On 6 August 2012 Jamaica marked its 50th year since independence from UK rule. What a journey it has been for the talawah (tough) island sandwiched between Cuba and Hispaniola (Haiti/Dominican Republican)?
Even before 6th August 1962 Jamaicans was making amazing strides within and outside the country. The achievement of icons like Marcus Garvey, Arthur Wint, Mary Seacole were creating waves beyond its shores long before that ominous moment.
For me some of the greatest achievements from the island since 1962 are as follows:
- Sport: We have managed to produce great sporting high achievers people like Merlene Ottey, Lennox Miller, Don Quarrie, Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell-Brown (Track & Field), Michael Holding, Jeffrey Dujon (Cricket), Mike McCullum (Boxing).
- Music: We have brought to the world reggae, ska, mento, our own version of folk music, led by the likes of The Wailers, Dennis Brown, Myrna Hague, Studio One, Toots, Willard White, Jamaican Folk Singers. How many nations can say they invented a music genre (i.e. reggae) which has gone global? Very few.
- National Housing Trust (NHT): NHT has been the driving force for many working class Jamaicans to own their own home. I wish many other countries such as the UK had done something similar which may have reduced the growth of a welfare state there.
- Common Entrance Examination: Eventually found out to be a flawed policy but this scheme gave many Jamaican children the opportunity to enter high school freely. Prior to then entry to high schools was accessible to so few.
- Louise Bennett-Coverley: She encouraged us to love and appreciate the Jamaican patios language. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hmi-UXZ_tN8
- Politics: Despite periods of high levels of political violence Jamaica is maturing politically amongst the masses. The latest local and general elections showed that Jamaicans have moved gradually from the silly violence that permeated in the 1970s and 1990s. Unlike many new countries Jamaica has managed avoid coups and drawn out civil war. Party politically leaders accept their election defeats gracefully.
- Education: More young people have had the opportunity to successfully pursue their academic or vocational qualifications thanks to the growth in the number of high schools and tertiary instituitions. Special mention to the HEART programme that has been pivotal in allowing creative people to certificate their specialist skills.
- Credit Unions: Credit Unions have assisted in providing the financial means for working class Jamaicans to achieve some of their goals.
Over the next 50 years some of the goals I would love the island to consider are as follows:
- Crime: I would love to see more CCTV cameras installed as a deterrent against crime across the capital towns of Jamaica. CCTVs have proved an effective tool to help solve some crimes in other countries.
- Decriminalising of marijuana/ganja: It’s about time Jamaica is bold enough to take such action and not worry about what Uncle Sam says. Countries like Belize and Uruguay are doing likeswise and Jamaica should stop criminalising the young for a small portion of herb. Having worked for many years in anti drugs department in the UK (Customs and Excise + Home Office) many of my colleagues there thought the law in UK was a waste of time and resources. Even a number of previous Home Secretaries (e.g. Jacqui Smith) have admiited to smoking ganja. What we all forget sometimes is that marijuana has other uses beyond smoking. Tea for example. Other countries will be decriminalising ganga so let us not get caught behind standing still.
- Politics: Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) & Peoples National Party (PNP) have had a stranglehold on our politics since independence under the first- past-the-post Westminster system. This has led to many Jamaicans losing interest in national & local politics. As they feel they have no real say under this rigid system of voting. Maybe it is time for us to consider introducing proportional representation even at local government level. This could allow smaller parties or even individuals to get a greater say in the running of their district, parish and country. The two party system has polarised our country. The 2 party option leaves us with little to choose from if we disagree with either parties’ policies or (non) actions.
- Politics: I would love to see our MPs having to declare all their assets in the public domain before they can be sworn into office. Maybe even their spouses too for good measure. Politics has seemed to be a thriving business enterprise in the past and we do need to be sure that no one is benefiting corruptingly whilst representing their constituency. More accountability and scrutiny of the powers that be please.
