The concept of time seems to escape our notice whenever we speak. Perhaps our Jamaican language does not always follow the traditional tenses as formerly taught in Grammar classes. This in itself may have an impact on measurement that can severely affect governance and business processes.
“We built” means that there is a full completion of a project. “We are building” means that construction is underway but not finished. “We will build” means that something is promised for the future but the timeframe may be uncertain. The future tense is the favourite of the politicians who may hope that we will either forget or that they will retire not having accomplished the promise.
The English language itself does a poor job of differentiating between completed and finished. Here is a brief explanation as told to me by a friend: “If you marry the right woman, you are complete. If you marry the wrong woman, you are finished. And if the right woman catches you with the wrong woman, you are completely finished.”
In Jamaica, where things are already fairly confusing, the incorrect terminology in politics and business is a recipe for disaster. It fails to identify the implementation time for laws, production, and action.
Take the case of the recent rains. “We will be putting in place measures that will prevent the damage to crops and homes,” but people are already flooded out and not for the first time. So if this happens again in the hurricane season where will the project be at that time? Also, is this the first time that these areas have been flooded? And finally, with all the controversial expenditure on the cleaning of drains and bushing would it seem that the right places were attended to?
The private sector shifts its focus towards blaming every problem except the one in their control. “We will be productive when oil and electricity prices go down”. “We will produce and export when crime goes down.” “We will produce when the bureaucracy that surrounds exports is reduced.” “We will be productive when loans go into single digits.” “The rapacious banks are not lending to businesses.”
However, a decline in the quarterly export figures belies their own mantra of growth. It seems that they will take no responsibility for their own well-being and correct their own lethargy. Today, even people in war-torn countries are going to work, so what is wrong with us?
The education system says it will produce better results when its professionals are paid better, and yet does not wish to take responsibility for the quality of their teaching skills. Health says it will perform better if only it had equipment, and then turns around and abuses the new equipment, causing frequent breakdowns. Road works promise to fill potholes but are limited in supplies of asphalt as the suppliers are not paid on time.
“Itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the water spout; down came the rain and washed the spider out; out came the sun and dried up all the rain; and the itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the sprout again.” This nursery rhyme/lullaby in many ways represents a satirical look at the futility of madness that does the same thing over and over but expects different results.
We put the marl in the road and no asphalt cover; then down comes the rain and washes out the marl, leaving a larger and more dangerous hole. We do not invest in improved production equipment while waiting for Godot, and we expect that we will be more competitive. I contend that if electricity was free, most Jamaican businesses would still be uncompetitive and unsustainable.
Sometimes mendicancy and kindness are parts of the same coin, and represent the proverbial one step forward and two steps back (perhaps nothing more than a well-executed dance step that looks good on a Thursday night with Merritone). The loans from multilateral sources have to be repaid and are at best only a painkiller, not a cure.
Nightclubs and amusement parks look spectacular in the “nature’s best makeup”, that is the darkness; and for people who have to clean up in the day the premises reek of smoke and alcohol. The painted patrons are gone home, a few left vomit behind, the toilets are clogged, the air-conditioning is off, the furniture is soiled, but the show will be ready for the next gaudy night. This is supported by the champagne and cognac people with no transparent sources of income.
“Hovering by my suitcase, trying to find a warm place to spend the night; a heavy rain a falling, seems I hear your voice a calling; it’s alright” (Rainy Night in Georgia; writer: Tony Joe White 1967). A sad song about heartbreak and poverty and maybe Jamaica, but it’s not alright is it?
“How do you raise a kid in the ghetto, feed one child and starve another, tell me tell me Legislator” (Marlena Shaw). This is a protest song that challenges us to break the chain of poverty and ignorance; it represents one way out of crime and poverty by requiring a collective legislative conscience. I apologise to the younger readers who, by our (Baby boomers) negligence, have lost the revolutionary zeal and have forgotten the fight for good over evil.
We have a Vision 2030 which is no more than a promise that may never be seen by people in the 70-80 year-old age group who would have been around at the birth announcement of the dream. Based on the interim progress reports this “we will announcement” is falling far behind its goals and is in danger of becoming “I have a nightmare”.
Rescue of this dream needs past analysis and current action in order to correct the future direction towards 2030. Like a sailing ship that has been blown off course by heavy winds and seas, we need to re-establish our current position by global positioning, and chart a new course to get back on schedule.
The two political parties need radical overhaul, as do Parliament, governance, and the mindset of the private sector. The attitude of the citizens needs to espouse positive goals that are based on legal, rather than criminal endeavours. Survival needs to be a work game and not the blame others game.
It is a time for action, not for promises; for doing things; for enforcing legislation; for honesty and integrity; by all sectors of the economy; while at the same time requiring that citizens comply with basic laws immediately. We need a firm but fair enforcement policy, and a consistent set of rules.
Progress in life requires a system. It requires positive change and renewal. It requires consistent values. It requires constant change. It is a plan, not a buck-up.