GSAT is an exam that all students in Grade 6 in Jamaica have to do in order to be placed in one of the hundreds of government run secondary schools on the island. Standards of performance vary widely from secondary school to secondary school, with the better performing ones being in the minority. There is therefore stiff competition, with literally thousands of children vying for only scores of places in these more desirable institutions. Here’s a letter that I wrote to the editor of our leading daily, the Gleaner, that was published on Wed Feb 29. It got Letter of the Day.
Yesterday they were part of motorcades and parades and mass fetes…fists pumping, hands waving, gyrating to the tunes selected by the talented DJs presiding over the proceedings at the various political rallies all over the island. They lauded their leaders. They lambasted their opponents. They promised the world. Oftentimes, their tone and language was geared to the masses. These rallies where we saw them shine were in the main long on emotion and short on substance.
Then V Day (voting day) came and went. A week or so after V Day, the party which won most of the island’s 63 seats had their own party leader “crowned” Prime Minister. She then looked to those of her membership who had been victorious, contributing therefore to her own ascendancy, and selected her management team. In this instance, she selected 20 senior managers, if you will. She “restructured” the government…and I say “restructured” tongue in cheek, because what we’ve seen so far is to my mind, a re-naming of portfolios. I have to wait and see the functions and outworkings of the governments are actually aligned to these new names before I hug up this “restructuring”. Even in my own professional experience I’ve seen critical functions undergo grand renaming exercises under the guise of “restructuring” and the key performance indicators show little improvement. What’s the point!
Some people had issue with the size of her management team. To be truthful, that did not bother me. I am more interested in the output than the size.
I remain wary, however, of the role of the Minister and what qualifies him/her to be there! The Minister, I believe, is supposed to be responsible for crafting policy, articulating a vision for the function and managing the resources of the state such that sustainable development is the end product of their efforts. Can these people actually do that? Do they even know where to begin? Where did they learn their craft? Yesterday they were pandering to the lowest common denominator and today they are senior visionaries and administrators? I suppose that’s why God created Permanent Secretaries. They’re supposed to be the technically sound experienced administrators…But in every relationship it makes sense to identify the power balance early on. So let’s see: Permanent Secretary and Minister…hmmm…where does the power actually lie? So who will therefore influence outcome?
I think I will call my brethren Lee Kwan Yew later this morning. He seems to have gotten it right somehow. Yes, yes, yes…he made us a tad bit uncomfortable in the way he seemed to embrace a sort of bureaucratic elitism and kind of played roughshod with our ingrained notions of the (grand) “rights of the individual” (we sometimes ignore the (grander?) rights of the society!). Ideologies and philosophical debates aside, Singapore has a pretty good track record and I think just maybe, we can learn a little something about public policy, public administration and working effectively from my pal Lee. We should be so lucky.
Let us track performance against what they promised (refer to the Manifesto and the Progressive Agenda). If it’s too onerous to track all 20, choose 3 key ones and follow up. Write, speak out and question when their own KPIs are off track.
People Power indeed.
published: Thursday | July 19, 2007
The Editor, Sir:
I am deeply offended by the Prime Minister presenting herself to the citizens of Jamaica as ‘Mama’. To suggest to us that we should vote for her, that we should vote for any one of the 60 candidates of her party, because “a vote for them, is a vote for Portia”, is an insult to our intelligence as a people.
Jamaica needs a leader who very clearly understands, and indeed demonstrates, that he or she understands what the role of the state is. The role of the state, simply put, is to create conditions that facilitate economic growth, to create conditions where it is difficult for crime to flourish, and to protect those in society unable to protect themselves. If the Government succeeds in doing these things, then we will not need anyone to hug us, to kiss us, to rub our heads and tell us ‘not to worry because Mama is in control’.
Jamaica needs a leader who will inspire its citizens to get up and determine our own destinies. This culture of patronage, that the styling of our leader as ‘Mama’ exemplifies, will keep us as a people mired in dependency and continue to give relevancy to dons and politicians, who think that giving out cash and kind is enough for us to entrust them with positions of public leadership.
We demand more.
