Rescuing Jamaica in 2008

Prime Minister Bruce Golding has wisely signaled his intention to resuscitate P.J. Patterson’s values and attitudes campaign, this time giving a particular focus on family life. If he succeeds where the Patterson administration failed, this could go a long way in rescuing Jamaica from its decline.

I had suggested in previous columns that Golding’s laudable emphasis on constitutional and governance reform needed to be supplemented with an emphasis on values and attitudes (or the building of social capital as it is known in the scholarly literature.)

I am delighted that the Prime Minister has now taken this on board and has announced that “we intend this year to mount a partnership with civic bodies, community-based organisations, churches, schools and patriotic individuals to launch a national thrust focusing on the family, emphasising the responsibility of the family, training and strengthening weak family units”.

In his excellent Near Year’s message – even his critics are now conceding that “Golding is a good talker”, the Prime Minister said, “Our fortunes for 2008 will depend to a great extent on ourselves; how we conduct ourselves, how we behave toward each other, how we live as a community, how we avoid or resolve our disputes, how we bring up our children”. Golding is on solid ground in making that pivotal point for with our low levels of social capital we have no hope of tackling our most urgent problems.

It was good that the Prime Minister openly acknowledged former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson’s values and attitude initiative, in , my view one of the most important initiatives introduced by Patterson; who will not be absolved by history for allowing it to dissipate.

But it was good that Golding in effect paid tribute to his former rival’s bold initiative and that he also acknowledged Edward Seaga’s call for character education in schools. He did not mention Portia Simpson Miller’s strong support for family values and for enabling values and attitudes in general, but the fact is that our recent political leaders have been strong on the centrality of strengthening our social capital.

This means we have a firm basis for establishing consensus on this fundamental and overarching issue. In a well-worded New Year’s message Golding said aptly that the issue of values re-education and the strengthening of family life was one which “underlies all our efforts and considerations”. He noted, too, that “dysfunctional behaviour was an impediment to growth and development”.

Fresh start

The Prime Minister went on to say that “we have to make a fresh start to rebuild the family unit as the cradle of an orderly society that is serious about growth and development. We must do this to redeem young males, to ensure that our children are brought up properly and do well in school, to minimise conflicts and resolve these conflicts when they occur, “Indeed, there is a whole host of social and public goods which are dependent on the inculcation of proper values and attitudes and a strong family life.

The Prime Minister must learn some things, though, from the failure of the Patterson administration and its successor in this area. One, for this programme to be effective it must be substantially funded.

Please, Mr. Prime Minister, don’t make another half-hearted, feckless and anaemic attempt at a values and attitudes programme. If you are going to do it properly, it has to be funded very heavily. The private sector, the NGOs and international institutions have to come on board for, realistically; the Government does not have the kind of funds to mount a successful programme of resocialisation.

It cannot be hard to make the case to international funding organisations for such a programme, for it can be demonstrated that without this crucial resocialisation programme, all the economic and development plans are doomed to failure. The IMF and the World Bank should have a vested interest in our having a successful family values programme for our dysfunctional family life is at the heart of our economic and social ills.

If we are going to launch and sustain an effective values and attitude programme, we have to be serious about it. It cannot be just the right thing to say because it sounds good, and will resonate with all “well-thinking persons”.

You have to create hype around it; a hype similar to what is created around Rising Stars. It must capture the imagination of the Jamaican people particularly the young. It must get maximum media exposure. Despite the platitudes of the media managers and owners, they are not going to put their weight behind the programme without heaving financial backing and sponsorship.

Talk a good talk

They talk a good talk about supporting good values etc., but their own programming contributes to the malaise the country is suffering from and you could preach like Paul, they are not going to do one thing about it until you throw some money their way to show th>Mr. Prime Minister, to mount an effective programme is more than calling a few do-gooders and social activists together and asking them to “do a thing” and “push a thing” with regard to family life. You have to get the big companies – the NCBs, the Scotia’s, the Digicels, the Cable and Wirelesses, the GraceKennedys, the Wray and Nephews, the Red Stripes to throw their weight behind the programme.

We all would have to come to see how it is in our interests to make this campaign succeed. Somebody must be able to conceptualise and market this programme with the depth, comprehensiveness and intellectual rigor which it demands.

Our academics must be brought on board as well as our journalists, commentators and talk-show hosts. This thing has to be approached seriously and systematically. Jamaica would be much nearer to solving some of its deep problems if the Patterson administration had kept the momentum going beyond the launch at the Conference Centre.

Instead Patterson was intimidated by the critics who said he had no credibility to mount such a programme. Well, he is without sin, let him cast the first stone. I suppose some will now say Golding has no more credibility to launch such a programme, but I hope he won’t be deterred by the critics. This programme is too important and too potentially far-reaching to be reduced to political football.

Stand alone campaign

Also I understand the Prime Minister’s emphasis on family life, but that has to be subsumed under a larger theme rather than be a stand alone campaign. You can’t instill proper family values outside of a larger cultural and philosophical context. In the first place, relatively few Jamaicans are in two-parent homes. Father-absent homes, a major source of our social ills, represent the most common feature of our family life patterns.

And most female-headed, single-parent homes can’t provide the kind of wholesome atmosphere needed – not because that is impossible under those conditions, but simply because of the economic and social stress in our particular context. So concentrating a programme around family life when it is largely non-existent is not the right tact. Emphasise wholesome family life patterns and values, yes, but do so in an overall context of a total package of resocialisation and revamping of our values.

We need to deal with our excessive individualism and atomism. We need to curb our obsession with crude materialism and hedonism. We can’t have a serious values and attitude programme unless we enlist our deejays who play a major role in the destruction of our moral and social fabric. (I repeat they are not the cause of our problems, nor even the primary sources but are major contributors.)

The Prime Minister and his Minister of Culture need to convene an urgent meeting with people like Mavado, Vybz Kartel, Bounty Killer, Bling Dawg, Assassin, Baby Cham and other purveyors of decadence.

The Prime Minister has given us hope for the New Year by committing himself to this values and attitudes programme. He has demonstrated that he understands the gravamen of the problems we face. Indeed, we could never make the fresh start that both he and the Leader of the Opposition called for in the New Year messages without such an initiative.

Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist who may be reached at

Source – Jamaica Gleaner