Friday, January 27, 2017

The impact of policy on development

Page 3 of the Wednesday, January 25th, Jamaica Observer, had two very disturbing reports.

The first referred to a 15-year-old who is unable to read and write, because his mother had no money to send him to school, and his father had basically abandoned him. In addition, the mother, who is not working, has several children and his older siblings are in a similar position.

The second story is about a Pentecostal pastor who was convicted of having sex with a minor.

These stories follow the revelation of the sexual misconduct allegations against three Moravian Church pastors, in all cases involving minors. In this case, it also features a mother who has 11 children, who is also not able to take proper care of them, and no mention of the father, or fathers.

Around the same time, a news report revealed that both the OCR and CDA, were playing “bureaucracy tag team”, while a seven-year-old girl was allegedly suffering abuse at the hands of a predator. After seven months, they had not located the child despite having the contact details for the person who had made the report - and within one night of the news item the child was found.

The authorities have launched an investigation into the case of the seven-year-old, and the Government has also promised to assist the mother of the girl involved in what is now known as the Moravian Church Scandal.

Both responses I think have fallen short of what they should be, as in the former case there was no urgency in the form of a timeline given to completing the investigations, or even any suspension from “front line duties”, as done with police, even though the abuse of a child is one of the worst crimes.

In the second case, I would have wanted to know what was the investigation into the neglect by the mother. But this is a day in Jamaica.

And after all of this, the question being asked is, has the church failed us? With much debate about the inadequacies of the church, as if it is the church that is the responsible gatekeeper for law and order in the country.

The fact is that all these cases have more to do with a lawlessness society, and lack of order, than any teachings of the church.

What we must not continue to do is divert the responsibility of governance from where it should reside, which is the Government and Parliament, as these are the institutions with the power and authority to effect law and order, and hence create values in a society.

The church like any other institution is nothing more than a microcosm of the society. This also applies to a school. So, that when up to a few years ago, 70 per cent of our children were leaving high school, without one subject, the ultimate blame is not the school, but rather the system that has caused the school to produce that output.

Until we understand this fundamental point, we will be forever chasing our tails, and eventually end up repeating the cycle of the past 40 years.

The fact is that the cases above have more to do with the policies pursued by Government over the past 40 years than the failing of any church or school, as the same leadership in the church and school was created by the policies (or lack thereof). So a teacher or pastor, who has underperformed, was not isolated from the environment before.

In fact, one could also argue that if the church and school were absent then the situation may be much worse than it is today. Just as a senior policeman said to me - even though people may say that the JCF is dysfunctional, what would happen if we did not have the “dysfunctional) JCF in place?

Therefore, in order to solve the problems of murders, child abuse, road indiscipline, and disorder generally we must, in my view, go back to the problem of Government policy.

So even though we create a police force, OCG, Public Defender, OCA, and other such institutions, if the Parliament each year refuses to provide adequate resources then how do these institutions function effectively?

And even if we go further and provide the resources to all these institutions and they do their job effectively and carry persons to the court, but because of inadequate resources and action, the justice system is unable to deliver judgements for at least two years -then once again the result is disorder.

And even if we assume that the resources are made available, and the justice system works efficiently, another challenge we have is that we do not proactively put legislation in place. Effectively taking years to debate and have legislation passed.

Also, when we look at the economy, even when we make all the sacrifices under the Economic Reform Programme, if we fail to put the legislation in place to deregulate capital or achieve public sector efficiency, then there will be no sustainable growth and development.

In the end everything that happens in a society comes down to policy developed by Government, and functionaries, and importantly also how Parliament governs and debates when they meet every week.

We only need to look as far as the United States and see what effect the policies espoused by a President, or the House of Representatives, have on markets and whether capital stays in the country or not. Or what effect laws passed - such as on abortion, or the mere appointment of a Supreme Court judge - have on the behavior and values in the society.

In the end it all comes down to policy, as this is what affects long term behavior and what a society turns out to be.
Unless we realise and address this issue then a focus on church or the JCF will only be a superficial solution.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Understanding the root cause of our challenges

I have often wondered why we Jamaicans have always been able to recognise our problems but we have never been able to solve them.
We constantly pile up study after study, we form multiple commissions to examine the same problem year after year, with maybe a different title and a new set — or a new generation — of people. And so we go along our merry way, having the same problems in 2016 that we had in 1962.

