Monday, January 16, 2012

The Inauguration of Portia Simpson Miller

Prime Minister of Jamaica
Basil Waine Kong, Ph.D., JD

On January 5, 2012, I was on hand and beaming with unbridled pride as, The Right Honorable Portia Simpson Miller, took the oath of office as the Seventh Prime Minister of Jamaica pledging sovereignty, economic prosperity and social transformation. I believe more than ever that Portia Simpson Miller represents the truth and the way forward.

It was a momentous moment and a dramatic day. Pride mixed with high expectancy was in the air as the 10,000 people filed into the grounds of Kings House, as well as millions more around the globe who watched on line and applauded enthusiastically as PM repeatedly struck the right notes such as when Mr. Andrew Holness was introduced as the “Leader of the Opposition”.

I am sitting about 20 rows from the platform thinking and marveling: “What’s the difference between a small farmer and a doctor?” What is the difference between one woman from Wood Hall, Trelawney living on modest means, and the Prime Minister of Jamaica? Ladies and Gentlemen, the answer? One generation. I am glad that I live in a country where the Portia Simpson Miller story is not even unusual. No matter how difficult the circumstances, we rise. We rise because the prevailing value in Jamaica is that our children should exceed their parent's achievements. When I was thirteen years old, if you had placed both my mother and father in a police lineup, I could not have recognized either one of them . And yet, this little bare foot boy from country (Woodlands, St. Elizabeth) became a lawyer and traveled to 100 countries AND more importantly produced four children who are all more successful. It was worth pondering.

Three years ago, I sent the following letter that was published in the Gleaner (October 17, 2009) that proved to be prophetic.
Why I Support Portia Simpson Miller
Basil Waine Kong, Ph.D., JD

I believe that People’s National Party President, Portia Simpson-Miller, is a rare gift to Jamaica and to humanity. She is charismatic, astute, a visionary who cares deeply about the people and the future of Jamaica. She is an unselfish leader who never places personal ambitions ahead of her public duty.

This talented and gifted leader is restrained from letting her light shine because of bad-minded and prejudiced people who oppose her because she is a strong woman in a chauvinistic society. She is also held up to ridicule by uptown people because she is one of the few politicians who consistently advocate for the poor and down trodden. She persists in proposing changes that would “lift all boats” and the defenders of the status quo just as consistently attack her for her advocacy. According to Marcus Garvey: "If one wants to do good for the masses of Jamaica, 'Big Brains' will plot, conspire, and do everything to destroy you and your name." It is a callous and a sad commentary on those who say: "Portia loves poor people so much, she wants to make everybody poor."

According to Party Leader: “Many of the rich and powerful in Jamaica have never heard of Psalm 41:1 (Blessed is he that considereth the poor), the Sermon on the Mount or the story of the Good Samaritan.” She envisions a kinder, gentler nation recognizing that we are all in the same boat. "How we treat the least of us, the poor, the old and the infirmed is a reflection of our moral conscience. This generation, must be mindful of our place in history." She quoted Nelson Mandela as having said: "The generosity of the human spirit can overcome all adversity. Through compassion and caring, we can create hope."

"Our country will be judged by how we treated people in need and what we did to educate, house, feed, clothe and provide economic opportunity, prosperity and security for ALL Jamaicans." All she strives to do is provide a gateway for ALL Jamaicans, meet our citizens where they are (not where we would like them to be), equip them to be better participants in society, and empower them to build a good life for themselves, their families, and their communities.

In contrast, she said: "The Jamaica Labour Party is only invested in complaining that their fellow citizens aren’t further along, setting them up to fail, and drawing the walls and fences higher around themselves. Their agenda for Jamaica is for the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

It was been a great privilege for my wife and me to sit down with Party Leader and hear at length what she is about. I hope it does not surprise people to know that our Party Leader has a substantial knowledge of a wide range of subjects but also very humble and engaging. She can walk and talk comfortably with Queens, Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers of the cloth as well as the good citizens of Jamaica. Sister P cares.

I asked her the question that is on the minds of many:”Is Sister P ready to run the country? Can you take us forward?” She said with confidence, "I do not shrink from this responsibility, I welcome it. I have assembled the most marvelous talent that will help me to move this ship forward. But while I have great faith and trust in my advisors, my imprimatur is to do what justice, humanity, and reason tell me I must do. The People of Jamaica are my masters. My contract is between those who came before us, those who are living and those yet to be born. I do not want to make slaves of future generations by burdening them with debt on funds that were not used to create economically viable assets. I recognize that we cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong, increase wages by ruining those who pay the wages or help the poor by destroying the rich. We also destroy character by doing things for people that they should be doing for themselves."

