Jamaica, on the face of it, has made amazing progress since Independence in 1962. We have a stable multiracial society; we have never had any political upheaval that leads to dictators; and despite our many incompetent leaders we have had a relatively stable economy.
However, when one takes a deeper look one sees a nation that has wasted its potential and is in the process of doing the same thing again. This needs to be stopped.
Jamaica is fast becoming synonymous with cheap labour and crime. We see this especially with the call centres or the BPO as they like to be called. We see a nation poised to take the mantle as the region’s top spot for cheap services as we allow other more lucrative areas to wither on the vine.
We see programmers and other ICT specialists leaving in droves as the economic environment continues to stifle. We see members of the medical and broader scientific fields abandoning the nation for places like Singapore, Nordic nations and the GCC countries as they aim to expand their horizons while the Government continues to promote jobs that the industry heads admit come here because they can pay pittances.
Jamaica is at a crucial point, as Prime Minister Andrew Holness s recently alluded to, and if it does take the route that the PM wishes us to take, then Jamaica would be condemned to repeating the same sorry history of relying on one (at most two) streams of income that are extremely unstable.
Tourism and its declining trade can be a fickle mistress and the BPOs that are in Jamaica now will abandon us as soon as a cheaper alternative presents itself. When those two industries dry up we will be left to hang just as when bauxite and bananas died locally.
Jamaica needs a revolution of the mind. For too long we have been held captive to the whims and fancies of our leaders as they aim to extract the most from us while not providing any respite or access to decent-paying jobs. Instead of focusing solely on becoming a hub for services and tourism (products that will never lift the masses to a middle class lifestyle) we need to focus on jobs and niches at which we can excel.
We must insist that the Government first and foremost focus on the ICT sector. We have many home-grown programmers and coders who are either sitting in call centres or aiming to leave the island. They simply must be coaxed into staying via better jobs and an ICT sector that looks like it has some long-term viability. If not, Jamaica can expect to be left in the lurch technologically and economically.
The State and private sector should also place emphasis on the pharmaceutical industry and the wider medical industry (and not just medical tourism). This area has so much untapped potential. Jamaica is home to many native and foreign plants and herbs that have medicinal properties, and many natural ‘healers’ who have knowledge of the usage of these plants.
If we were to meld the two together, I am sure that we could have a pharmaceutical industry that would be the envy of the region while also providing decent-paying, stable jobs that would propel the nation forward.
The revolution of the mind is not an easy one. We have been stuck in our ways of economic thinking for centuries. We either extract from the land, sell the raw products and then purchase the finished goods at a higher cost, or we provide cheap labour that locks one in perpetual servitude; neither of which allow for a nation to grow.
This revolution cannot be done alone but it can be done. For example, if companies in the region, say Trinidad oil and Guyanese and Jamaican bauxite were to form a consortium or cartel, they could utilise the region’s engineers, use our human capital as well as non-renewable resources for our own benefits while also keeping the money at home.
If we were to have the private sector fund our university research and development departments imagine what we could achieve? Products and solutions would be specially designed by our technocrats. This would negate having to spend financial resources to pay foreign “experts”.
We can move past this mentality of running the country on two flimsy pillars, and quite frankly it must be done quickly. With the opening up of Cuba, coupled with the ‘interesting’ presidency of Mr Donald Trump, Jamaica needs as many ways to make money as possible.
We have the intelligence to make this revolution both possible and successful, but we have to act quickly because in a fast changing world it is he who changes last who will be the first to hurt.