Solving Jamaica’s Problems: Incompetence in Governance

The current inferno at Riverton City is the most glaring example of Jamaica’s incompetence in governance and management.

While the dump burns, the voters choke and the air quality plummets, the powers that be either do quick press conferences to absolve themselves of responsibility (“It’s not poor management but lack of resources!”) or stay quiet and hide their faces (not one Cabinet member has commented on the issue) and even make pleas for private contractors to lend their heavy equipment to help meet the glaring gap (O great and mighty CHEC, hear our pleas and help us, for we cannot do it ourselves!)

But why are we surprised? Why do we expect competence in governance when we (as a society) have never shown any desire to seek competence in governance? Whenever we have had to choose between a competent, responsible, but difficult and challenging way for development or growth vs a quick and easy fix, we chose the quick and easy fix every time. Whenever we have seen the various scandals, selling out, disrespect and poor governance, we have rewarded those persons with re-election. Why are we so upset about incompetence in governance, when it’s abundantly clear that we don’t CARE about incompetence in governance? It is no small wonder that Peter Phillips openly expressed his surprise that the electorate returned the PNP to power after their shoddy track record over 18 years. At least he had the honesty to admit it.

Aerial view of fire at Riverton City dump -Image Source:
Aerial view of fire at Riverton City dump -Image Source:

A country gets the government and governance it deserves, and this Riverton fire is the latest evidence that we, all of us, all Jamaicans, you AND I, do not deserve any better than the crap we are getting because we do not DEMAND better of ourselves or our leaders. We sell our votes for curry goat and white rice, or we withhold our votes for whatever reason. Either way, the result is the same: the politician gets what he wants and considers the transaction over, thus he can do what he wants. If you sell or trade your vote, then the politician considers his debt paid once you get the money or the thing you traded. You have no power over him after that, because the transaction is over. He can say and do anything and you have no recourse to complain, because your vote was a transaction and the transaction is COMPLETE. However, if you vote for someone based on your trust in what he promised, then YOU have the power over HIM. If you choose not to vote, the politician can do whatever he likes since he knows all you will do is talk and talk won’t hurt him.


Beyond the political incompetence is the managerial incompetence. Even if one accepts the “no resources” argument, Jamaica’s public sector (for the most part) is full of political sycophants, non-performers, small-minded and petty bureaucrats whose focus is not on how they can serve the country, but how they can get the most spoils and the highest profile while doing the least work and having the least insight. The faithful few true public servants who desire to do good and benefit the nation are outnumbered by many in higher management who have political or personal agendas, and the silent majority of co-workers who recognize the incompetence but don’t want to make waves or get themselves in trouble. As such, the cycle of incompetence continues, and Riverton blazes, Goat Islands gets ploughed over, corruption persists at the RGD and Tax office, and nothing gets done anywhere because the majority of public sector management is focused on self more than on service.

How can we solve this?

Firstly, we must all vote at the elections. Vote at every election, no matter how unappetizing the options. Pick the lesser of the two evils, or vote for the independent, but your voice must be heard and even if you don’t want to get involved in advocacy or protesting or speaking truth to power, your vote is the most potent voice you have. Don’t sell it for pottage, don’t trade it for temporary benefits, don’t withhold it as a misguided protest. Vote to reward, vote to punish, vote to make a change, vote to keep the status quo, but VOTE. Your non-vote enables the status quo, empowers the current politicians in their current path, and provides further evidence that all the verandah and Twitter chatter is just the “Articulate Minority” which can be safely ignored. Bad mind and bad words never changed a politician’s mind yet, but wait till the time comes for voting. If he knows you won’t cast a ballot, why should he listen to you?

Secondly, the public sector must be reformed without regard to political affiliation or personal agendas. Public sector workers should get the substantial pay increases they deserve and need, but those increases should come with increased scrutiny and job performance review. There should be a method to allow wider society to rate/review their experiences at various public sector agencies, whether by anonymous website surveys or questionnaires. This would allow people to report any incidents of corruption or bribery, and give a safe way to indicate issues that are currently open secrets (the ease of buying a Driver’s license, the birth certificate racket at the RGD, whatever the hell happens at the Wharf, etc). Any public sector agency that receives a low rating from the wider society would trigger an automatic audit and review by an independent oversight body which would check everything from management to office attendant, and make PUBLIC reports and recommendations based on the audit findings. This would ensure that whatever is hidden will come to light and we can see what the Government will do when these things come to light. If the government slaps them on the wrist, endorsing the corruption…well, that’s what the first point was about: VOTING.

Finally, we must expect and do better for ourselves. If we do not value ourselves and do better for ourselves, we cannot expect our leaders to value us or do better for us. Too long in Jamaica, we’ve said “Somebody needs to do something!” It’s time for us to become that somebody. Whether we step up or we stay the same, we will get the leadership we deserve. If we deserve better, we must demand better and do better.

Don’t let Riverton be a 9-day wonder. Elections are coming. Make your voice heard.

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