"Maybe the greatest difference between the JLP and the PNP is that we believe in preventing crises and the JLP believing in trying to deal with disasters after the fact. The truth is that we can do a great deal more to prevent unemployment by preparing our citizens for productive work on the one hand and expanding business on the other. We can significantly reduce how much we spend on health care by promoting healthier lifestyles and we can accelerate our use of alternative energy like the sun, the ocean and the wind on the one hand and more fuel efficient automobiles on the other. Preventing crime and violence is certainly more effective than crating environments that promote criminal behavior, arresting, and then having to feed, clothe and otherwise provide for their needs at great public expense.”

When we parted, my wife and I each got one of her famous hugs that also told us about her kindness. I am now among her strongest supporters, and was pleased to be formally introduced in her speech to the delegates at the PNP Annual Conference in October, 2009. The more I get to know her, the more convinced I am that Jamaica would be in great hands under her leadership and what Jamaica needs right now is to change the party in power.


A cross section of Jamaican society (the people who elected her, members of parliament from both parties, the judiciary, religious leaders, foreign high commissioners and other diplomats, etc., etc., etc.,) were present when she came up from the shadows, up the stairs into the light to further fire up the crowd with a marvelous message of hope for our troubled economy that is plagued by a high rate of poverty, illiteracy, crime, homelessness and increasing foreign debt.

The set up for her speech was The Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen’s challenge to the country to support the new government now that the people have spoken. He also quoted a Chinese Philosopher who professed that when a great leader retires and hang up his/her spurs, the people will proclaim that, “WE” did it. This is at the core of what our Prime Minister believes. Her practice is to consult and obtain consensus before embarking on new ventures.

It was a magnificent speech. She said she came through the fire and is now a much better person and a much more patient and thoughtful leader for having endured the slings, arrows and everything else that was thrown at her in an attempt to defeat her spirit. It only made the victory that much sweeter and her resolve to advance “Brand Jamaica” as a good place to do business, visit, raise healthy families and where individuals can be all they want to be.

We can and must do better to be civil and uplifting of each other. She is committed to restore the breach in the eyes of the world. This will be achieved by eliminating corruption, increasing transparency and establishing meaningful partnerships with the people. With all hands on deck, focused and determined, we will rise and we will shine. Importantly, to great applause, she pointed out that the time has come for Jamaica to be established as a true republic without supervision from Britannia.

We owe a gold star to whoever arranged for the entertainment. If you think Jamaica’s talent is deep in sprint races, I hope you saw it all. Our talent is even deeper in entertainment. In every instance, I clamored for more. The Glenmuir Choir was great, The Tivoli Dance Troupe was wonderful, Shaggy was bombastic, and the Jamaica Regiment Band was absolutely professional, especially when they accompanied Shaggy when he sang: “Strength of a Woman” pointing directly at our Prime Minister who thoroughly enjoyed the moment. My favorite, however, was the Mona Preparatory School Speech Choir. The Speech Ensemble recited Marcus Garvey’s speech: “No Master But God” in grand style. How do I get to see them perform in a full concert? They looked good, moved good, spoke good and walked good. These boosey boys so reminded me of me when I performed in a similar choir at Springfield All Age School in St. Elizabeth in 1958 under the direction of Ms. Mavis Smith!

The after inaugural reception at the Wyndham Hotel capped off a perfect day, toasting, meeting new friends, reconnecting with the old and making plans with the current. While I was disappointed with the sound system that only half the audience could hear, our Prime Minister graciously accepted the congratulatory comments heaped on her, made informal remarks and I enjoyed one of her famous hugs. It was everyone’s consensus that “The Right Honourable Portia Simpson Miller”, Prime Minister of Jamaica, is an easy person to support! She is now a highly respected Woman for all seasons.

While my MP is Julian Robinson, On Friday evening, I had occasion to attend one of Andre Hylton’s victory celebrations and was most impressed with his people skills. He is well known for his passion for cars and voluntarism driven by his passion to serve. His philosophy is to do as much good as he can to serve the people. This will be a hard working member of parliament. It was very enlightening for me to engage his supporters in a wide range of topics relating to improving the lives of Jamaican citizens.

I am proud to be asked serve the administration as a member of the Prime Minister's “Think Tank” to analyze problems and plan future developments. While the Planning Institute of Jamaica is already charged and committed to leading the process of policy formulation on economic and social issues and external co-operation management to achieve sustainable development, in our two hour meeting with her at Jamaica House on Thursday (January 12), she charged us to develop innovative ideas and review contemplated initiatives (JEEP) for their impact on all the segments of our society. Our group of 12 (disciples) is phenomenally enlightened and accomplished individuals, who, I believe, are up to the task.