I am, etc.,
I don’t aim to be preachy. I’ve been through some tough and painful times and I’ve thankfully been able to extract some key learnings that continue to serve me through the highs and the lows of this thing called life. I’d like to share three truths, lessons, learnings…whatever you want to call them. So here goes.
GOOD FRIEN’ BETTA DAN POCKET MONEY (it’s better to have a good friend than a fistful of cash)
Oh.. this is so true! I remember some pretty dark times when the 7:30am call from one particular girlfriend every single day over a few months, to test my emotional temperature, is what sustained me. She listened to me cry, she commisterated with me, she offered help. I remember after work drinks with girlfriends who listened and shared and supported. I remember calls from my flesh and blood sister at just the right times, with words of comfort and faith and support and love. We laughed, we cried, we cussed. And after all was said and done, I came out on the other side with my friends’ support and love.
SELF FORGIVENESS CREATES THE CAPACITY TO FORGIVE AND LOVE
“Be gentle with yourself” is one of the best pieces of advice I ever got. Face up to your mistakes and missteps. Accept responsibility. Make ammends. And then offer grace to yourself.
I know what it feels like to want a kind word. A sympathetic ear. A word of encouragement. Some tangible assistance. And I know the difference it made when I received them. So I would like to believe that I’ve become a kinder person. Everybody has their own story. You may never know what someone is going through. There are people working with you and people who cross your path as you go about your life that have experienced heartbreak, hurt, rejection and loss. Sometimes a kind greeting or a sympathetic ear may be all that it takes for them to keep on keeping on. Bring to mind the times when you were on the receiving end of an act of kindness and resolve to pay it forward. Resolve to be more understanding and tolerant. Demonstrate kindness at least once per day. Volunteer to help those less fortunate than yourselves. Be kind to those close to you and be sensitive to their feelings.
Have a great week!
The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) lost to the People’s National Party (PNP) in the recent National polls here in Jamaica. The following are who I consider to be the winners and losers in the campaign leading up to the elections.
G2K: Generation 2000, or G2K, the youth affiliate arm of the JLP, lost much of the shock and awe factor they displayed in the 2007 elections. This time around, their predominant message was about how wrong the leader of the the then opposition was for the role of Prime Minister. The adverts were cleverly put together, complete with sound effects and made for more than a few laughs, I have to confess (watch one of said adverts here). Mrs. Simpson-Miller was portrayed as loud, war-like and lacking any ability to speak convincingly in public. But were they able to garner votes for the JLP? I don’t think so. Perhaps, the adverts were even seen as insults coming from a group of youngsters who could be her children! Mrs. Simpson-Miller, Mama P to her supporters, has been a public servant and a former Prime Minister in what can be described as a matriarchal society, one where the postion of mother is revered. It is not inconceivable to me that the JLP probably lost votes in their relentless attack on the lady and the absence of a clear message of what the JLP has accomplished and would accomplish given the chance.
I sincerely hope that the G2K honestly assesses their role in the last election, with the input of objective outsiders. If the present leadership of the organisation has to be changed, so let it be. It is certainly worth considering.
Daryl Vaz: Mr. Vaz, mere days before the elections, stood on a platform and declared words to the effect that there were a number of civil servants who were holding back the progress of the government and that they would be rooted out once the JLP was returned to power. I don’t think threats to a huge voting group who were already in fear of losing their jobs under a JLP administration was the best way of garnering support. It probably also turned off voters who were not even civil servants.
Performers who lost their seats: Christopher Tufton and Bobby Montague come to mind. They demonstrated a can-do approach to their work at the national level. This obviously was not seen in their constituencies and they lost their seats in Parliament. I hope they remain in politics. It is in Jamaica’s best interest to have a vibrant and functional Opposition, and I believe these two men have more to offer.
