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Reading the signs on the 2019 road

Al Miller

Sunday, January 27, 2019

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The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible. — Winston Churchill

PRIME Minister Andrew Holness, on Tuesday, January 1, 2019, delivered in print in both national newspapers what the US would call a State of the Union address. In the Jamaica Observer it was aptly and marvellously titled 'A New Jamaica is Emerging'. In The Gleaner it was more mundanely labelled 'Great Things Happening for Ja'. Of course, both his sympathisers and detractors had a field day in the comments section of the online versions of the newspapers. Some made meaningful remarks, others could only comment based on the green or orange colour of their reading spectacles.

The events of the Christmas holidays are still fresh in our minds, with a part of its message being the central need of the shepherds and the wise men to follow signs. The shepherds had to follow the word of an angelic host and the wise men followed a star. Right at the start of the new year, our new-era prime minister, our chief servant, seems to be inviting us to follow the signs he highlights on the unknown path of 2019.

Because signs are so important to reach a desired destination they need to be correct, and the sign producers trustworthy. The sign both the shepherds and the wise men followed led them to the Saviour. If we follow the signs of our chief servant where will they lead us? Will they lead to the prosperity and peace we all desperately cry for? For this reason it is important to examine the signs given.

Since I am not absolutely sure if the sign-bearer is the Christmas angel of the Lord, as rumour has it that he is seen regularly, outside of Christmas up and down the halls of Gordon House and Jamaica House, where historically not many angels are known to abide — although 'mi hear seh some Christian people a pray fi some a dem fi tun angel in 2019'. Please note I did not say 'fi tun duppy' — I am taking a quick look at the signs given for their merits and demerits.

Firstly, let me say I trust the sincerity, intent and desire of our prime minster to lead us towards the new Jamaica. His track record to date does give him some street credit and shows a willingness to confront and deal with the perplexing issues of our time. He should be congratulated, whether we all agree with his assessment or not, for offering hope in meticulously outlining what he believes are positive signs to get us to our destination. The eye must always be kept on the destination and pressing towards it.

We must rejoice at the gains the nation has made and express deep appreciation to all who have worked to make it happen. Both the technocrats, the Government, and the Opposition for holding everything in good tension. At the beginning of last year I encouraged that we make 2018 a turning point for the nation. I am heartened that we have made some strides. The political rhetoric is trending better, police attitude and approaches are improving under the new commissioner, and a little smoke is rising from the Ministry of Justice suggesting that a little fire has begun.

The major areas that would give a quantum leap to make the turning point believable for the average citizen are:

1) Socially: Evidence of a clean, kinder gentler nation with equity and justice for all where crime and violence are defeated

2) Economically: Verification that the average Jamaican is able to afford basic amenities

3) Politically: Ending corruption and tribalism and garrison cultures

We must now accelerate the above areas to decisively turn the corner towards the new Jamaica. Holness signposts how he will act in 2019. He said, “We cannot and will not slow our pace; much remains to be done. The citizens of Jamaica can be assured that your Government will act responsibly and wisely to build on the gains made through years of sacrifice.”

Our economy continues its recovery and has entered the growth phase. This is certainly a good sign. From my checks it appears many people accept this to be so. The business and finance communities are hopeful. However, it has yet to sufficiently trickle down to affect the lives of the poor for whom must be a primary concern of us all and a particular focus of government.

There is record low unemployment which is certainly movement in the right direction, but we must ensure fair wages to those at the bottom who cannot plead their own cause. In addition, the unemployed youth in our rural areas must be specifically targeted with opportunities that fit their rural nuances. The rural unemployment rate is generally much higher than our national average.

There is a record number of infrastructure projects (road improvements). These are very necessary and will pay dividends tomorrow. However, we should ensure that the contractors do not miss their completion timelines and thereby stretch the patience of our citizens who are excited about the development but severely put out by the many areas of unfinished roadwork.

Nonetheless, there are also a number of areas to which our new-era prime minister referred as signs of progress but which if not carefully revisited and analysed can have negative impact.

We have established a flexible exchange rate. Whereas the Bank of Jamaica governor may be happy with this, there are serious questions to be answered. Is this the way for us, a developing nation, low on production of goods to sell and high on consumer imports. Those who applaud it as ideal could find that what is sweet in the mouth today may 'run belly' tomorrow.

Is this really the governor's choice or an imposition of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that only works with specific supporting factors present?

We are conscious that the good intended may not be realised. It may suit large industrial nations but may not be the best fit for us. The Government must be concerned with the high risk of a fallout from this policy that could severely hurt the economy and the majority of our people who are at the lower rungs of the ladder and unable to handle the shocks. When the dollar rises, as it often will, it is either by natural market forces or can be manipulated by the greedy few in collusion.

May we not be better off to manage growth with a fixed rate, but adjustable? Since we are enslaved by the IMF to employ a fluctuating rate, should not a band control be used with it? Without it the tail could wag the dog.

No crime (murder) prevention strategy has worked yet. It is commendable that the zones of special operations (ZOSO) and states of emergency (SOE) initiatives have resulted in fewer murders for 2018; however, ZOSOs and SOEs cannot really be listed as proven strategies that work. They are not sustainable.

While I am in support of maintaining the SOEs for as long as necessary, I believe 2019 has to be the time to find and apply solutions. It is not beyond us to collectively design and implement workable and sustainable anti-crime strategies and initiatives. We must do it differently in 2019. Draw on the wider pool of ideas in the church and civil society.

The thought of a 'violence commission' to examine and make recommendations for behaviour change may be well intended, but quite unnecessary. It would be a waste of time and money. Enough research has already been done and recommendations made in the many reports filed. Plus there is a wealth of experience available from many of us in the field. The what to do is known; it is to simply do it. I believe that what is needed is a national mobilisation team to galvanise the nation now to inspire and transform the social issues; tackle the poor family life, the lack of values training, and expose our youth to a better way of relating and living.

The year 2019 must be our year of national application and achievement. We must apply the right solutions to the right situations so we can really achieve prosperity for all our people. I am convinced that if we do rightly as best we can, in as many areas of our nation's development as we can, our island nation will be lifted from poverty to prosperity. Let 2019 be the year that we prove the old biblical saying: Righteousness exalts a nation.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.


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