economic and fiscal improvements, it is also important for us to consider that economic growth alone is not enough for development. After all, our ultimate objective as a country must be social and economic development and not just growth. In other words, we should strive to achieve the mission of vision 2030, which is to make Jamaica the place to live, work, and raise families.

In order to achieve this vision, however, we must understand that while economic growth is necessary, it is not sufficient for development. It is also important that while we pursue the necessary economic, and legislative changes to secure a competitive economic environment, we also focus our efforts on what I think is the foundation for a country's development, which is social behaviour. We will of course remember the "values and attitudes" campaign under PJ Patterson as prime minister.

The reasons proper social behaviour is so important to development should be obvious to all, but suffice to say that whether you are in an organisation or in a country setting, no meaningful development can happen without an adherence to rules / structure and the respect of the rights of every citizen in the country, whether they are guilty of a crime or not. It is on these principles of rules, acceptable social behaviour, and respect for the rights of all, that modern societies are based. And without these at the base of our development we cannot consider ourselves a modern society, but rather one with barbaric norms.

Because how can we hope to be a modern society if our public transport system is a chaotic state of illegal and legal operators who drive how they want and stop anywhere in the road they want? How can we hope to be a modern society if people cannot enjoy their homes, or commute on the street, because there are those who believe that they should contaminate your space with loud music or preaching? How can we be a modern society if we ask a private company (JPS), and the law abiding customers, to subsidise the illegitimate behaviour of stealing electricity? How can we be a modern society where adults sexually and physically abuse children at will?

These are just a few of the socially deviant behaviour types that have become the accepted social behaviour in Jamaica. So we are happy being a country where social behaviour is dysfunctional and not understand that this more than anything else is what contributes to the widening gap between the income levels.

One case that I want to highlight specifically is that of the public transport system, and again add my commendations for the stance being taken by the JUTC and the Ministry of Transport on the need to streamline the system. What we today call a transport system is one where anyone who has the means to purchase or drive a motor car, can enter the market as a public passenger vehicle, endangering the lives of the public (including children); one where taximen and bus operators (including some JUTC drivers) drive as if they are involved in either a formula one or motor rally event; one where there is no proper scheduling of buses; one where there is no colour coding or no proper training of operators to provide uniformity.

The system as it is now not only endangers the lives of the users, other motorists, and pedestrians, but it also causes an economic strain on the country, as people prefer to drive rather than take a disorganised and unsafe public transport system. This then causes traffic congestion, which an IDB study showed that traffic congestion is the greatest inhibitor to productivity in Latin America and the Caribbean. Not to mention the need for imported oil and foreign exchange for car imports.

This is why the JUTC has my full support for the structure that they are bringing to the sector, and should not waiver from what they are doing as we need to stop selling ourselves short just because some may feel that the behaviour is oppressive. I am sure that the JUTC will equitably consider the other side also.

Another area of great concern to me is that of the number of cases of child abuse. This not only contributes to deviant behaviour when they get to being adults, but in most cases results in perpetuating the cycle of poverty and destroying our most important factor of production - our human resources. The long-term effect is continued poverty. Add to this another problem, which is the abuse of citizens by some policemen and then you see that what we are creating is a workforce that is ill-equipped for global competition and productive lives.

Add to these two problems again the slow pace with which our justice system moves, and then we can understand why for the past fifty years we have stagnated as a country, happy with the small crumbs of economic growth we have been able to achieve sometimes. In other words, the lack of discipline and structure, and deviant social behaviour has created a society where ethics are at an all time low (resulting in white collar crime, including corruption); where immediate gratification is more important than long-term planning; and other such issues.

So while we remain optimistic about the economic and legislative reforms being undertaken, which show much hope for a more competitive economy, we must remember that it is not possible to achieve the needed social and economic development (Vision 2030) without addressing the serious social deficit that we have as a country.