Friday, November 06, 2015

Realising the objectives of governance?

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Recently I did a presentation to the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica (ICAJ) about whether the success of the economic programme would make Jamaica the place of choice to live. I posed this question: "If you were guaranteed 100% return per annum on your capital invested in Syria, would you move your family there?"

The answer to that question was obviously no, which is what you would expect from any rational person who cares about their children in particular.

This shows us that choosing a place to live does not depend solely on financial returns, but rather on safety concerns and the general surroundings in which you live. As an example, even in a country where you have very little crime, things like racial, religious, or gender biases are very important. And in Jamaica's case, one thing we have that many other countries envy is our record of press freedom.

Around the same time, I was having another conversation in which I was told of someone who did business in Jamaica for many years, but decided to uproot himself and his family to go and live in North America because he felt safe when his children jumped on their bicycles and rode down to the park to play with their friends.

These two instances bring home the important point that the primary objective of governance should be about creating an environment in which people feel safe to live, work, and raise their families. In other words, in alignment with Vision 2030.

So even as we discuss the various achievements under the economic programme, I am reminded that we still have not, as a country, started to discuss the real issues relating to the purpose of governance, in any serious way.

Sure, we speak about the crime rate, health and access to education (or I should say free access), infrastructure, and employment opportunities. The problem isn't that we do not discuss the issues, but the context within which we do so. When we discuss these issues we do so from the point of view of how relevant it is to securing a vote. And this has been consistent from as far back as I can remember, not only from the politicians.

Context is of course important because it guides the way the conversation and action are developed.

I have given this a lot of thought recently, and the truth is that if we are to achieve Vision 2030, it seems to me that the whole purpose of governance must focus on creating an environment to make the average citizen see Jamaica as the place of choice to live, work, do business, and raise families.

If we were to do this, then I think everything else would fall into place -- because the focus would be on creating opportunities and an environment for individuals and families to see Jamaica as their first choice of home.

So we would not just be focused on the high murder rate, but rather we would be focused on the outcome of creating positive values within the schools, discipline on our roads, eliminating noise and waste pollution, and rehabilitation at our prisons. But our focus on crime though, is more a reaction to the outcry about murders. The result is that the solutions we propose are: tougher punishment for criminals, neglect of our prisons because we see inmates as criminals rather than citizens in need of rehabilitation, neglect of the Noise Abatement Act, and solutions to detect weapons in schools rather than change behaviour.

In other words, because our objectives of governance relate more to satisfying and minimising the cries from society, we become reactive to issues.

Similarly, another issue is the matter of the abuse of our children. The abuse we see now has been around for a long time, and every now and again it becomes a topical issue and there are a lot of reactive comments and action. But if we really had the issue on our radar to improve the lives of our children, then we would be focused on ensuring that the laws relating to underage drinking and gambling are enforced, we would ensure that there is a good school bus system in place so that children are not at risk on the roads, and we would ensure that the justice system catches sexual predators swiftly.

What these examples show us is that firstly, governance should be primarily about improving the lives of people rather than just economics, if we intend Jamaica to be the place of choice to live and raise families.

Secondly, it also tells me that maybe one of the reasons that we have been chasing our tails about development in Jamaica since independence at least -- is we have never really defined what governance should be about. To some it is holding state power and to others it may be 'what can I get from it?' But there is not enough of a critical mass that wants governance to focus on improving the lives and opportunities for the majority of Jamaicans. Is it any wonder then, that the US has been at the top of global development for a very long time, when its Constitution seeks first and foremost to protect and advance the rights of its citizens?

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