Because we are a “bright” and creative people, we always seem to articulate the same problem very well in different ways. The result is that we never recognise what the fundamental cause of our problem is, because we somehow always focus on the symptoms, which we articulate so well.

So after numerous Commissions of Inquiry and piles of commentary and reports on what our problems are, we still face the same challenges year after year, disguised in different suits.

One such criticism that is now in vogue is the ineffectiveness of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) at solving crime. And I would be the very first to admit that the JCF has significant challenges, and has arguably had a leadership deficit over the decades, as no one person can be held accountable for the current state of affairs. It is also true that no one political party can be held accountable for our economic and social challenges, as they have both made unwise decisions over the years, not only as Government or Opposition, but also as Parliamentarians and representatives of the people.

The JCF, therefore, can be seen as the driver of a car that is in a race and going at 50 mph, while everyone else is going at 80 mph (globally). The car is not performing at optimum capacity because it has not been serviced, it has very old tyres, and it is sputtering because it has been filled with “bad gas”.

People look on and say the driver is not the best, and he/she needs to be replaced because the race is being lost. All this time there is no realisation that if you change the driver, even though he/she may have some clear deficiencies, it will not make the car go any faster. And in fact one cannot do a proper assessment of the driver’s ability if the car is in such a poor condition.
Similarly, it is always very easy for us to blame the JCF for the high levels of crime in the society, because they are the most visible part of the justice system. But we fail to recognise that the justice system, and I should say the law and order environment, is much more than the JCF. In fact, the JCF often intervenes when everything else in the chain of that system has failed.

So the policeman is not there to prevent crime, but rather to arrest it. Therefore, shouldn’t the emphasis and discussion be around crime prevention, and hence what sort of system needs to be in place to achieve this?

In my view, it makes more sense to do what is necessary to prevent crime than to put all our resources into solving it, because by then you would have already had a victim. This approach would also place less stress on the JCF and would allow them more opportunities to solve crime, and would also allow us a fairer chance to assess their performance.

One example is the derelict traffic ticketing system and Road Traffic legislation we have in place.

I have been able to get information from the JCF that between the period November 2010 and April 2016, 45 people in the Corporate Area and St Catherine had more than 500 outstanding tickets each. The total number of outstanding tickets for these 45 persons was an unbelievable 30,757, or an average of 683 tickets per person. And this doesn’t include drivers with less than 500 tickets outstanding.

To drive the point home even further, an example was given of one person who the ticketing system showed was issued 117 tickets of which 103 remained outstanding. After being arrested he was taken to court, where 78 warrants for disobedience of the summonses were issued and he was fined $90,000 for 78 tickets. He had another 22 matters outstanding, and the next day was fined $25,000 for 9 matters. On that same day I am told that he was committing the same offences for which he was brought to the court.

The result, the police say, is that his behaviour is now mimicked by most of the other illegal operators, as all the passengers want to take his car because of how quickly he gets them to their destination.

This example shows that there is a problem with legislation, as the long delay in passing the Road Traffic Act causes uncertainty in fines, and ties the judge’s hands as to whether to suspend the licence or seize the car. The passengers also contribute to the lawlessness because they know the man is an illegal operator and that he breaks the speed limit, but they gravitate towards him. It has also resulted in everyone now behaving in that manner because that is what the customer demands.

The result is that we have an accepted chaotic transportation system overrun by illegal operators and a sympathetic public.
We then say to the police,”Why are you not solving this problem?” We might as well just ask them, “Why aren’t you able to carry water in a basket?” The Parliament fails to provide the proper legislative framework and resources (as the ticketing system does not link the various arms of the justice system and tax system), the police are asked to work in very unfavourable conditions, and the public is supporting lawlessness.

At the end of the day, however, some politician will go on a platform and say the Government is not solving crime, the Government and people will say the police are inefficient, and we will call for a commission of inquiry, create another report, and still have the same challenges we have had for the past 40 or more years. And in the end we will be no better able to properly assess the effectiveness of the JCF, although we may end up implementing some changes when we really don’t know how effective they will be.