- Politics: To ensure we bring in new blood on a regular basis our MPs should not be allowed to serve more that 3 consecutive terms in Parliament. Familiarity can breed contempt for both the MPs and their representatives.
- Sports & Recreation: We are at the very top in track sprinting thanks to the leadership of the likes of Glen Mills, Dennis Johnson and Stephen Francis we must make sure succession planning programmes are in place to continue this success long after these coaches have hung up their whistles and drills…. I would love to see new sports such as handball & rugby introduced across the island. Handball is cross between netball, scrimmage and it is a surprise we have never embraced this simple game. I would to see sports such as tennis, squash, badminton played more widespread in schools and communities beyond Kingston and St Andrew. Jamaica needs to embrace new sports and not stick to the tried and tested.
- Media: Jamaica could do with more courageous and no-nosense investigative journalists in order get at the truth and make our private and public sector masters accountable for their actions and comments. Television/radio stations here should have local programmes dedicated to consumer affairs, solving crime or miscarriages of justice, tracing individuals history. We definitely need a newspaper that digs behind the stories. Brave enough to be fearless in their pursuit to educate and inform. A cousin of Private Eye.
- Media:Digital radio/TV must come very soon.
- Transport: Bring back the island wide passenger trains with new routes.
- Government: Less red tape and a bit more common sense by some civil servants. (Don’t tell a 90 year old man to check with his old school records for proof of his identity). Much more decentralizing of governments to the regions with multi agency functions. Jamaicans should be able to go to one premises in their own parish and get their government related issues sorted rather than having to always travel to Kingston to various offices.
- Banking: Even more less red tape. Promote the benefits of internet banking to the wider Jamaican community.
- Natural Resources/Energy: I hope we can find lots of oiland natural gases one day. Especially nearby Old Harbour! Also an end to the monopolistic supply of water and electricity by the National Water Commission (NWC) & Jamaica Public Service (JPS) respectively. This should force to provider to provide an efficient and effective service to the consumer. A competitive market sould hopefully drive down prices and reduce the number of outages and water shortages (of lack of) that affect many Jamaicans on a regular basis.
- History: More biographies and autobiographies should be written of some of our high achiever or controversial figures who have helped shaped Jamaica. There are huge gaps in Jamaican history that is not recorded and we should not miss the opportunity to do so. Books of important or controversial figures on the like of Lawrence Rowe, Merlene Ottey, Hugh Crosskill, Bunny Wailer, Jimmy Cliff, John Maxwell, Lindy Delapenha, Portia Simpson-Miller, Marcia Griffiths, Rose Leon etc would add a wealth of information and knowledge to avid followers of Jamaican society.
- Health: Government should provide a more mobile health care service. Whereby such services can go to the areas to check on the welfare of the more senior or immobile citizens periodically. Just like the ACLT – African-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust – we need to push for more Jamaicans to give blood and donate bone marrow. I have never seen any such adverts ever on TV. An organ donor card scheme should be introduced nationwide. MPs, local councillors, teachers & medical fraternity should play their part in spreading the word.
- Education: Tertiary institutions should relax their eligibility criteria for certain courses that some mature students would like to pursue. Many a mature student have a high degree of intelligence and commitment; even if they did not perform academically well during their school days. Give them a chance and stop telling people in their 30s to 50s to do high school related CXCs before they can pursue Diploma/Certificated courses.
- Economy: We need to plant and eat more of our home grown products. We have the land let’s make use of it. Relying on imports for products we can produce is just a big joke.
- Technology: Private and public sector can work closely together to make WiFi freely available in rural communities. Both sectors should also combine their resources to educate the senior citizens on modern basic computering including the internet.
- Education: Convey more entrepreneurial behaviour & attitude to the young from a primary school level. Encourage students works on their business ideas during holiday periods too. Embed in to our young people that failing is part of the course and not to give up or feel ashamed or ostracized when they do so. They will be the drivers of change over the next 50 years.