As for my personal priority, ever since I read Professor Don Robotham’s dire warnings of the dangers of frustrating the talents and ambitions of our youth that I would even go so far to characterize this as country suicide. Other than the urgency of fixing the economy, we must move quickly to set our youth on a course of achievement and prosperity.

According to the Professor Robotham, the more than 670,000 persons in the 20-29 age group, about 400,000 are either unemployed or not in the labour force. Nearly 60 per cent is jobless. But worse, more than 80 per cent of the unemployed 19-29-year-olds have stopped looking for work. Add to this dismal picture the fact that nearly 90 per cent, or more than 220,000, in the 15-19 age group are neither in school, nor have jobs. This is a crisis of great proportion.

May God Bless our Prime Minister and May God Bless Jamaica. Mi joyous!

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Poor Does Not Have to be With Us Always

Can We End Poverty in Jamaica?
Basil Waine Kong

I was amused to learn recently that the winners of the US$250,000,000 Powerball lottery were three millionaires (asset managers) in Connecticut. It started me thinking about how and why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I am also thinking of the gentleman who prayed fervently but futilely every day for God to bless him so he could win the lottery. Finally God had to speak directly to the gentleman: “If I am going to help you win the lottery you should at least buy a ticket. I can only help those who help themselves.”

A year ago, a country gentleman told me that his father advised him that going to school was a waste of time and that as long as he could dig a yam hill he would be fine. So, for fifty years, he has been cutting cane and planting his ground on an acre of land he rents---never expecting to own his own land. Not even in his dreams could he see himself owning adequate tools of his trade, a house, a tractor or even a bicycle. I now learn that illiterate persons will no longer be allowed to participate in the Government's overseas farm work program. According to Minister of Labour, Derrick Kellier, persons applying to pick fruit and plant beans in Canada must know how to read, write and do arithmetic. What is the future of the twenty percent of Jamaican citizens who cannot read or write? Do we just blame the victim and move on?

My fervent prayer is for the poor to get richer. But my wise friend and golfing buddy insist the rich have all the luck. I tell him that that the harder I practice and work at my game, the luckier I get. While it is a common occurrence for rich children to turn out to be worthless bums and a few children from poor families become accomplished heroes and stars. In the absence of people with extraordinary talent and discipline, as a rule it doesn’t happen often. Babies of the rich are fed delicious and nutritious meals with silver spoons, exposed to the movers and shakers of society as they grow up, go to the best schools, have access to effective healthcare, get tutors to help them learn how to handle their knife and folk, play a musical instrument and to excel in sports, travel, learn to speak eloquently, dress to impress, have their choice of employment from their extensive network of family connections and then they win the lottery. On the other hand, the poor child face daily struggles to get a plate of food each day in single parent households, crime, may or may not go to school, survive by catering to the rich, sleep on the hand ground with a rock stone for their pillow, hustle to make a living and die ten years before his rich counterpart only because he was born at the wrong address.

Will the poor always be with us? Several countries including several the size of Jamaica (Singapore, Botswana, Bermuda, Kuwait, and Oman) have now wiped out poverty. That’s right---no poor people. Everyone has a floor they can comfortably live with. What do these countries have in common?

Two Harvard professors (Acemoglu and Robinson) did an analysis of two cities and wrote:
“In Nogales, a city cut in half by the Mexican-American border fence. There is no difference in geography between the two halves of Nogales. The weather is the same. The winds are the same, as are the soils. The types of diseases prevalent in the area given its geography and climate are the same, as is the ethnic, cultural, and linguistic background of the residents. By logic, both sides of the city should be identical economically.

And yet they are far from the same.

On one side of the border fence, in Santa Cruz County, Arizona, the median household income is $30,000. A few feet away, it's $10,000. On one side, most of the teenagers are in public high school, and the majority of the adults are high school graduates. On the other side, few of the residents have gone to high school, let alone college. Those in Arizona enjoy relatively good health and Medicare for those over sixty-five, not to mention an efficient road network, electricity, telephone service, and a dependable sewage and public-health system. None of those things are a given across the border. There, the roads are bad, the infant-mortality rate high, electricity and phone service expensive and spotty.”

The key difference is that those on the north side of the border enjoy law and order and dependable government services — they can go about their daily activities and jobs without fear for their life or safety or property rights. On the other side, the inhabitants have institutions that perpetuate crime, graft, and insecurity.”

Jamaica has fourth-highest poverty rate at 43.1 per cent compared with our 23 regional neighbours and according to the IMF over one million Jamaicans live on less than US$2.50 per day. Is it possible for our politicians to accept the fact that what we have been doing is not working and our government and bureaucracy is causing poverty? Can we join together and establish a national mandate to reverse it?