Jamaica has long faced three major problems — crime (gun crime), financial security/national fiscal independence, and food security/land security. Though our governments, past and present, have tried (some more than others) to tackle these problems, they persist and have become more acute.
Despite measures intended to secure physical security, we have seen skyrocketing rates of violence. Actions and policies designed to promote food security have been accompanied by steadily-increasing reliance more and more on foreign produce while attempts at financial/fiscal independence have resulted in the nation experiencing two financial meltdowns, and a third may be in the offing soon.
Why is it that everyone from Manley up to Holness, a span of almost 50 years, have failed miserably in their attempts to create lasting material gains and security for the people? One reason is that these attempts were all half-hearted. But an even bigger reason behind the consistent failures is that these issues were and continue to be treated as separate and are therefore tackled independently. Consequently, the gains made have always been temporary.
The only way that any solution can be lasting is if they are addressed in a matter that recognises their linkages, and the only way they will be solved is by taking them all on at once.
First, we need to realise the ways in which these seemingly separate issues are all linked together and how tackling one means tackling the others. The illegal importation of guns is a big problem, creating even more crime. We can’t hope to stem the flow of guns entering our shores without taking a stand against the nation which allows these guns to leave their shores unchecked. Everyone knows that the guns come from the US, often via Haiti, and we have had a running dialogue with the Americans about the topic, but nothing gets done.
We are stuck in this position in large part because we are dependent on the US for a large portion of our food. Our actions are also constrained as the US are also one of our largest financial benefactors. We are woefully unable to police our territorial waters, unable or unwilling to take the necessary measures (some even outside the box and not to my liking) because our benefactor insists that we do it their way (in conjunction with the United States Coast Guard and Drug Enforcement Agency) and the guns and drugs keep moving.
I admit, it is a raw and basic example, but it is one which highlights the issues faced with tackling the problems one-by-one and why tackling them collectively is the only solution.
A similar situation exists in the quest for financial stability. We want our people to be financially independent, however, they don’t have jobs because our banks don’t grant loans to start-ups which do employ people. We have innumerable cases of people going through the wringer in terms of checks only to be denied a loan. Banks prefer to finance the purchase of consumer items such as motor vehicles.
We can’t do an Antigua and get financial independence because we are not fiscally independent, as we are dependent on the IMF and Washington consensus and this leaves us unable to take drastic steps to address the crime.
We want food and housing security, but we can’t do these for many reasons. The financial institutions are reluctant to lend for housing and farming (a constant complaint which even the state makes at times) and the international fiscal bodies (IMF and World Bank) take a dim view on nationalising land. This leaves us with little hope for a housing solution. Their negative outlook on tariffs (to promote food security) or preferential placing of food so it becomes a norm, such as in schools, is also one which directly clashes with any agenda this or another administration may have on food security and local food promotion.
We have tried tackling these issues separately and each time we do, the results look bleaker and the outlook darker. Housing is near impossible to find, food security is at a precarious level, more and more people are being murdered each year and people’s financial situation, as well as the nation’s remain on edge as the proverbial sword of Damocles hangs over them. These issues can only be tackled together, a bold and drastic move, and in doing so it means that we must break with nations and institutions with which we are currently aligned.
To do the things we need to do, to tackle these issues together, would both be expensive and running afoul of current norms and practices of our current allies and international clubs. Any serious action taken on an issue of say, maritime security excluding the Americans would be met with harsh economic responses. We would lose funding and equipment which the JDF and JCF would need to carry out operations. We will need new allies if we are to tackle these issues and become members of clubs which will finance such tasks. It is something we should be seriously considering if are to find solutions, outside the American orbit, to our issues of food security and fiscal security (as sanctions would surely exclude us from the American banking system and food supply chain).
As we race closer to 2030, the date for our national goals which include these very issues, it is important that we begin to look at ways we can tackle the issues together. To do this we must form alliances with like-minded groups and partners, both in the form of countries and international groups (Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, etc). Piecemeal attempts to solve these fundamental issues have failed, and with fewer than 10 years to achieve the goals set out we need to think and act big. Either we dive head first into the changing world, tackle all issues head-on and reassess our strategic partners or we descend into barbarism. Either we go all out to save and transform the people of this nation with a wholesale and complete agenda or we can look forward to a bleak future. Either we tackle the issues of physical security, fiscal security and food security or we kiss our remaining independence goodbye.
This decade is one of choices and consequences especially relating to security. Let us hope we make the right choice and can live with the consequences.