Focus on improving our greatest asset for development

Another year has passed, and as usual at the start of a new year we wish each other much prosperity and make new (or, more likely, repeat) resolutions about how we intend to improve ourselves. At the start of the year many plans are made around how we intend to improve our money management, health, and social lives.

Our leaders also deliver messages that speak to the need for us to work together to achieve prosperity and ensure that every Jamaican has an opportunity to be the best they can be. The political leaders also take jabs at each other and give all the reasons why either party will be better for Jamaica, and ensure a better path for all, even though over 54 years we have not had the evidence of the prosperity promised by either, year after year.

In fact, with a few adjustments we may be able to replay today the New Year’s messages done 25 years ago and they would still be very relevant — the reason being that we have not really done anything to address the fundamental cause of the challenges we have faced for the past 40 years.

Today, however, most will agree that we see a light at the end of the tunnel, which seems to be daylight and not the usual train that has always been at the end of our previous policies.

This is because approximately four years ago we decided to make a fundamental shift in our governance and focused our attention on inclusion of all stakeholders in our development, maybe because we had no other choice.

However, the inclusion of all stakeholders through institutions such as EPOC, ESET, and the Partnership for Jamaica were instrumental in placing us on the path we are on today.

And so today we are optimistic that we will exit the tunnel and see daylight and not be mowed down by a train, as we have become used to. This is because we have seen where the previous government made the decision to forge ahead with the necessary reforms, and inclusion of the entire country. And the current government showed the political maturity to continue the major fiscal and economic programme and other things such as continued board appointments.

Both must be commended for this, as this is what made the difference, and changed the course of our destiny in 2016.
What this change has done though is turn the car away from driving off the cliff and point it away from disaster — and in fact, we have started to point the car in the right direction. However, we are still very close to the edge of the cliff and must now start to move the car away from the cliff and drive away from it.

It is also essential that this happens in 2017, as anything that remains stable is really “progressing backwards”, somewhat like the term “negative growth” that economists love to use.

So to even remain stable we must move forward somewhat; and to make progress, it means moving forward at a minimum pace, and to win the global competitive race we must move forward at a minimum-plus pace (the plus of course being a pace above the global average).
When we go back to basic economic theory (which has always applied to us), this can only happen if we recognise that a country’s competitiveness is determined by how it capitalises on its comparative advantages.

This means that our development requires us to maximise the value from our areas of comparative advantage, which we have not done in the past, and what some of the legislative changes (Harmonisation Act) seeks to do.

Before I mention these areas though, it also means not making some of our sectors that provide the “veins with blood” to be at a disadvantage compared to other countries. I speak specifically about the financial industry, which is significantly constrained by taxes and bureaucracy, way beyond our competitors, even while we expect capital to flow.
This expectation is as logical as the NSWMA trying to collect garbage without any garbage trucks, and must be fixed.
So if we are to move forward at a competitive pace we must focus on our areas of comparative advantage, which are primarily tourism, agriculture (in niche areas) and the BPO sectors. All of these need the “blood” provided by the restricted financial industry, but, very importantly, also need productive human resources at the base.

But over the last 54 years it is this human element that we have “oppressed” — by not providing opportunities, allowing police brutality and inhibiting growth in other ways such as bureaucratic inefficiency and increased taxes and cost of living.
As a result of this we today have a population that has a relatively low literacy rate, falling labour productivity, increased labour force informality (which means no retirement income plans), one-third living in informal settlements, and a limitation being imposed on their full potential.

Is it any surprise then that UHWI cannot perform major surgeries because of a shortage of specialist nurses, when just a few years ago some of our politicians were encouraging training professionals for export to get the crumbs of remittances instead of the bounty of their contribution to development? And then when they leave, based on us supporting that policy, we are surprised that we have none here to keep the health sector going.

For me, therefore, our greatest asset is the people of Jamaica and policy must do everything to ensure their security, as espoused in the EGC’s call to action. It is the citizens, and their development, that societies are built on and we must do everything to ensure that their long-term prosperity is not sacrificed for short-term objectives.

This is the challenge I see for 2017, because the way we approach citizen security and opportunity will not only affect the outcome of the EGC’s 5 in 4 objective, but will also determine the country’s long-term viability.

This calls for a fundamental policy shift as was done in 2013 when oversight of the economic programme was given to private citizens through EPOC.