Friday, November 03, 2017

Jamaica, no problem… or land of lawlessness?

One of the best ways to be educated is to travel to other countries and see different environments in operation, as it teaches you not only new things, but also shows possibilities. For example, there have been reports of ancient tribes that have been locked away in the Amazon for decades and still live the same way they did 100 years ago.

Whenever I come back from overseas and land at Norman Manley International Airport, it is always a great feeling to touch down in the land of my birth, as I am sure many Jamaicans living overseas feel. However, after leaving the picturesque view of the Palisadoes strip, you find yourself quickly descending into the decay of our capital city.

The first thing that hits you is the run-down infrastructure; then moving along Windward Road and Mountain View Avenue, you notice not only further decay, but also the indiscipline on the roads, where the police and government have ceded control to the taxis and buses.

As you drive further into the city, going either through downtown or New Kingston, you will meet the garbage pile-ups, numerous peddlers at the traffic lights, and taxis and buses weaving in and out of traffic, using their vehicles like “weapons of mass destruction”.


As a resident Jamaican, I am all too familiar with the contrast between the orderly environment overseas and the morass of disorder that always greets me on my return to Jamaica. I suspect that a new visitor to the island must be wondering if there is any government in Jamaica. They may have heard the slogan 'Jamaica - No Problem', but I don't think they would have imagined that it meant 'Jamaica - No Accountability'.

So every morning, as I make the arduous journey to work through the traffic, I can't help but wonder, like the new visitor, if there is any governance in Jamaica. Or should I say, if there is any care about proper governance.

Taxis, which are easily identifiable now, drive illegally on the right-hand side of the road, and flash off any oncoming traffic with disgust because they dare to drive (legally) on the left-hand side of the road coming towards them. And don't even try to suggest that taxis should stay in the turning lane, for example when they are turning onto Hope Road from East King's House Road. After all, they have the right to do anything they want, and no government or police can stop them.

' Jamaica - No Problem' means that anyone can establish a small business on the sidewalk by just deciding that they will set up a stall, and to hell with pedestrians who try to make rightful use of the sidewalk. And woe betide any female driver who dares to reject the “services” of boys who flock to wipe their windscreens. And you'd better not offer them less than $100 for the “service” they have imposed on you.

If you are misled into believing that as a Jamaican you have any right to peace and quiet, you will be sorely disappointed, because the party promoters have a lot of clout and will play their music as loud as they want at any time of day or night. You are crazy to think that because you go to the United States and see where noise levels are controlled, you can come to Jamaica and think you deserve the same privilege.

In fact, if you have children who are too young to watch PG programmes or listen to X-rated lyrics, tough luck. They will just have to stay in their beds and listen to the lewd lyrics from the music being played two blocks away. Why do you think that you have the right to determine whether your child listens to expletives or abusive lyrics being played through loudspeakers at parties? That is the right of the promoter, and no government or policeman can stop that.


And if people want to squat on government land and put up concrete structures, that is their right also, as long as they are delivering votes. It is no business of the government to tell anyone where they can build or if they want to operate a garage in a residential community.

If someone chooses to take unauthorised leave from work, the employer has no right to tell them they cannot, and if the employer dares to dismiss them for it, then they will just go to the IDT and put the employer in his place because he failed to follow a year-long process. No employer has any right to demand high levels of productivity from any worker, or they will be forced to pay monies which they were unable to earn because of low productivity.

And if you are ill-advised enough to sue someone for committing a crime, or because of abuse by any arm of the State, then you must suffer the high legal costs of having the matter adjourned repeatedly, and become familiar with the comatose justice system, because you will be in court for at least five years.

After five years, if the judge thinks you have suffered long enough and awards you any costs, especially against the State, you had better bequeath the amount to your grandchildren, because you will not see any payment in the rest of your time on Earth.

Does anyone think I am exaggerating? I am no crime expert, but how do we expect to solve crime and get economic and social development in the kind of system I have outlined above? Sadly, this is Jamaica's reality - not a fictional place.

Year after year, the Global Competitiveness Report tells us that crime and bureaucracy are the two main impediments to economic growth, which is essential for social development, but instead of addressing the root cause of disorder and indiscipline, we tinker around the edges while undermining our true potential as a nation.


Carl Marsh said...

Dennis Chung,
Thank you for laying out a short list of our perennial ills that govern and depress quality of life in our paradise island.

Your recount of the drive from the airport home describes a diorama of what life has become in our capital city, once touted as the Queen of Caribbean Cities, now a monument to urban decay and lawlessness. These two conditions go together and reveal the unappealing qualities associated with anomie. In effect, we have become a state that looks as if we are filled with uprooted people in search of pickings just to sustain life. Survival of the fittest become the only order to obey. Not much in nation building can come from coexisting with this state of affair.

Like you, I have travelled widely and lived and worked in many countries on four continents. That experience has provided me the opportunity to see the best and worst of humankind in various settings, such as war and peace. But because we are capable of change, this means there is hope for us to do better here in paradise if we can energise even a few to take an interest to improve the quality of life.

There is a big exception, though, as far as we as Jamaicans are concerned. From every walk of life in districts, villages and towns, among high born and poor, it seems as if a conscious effort was made to aid and abet the degradation in quality of life and ceding ground to lawlessness that has settled like a blanket over us. This gradual collapse appears to me, having been away for over 30 years, to have been accompanied by a loss of voice from civil society.

It follows that in countries where civil society has ceded space to government and the for-profit sector, accountability from those who govern or deliver services to society becomes a casualty. A feature of settled states show that all reserve powers not granted to these two sectors I named above, devolve to civil society as part of good governance.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, which make me feel that there is hope yet for a revival of public interest in the quality of life and governance in Jamaica.
Cheers, Carl Marsh

Rita Lecky said...

I just came back from Jamaica. This describes Jamaica as is. It's a very sad sititution.

Unknown said...

A veritable race to the bottom. I've just been to a small country called Brunei, sure they have a rich royal family and oil, but what really got me deep in the feels, many of the plants I know from St Thomas were there. It was like " Hi, I'm Jamaicas more organized twin." No crime, cleaned up movies and tv, the highways were excellent on the outside even the buildings reminded me of Jamaica, but the talent and the love of the people made it so high quality. Jamaica can be so much more brothers.

Noir BangkokBlack said...

Brunei is a fascist dictatorship ruled by this Royal Family under Sharia law and Muslim oppression. Sure the country is slick and clean and the trains were always on time during Mussolini's rule. Everything and everybody better walk the line ---- or else!
The will to have a fruitful community must come from the people themselves. If they lose all hope because of oppression and corrupt government the results are what you see in Jamaica and elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Mr Chung
You 'hit the nail on the head' describing some adverse factors that makes the catchy phrase 'Jamaica no problem' of the past. But what shocks me is the open begging that greets me even from working class associates - and the stakes are high or else "But dat a no money". They want help with $350K funeral, $3M car, $170K deposit on house. So, yes lawlessness and corrupt legal and government system is obvious which walk in hand with the flow of money. Money that is not circulating to social and economic development . Its easier to turn a blind eye and neglect - its more selfishly rewarding.

RasBenjiMassop said...

Oh, if only this writer had some influence. Oh, if politicians had ears to hear what she says.
I'm afraid the truth she speaks will become 'dust in the wind',as that's what they do in Jamaica. They live in a "survivalist" mode which DEMANDS 99% of the attention to surviving the present, and 1% at an expectation of a future.
Exaggerated, yes, but that's how it feels.
One Love Still!

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