Andrew Holness: Mr. Holness, I honestly believe, has a good grasp on the challenges facing Jamaica. I also am convinced of his sincerity in wanting to address them and see Jamaica prosper. Having said that, the results of the recent election clearly show that Mr. Holness failed to fire up and inspire his own base, and indeed the wider electorate. A great leader is able to articulate a vision and sell that vision to his people and get buy in and participation. He failed to do so. To the extent that his intentions were misaligned with the results (his party was soundly whipped), I have to declare him a loser. In the shadow of his defeat, I really hope that Mr. Holness, regardless of the forces that pushed him to the top of the ladder in the JLP, will now dig deep and find a way to reshape and reposition the party. It will take determination, a vision, focus, wisdom and strength of character to do this. I would like to see more of Mr. Holness in the future. If not as team leader, certainly, a team member.
Kamina Johnson-Smith: This young lady, a former senator, came out of the woodwork and impressed tremendously. She was part of the JLP manifesto team and therefore secured for herself and her party quite a bit of air-time. As she did the talk-show rounds, she proved that she had a real grasp on the issues. She was an excellent communicator. She demonstrated a perfect blend of agression and passion without being offensive. I remember seeing her go head to head with bright, young, Julian Robinson of the PNP. She made him look positively ordinary in that particular interaction! I hope to see way more of Mrs. Johnson-Smith in the future.
The JLP Manifesto: This beautifully produced document clearly outlined successes and plans as per the JLP. It failed to sell the JLP to the electorate, but the facts therein are indisputable.
These are my opinions. God Bless Jamaica.
Here in Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) just lost their bid to remain government for the next 4-5 years. By all accounts (polls and general sentiment amongst my peerage) the results were going to be close. But methinks no one saw it coming…the People’s National Party (PNP) won the December 2011 election in fine form, winning 41 seats out of a possible 63; the JLP winning 22. The process itself worked…no one has cried foul with respect to the proceedings on Dec 29. I cast my own vote in under 5 min. So how could so many people have gotten in wrong? Here are my own thoughts on the issue. And as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.
Your decision making platform is directly related to your circumstance. So someone with adequate resources at their disposal will process options differently from someone scrambling to have their basic needs met. I believe that the JLP was doing well given the context of the Jamaican and indeed, world economy. Of course, that was from my personal vantage point. I was able to eat well, pay my bills, take modest vacations on the island, live debt free, school my kids, I was gainfully employed and I was even able to save a little. So when faced with missteps that the JLP had made during their term like the mishandling of an extradition request for a known JLP strong man and the resultant chaos and loss of life that this mishandling caused…the mishandling of significant funds that were to be used to fix and build out our roads…the innuendo around the integrity of key players of their administration, I was prepared to overlook the deficiencies in the administration for what I termed “the greater good of managing the economy”.
I suppose the JLP was banking on the majority of persons processing in the same way that I was.
Here’s the thing: the number of people living below the poverty line in the island had increased.
The JLP displayed no empathy for the growing number of people that were finding it increasingly difficult to have their daily needs met. They set out their equations and the numbers looked right. But those equations ignored one critical variable: human emotions. Jamaicans have very clear notions of what disrespect looks like and they reject disrespect very quickly and very definitively. In addition to what the masses perceived as disrespect from the JLP, their ability and willingness to do what I did in overlooking the “missteps” was severely impacted by the awful reality of their lives. They simply did not possess the space to appreciate macro-economic variables being aligned correctly when mounting bills, lack of food, absence of jobs and a rapidly declining standard of living were what they looked at each and every day.
So along came the PNP with declarations of love and promises of jobs in the form of JEEP and clearly articulated understanding of the plight of the people. Love and understanding mean nothing to those of us who are relatively comfortable. But to a drowning man, it appeared a better proposition to the alternative: a regime of suffering and the absence of empathy. Hence, the majority made their decision based on their context and not based on the equations handed out by the JLP or the track record of the PNP for the 18 years they were in power prior to the outgoing JLP administration. The space to make decisions after thorough analysis simply does not exist in Jamaica’s context of poverty, and the JLP ignored, to their downfall, the Jamaican psyche. Thus, they did not frame their communications appropriately. They did not work the communities effectively. Instead of being focused only on what was “right” in terms of managing the economy, they should have placed equal focus on getting buy-in from the Jamaicans who put them there to serve.
Subsequent posts will explore the benefits of a strong Opposition, the JLP’s next steps and hope for Jamaica.