Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Which is More Important in Jamaica: Merit, Preparation, Charisma, Ethics or Who You Know?

Basil Waine Kong

I take issue with recent comments made by our Former PM (P.J. Patterson) claiming that we have a highly capable civil service; a trained cadre of bright, competent public officers in Jamaica. That is certainly not my experience. I am forever being frustrated by one government bureaucrat or other. It is just too difficult to get things done. My observations lead me to believe that Jamaica is a country where relationships reign. You cannot get anything done without knowing somebody. Merit, skills, education, a positive attitude, ethics and good citizenship is useless baggage and count for little if it isn’t combined with connections either by blood or friendship.

This is a summary of a recent letter to the Gleaner (Wednesday | May 18, 2011) from Courtney Washington Joiles, President of Elcore International Fashions: “I recently started the process of transferring my garment-manufacturing business from the United States (US) to a leased space in the Kingston Free Zone…I came home full of hope and faith in my country and my fellow Jamaicans…My experience with getting the manufacturing space ready for operation has been an exercise in frustration. Rarely have I encountered more ineptitude. No one has delivered the service I was promised on time...There have been numerous hurdles - all of them attributable to inefficiencies and lack of communication between cross-functioning departments…Is this the way our country treats investors who are willing and able to contribute to our economy via new jobs?”

It is said that Jamaica is controlled by twenty five families. They not only look out for each other, everyone else is star struck and beat a path to their door, anxious to please. Members of these families are denied nothing because everyone wants access and cannot succeed without their blessing. They never wait in lines and are always favoured in the most glaring way. “Mawning Mass Charlie, you are a busy man, you don’t have time to wait in line, come up to the front.” Strangely, there is no protest from those inconvenienced. There is the prescribed Rube Goldberg way to do things for the general public and the efficient way where relationships take precedence. No employment of the most trivial nature, (well paid or not), is possible if you don’t know the right people and can return the favour. If you are not in a position to dish our favours or exert influence, you will be ignored. And if you are known to be associated with a political party, don’t expect any favours from the other.

If an influential politician is approached by the daughter of a friend who has never worked, has no skills and was too lazy to obtain an education, the government minister will likely say to the Permanent Secretary: “Ms. Johnson, this is Miss. Jones, please find something for her to do with an appropriate salary. She is my niece. No work will be required and when other employees find out about this political appointment, they will decide that they don’t need to work either. But the competent ones will be frustrated as their responsibilities are assumed by these political appointments. To have the friendship of a man of influence and substance is money in the bank. Along the same line, don’t go getting the right people angry. The objective of Social gatherings is not necessarily to have a good time or to relax but to make connections. Your presence is required to succeed in Jamaica while the wheels of government grinds to a halt.

According to Mr. Carl Bliss: (Gleaner, Monday, May 16, 2011) “For so many years, the business/ entrepreneurial community has been screaming at the Government to make Jamaica more business-friendly. Both PNP and JLP governments have promised to do just that. The reality is always different…There is little doubt in my mind that the current environment is decidedly inhospitable to business. Just try dealing with Customs, JAMPRO, the tax department, Companies Office of Jamaica, to name a few, and you are in for a near nightmarish experience. We have a culture which systematically aims at penalising enterprise. Our political, social, economic and policy-support systems will need revolutionary changes if we are to see the type of business-friendly atmosphere necessary to propel us… Almost every agency of the State seems to treat business as the enemy which must be hounded and eventually brought down, at whatever cost.”

This will not happen until we implement an objective merit system for hiring civil servants so we can make use of our most talented people (who are in abundance) instead of our current relationship system.