Jamaicans took time-off from their routines to celebrate the victories of their sporting heroes at the recently held Olympic Games in London. The achievements Messrs Bolt, Blake, Price, etc, Carter, Frater et al were enthusiastically celebrated and applauded by thousands of Jamaicans. So far as I am aware, there have as yet been no motorcades and no awards of money, land or other good to the athletes. This was due in part to the fact that the champions did not all return at the same time. It is also said that Jamaica did not have the cash to make monetary gifts to their sporting heroes. It is to be noted, too, that there were many athletes who would have had to be rewarded, and fiscal resources were scarce.
While in Jamaica, where I spent the last week attending a UWI conference, I took time to enquire as to the mix of factors which served to produce so many outstanding sprinters. What could Jamaica teach us in this regard? My attention was drawn to a critical statement made about the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association. It was said that the JAAA could not take any praise for what had been achieved and that the kudos should more properly be given to the Inter-Secondary School Athletic Association (ISSAA), school coaches, local clubs and scholarships at American universities and high schools.
One critic described the JAAA as a "dead beat dad", who behaves like the absentee father who lives "in foreign", who visits home sporadically, does little to assist his child financially, does little fathering and then beams with pride at the child's high school graduation.
He believes that the time had come for Jamaica to hire specialist coaches from abroad, and to structure a vision and policies that would take Jamaica into the next anniversary, particular in respect of the less flashy field events. I was a little taken back on reading the comment.
At the conference indicated above, which focussed on what had taken place in Jamaica over the past 50 years and where it should try to go in the next 50, many questions were asked as to what would have happened had Manley, Williams and Bustamante made different choices in respect of Federation. Who stood to gain and who to lose? Who did whom a favour? Would the Eastern Caribbean have been better off? Would their agony have been less?
Williams has told us that the failed referendum was only the ostensible reason for the collapse of Federation. To quote him: "I say it openly that if Jamaica had won the referendum, I was going to propose that they reject the Lancaster Conference. The Party would have been free to join Federation, (but) with another leader. I would have been false to my conscience. I would not have agreed to take on the responsibilities for putting that rope around the necks of the people of Trinidad and Tobago by accepting that bastard Federation that was created at Lancaster House."
Williams was not willing to negotiate with the leaders of the Eastern Caribbean and above all with Grantley Adams whom he despised. In his view, these leaders were mendicants. He warned to have nothing to do with them. He also feared that they would work with the DLP to destroy PNM rule and raid PNM's Treasury. The relationship between the leaders was described by Arthur Lewis as being "awful". How did Jamaica fare?
There was a division of opinion among Jamaican scholars as to whether the correct choices were made in 1962. Those who belong to the "PNP tribe" seem to believe that the "wrong mistake" was made in the years after 1962 and that the time had now come to correct those errors.
The PNP, under Portia Simpson's leadership, seems determined to ensure that Jamaica concludes its constitutional independence by cutting all remaining ties with the Privy Council without having to have the matter determined by a popular vote. The Prime Minister seems quite determined about the matter.
The JLP leader of the Opposition (whom I once taught as a graduate student,) thinks the "right mistake" was made by Bustamante and those who opposed Federation. Their view then was that Independence could be made to work by Jamaicans for the benefit of Jamaicans. In their view, the right thing to do then was to devote the energies and resources which they had to build Jamaica rather than share Jamaica's scarce resources with the poverty-stricken islands of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean.
Many now concede that they underestimated what was needed in terms of investment capital, social and human capital, but that the people would have to make that decision in a referendum. There is however still strong anti-Trinidad sentiment in Jamaica, especially in matters relating to the commanding heights of the economy, and there is no guarantee that a positive vote on the CCJ would be achieved.
It was now generally conceded by all while there was some growth and development in the Jamaican economy, there was a great deal of waste and not a little corruption associated with the process. Jamaica has become one of the most highly indebted states in the world. Indeed, Jamaica was indeed more like Greece and Belize than it was willing to admit.
Belize, it is noted, will definitely not be able to meet the payment on its external debt at the end of the 30 days grace period, and is certain to default. Many Jamaicans fear that like Belize, creditors could seize all Jamaica's foreign assets unless the IMF comes to Jamaica's assistance.
As bad as the economy is, some critics believe that Jamaica's politics is even worse, bedevilled as it is by exceptional tribalism, exceptional gang violence, and exceptional clientelism.
There is a great deal of concern and debate about the Constituency Development Fund which allocates to each Member of Parliament J$20 million to spend as he or she chooses in his/her constituency. Most MPs defend the Fund on the ground that the Jamaican state does not have the capacity to disburse budgetary resources, especially in the rural areas, and that the input of the MP is needed to expedite activity. Bureaucracy is said to cause many good projects to remain unimplemented.
The money is currently used for a variety of things —schoolbooks, repairs to houses, environment programmes, community centres, infrastructural needs, roads and drains etc. The MP decides what his allocation would be used for. The advice which I got from some of my colleagues with whom I discussed the matter is that Trinidad should treat the CDF system with caution. They see it as one of the surest ways to entrench corruption, nepotism and party patronage, and the tribalism which is associated with them.
Some critics want the system reformed. The latter criticise it on the ground that all constituencies get the same $20 million regardless of need. They argue that there should be a needs assessment determined by an impartial survey. Generally, supporters think the programme is a good idea that has gone awry.
Notwithstanding their many anxieties about the future, Jamaicans are now "feeling good" given the distractions of the Independence celebrations and the achievements of their sprint team. They have even been told by producers of the London-based Happy Planet Index research team that they are the third happiest people in the world after Costa Ricans and Dominicans, and that one can be happy not withstanding ones poverty. There is, however, likely to be a change of mood sooner rather than later as the critical realities of their economy becomes more widely perceived.