The importance of discipline in Jamaica's economic and social development

Dennis Chung's picture

Last Wednesday I was driving to work when I saw a man throw an orange peel and another item on the road. The confidence with which he seemed to do it implied that he thought that everything was right with what he was doing. He had no consideration for the fact that it would make the streets look unclean, could possibly be a health hazard, and that this sort of action is what contributes to increased costs to clean the streets and gullies.

If enough of this type of behaviour is multiplied then you can see the effect on the budget, cleanliness, flooding, and other environmental and health hazards.

What we have failed to recognise as a country is the impact that our own indiscipline has on development. One of the first things is the attitude towards time. We make a joke of it, and accept it, by saying, for example 1:00 pm Jamaica time, which is supposed to mean that even though the meeting is supposed to start at 1:00 pm, we accept that, because we are in Jamaica, then it may start an hour or so later. So when people are invited to an event that is supposed to be between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm, some people turn up at 8:30 pm and ask why it has ended already.

This disrespect for time is one of the things I hate most, as it is not only a total disrespect for the time of the other participants, but is a very inefficient way for us to organise ourselves. And we will all accept the concept of “Jamaica time” but then fail to understand why our productivity is so low. Logically, if in another country a meeting that is supposed to start at 1:00 pm starts at 1:00 pm, while in Jamaica it starts at 2:00 pm, then doesn’t it mean that they are going to be more productive with their labour, as we sit around doing nothing for a hour waiting for the 1:00 pm meeting to start at 2:00 pm?

These examples of time management, and the attitude littering the streets are an indication of the rampant indiscipline in this country.

A few years ago a multilateral organisation did a study which showed that the greatest inhibitor to productivity in Latin America and the Caribbean is traffic congestion. So if you multiply the traffic delays caused by indisciplined driving, by taxis and buses in particular, you will see how much productive time is lost in traffic and the cost of the additional gas resulting from those traffic delays.

The problem with this sort of individual behaviour is that the general attitude in Jamaica is that everything is OK as long as it doesn’t affect me. So we have a problem when the person in front of us causes traffic delays because the person is on their phone, and we curse the person, but when a call comes in we do the same thing, and then when the person behind us blows in disgust we ask if they can’t have patience.

The fact is that if we look at the developed countries which we emulate and seek to use their economic models as examples, we will realise that they have well ordered and structured societies. For example, we want our oil bill to be reduced but we fail to ensure discipline in our transportation system, so that it is attractive to everyone to take it. We also want to ensure proper development of communities but fail to ensure that houses are not left abandoned, or ensure that commercial activities are not allowed in residential areas. And if you call and make a report to the authorities, then that is like a wasted phone call, which the only thing it has ended up doing is costing you for the telephone call.

This lack of accountability because of the reluctance, or slowness, of the authorities to act is at the root of the problem. As a result of the low level of risk that you will be held accountable for indisciplined behaviour, which breaches the law, then persons do not feel the need to obey the laws, as they can get away with doing what they want.

So the abuse of the night noise act continues, because there is no significant penalty for keeping citizens awake so they can’t be productive the next day because of lack of sleep. If the police go and lock down the music, then the only loss is to the patrons who can’t get more enjoyment for their admission fee. There is no penalty that prevents persons from trying to breach the act again, so the same person might do the same thing the following week knowing fully well that there is a high probability that no action will be taken. And as someone who rides my bicycle from home at 5:30 am some mornings, I hear the music at that time sometimes, within close proximity to a police station.

Apart from the productivity loss that indiscipline causes, we also fail to understand the influence that this indiscipline and lack of accountability has on major crimes, such as murder. No one starts off being a murderer, but rather grows into a hardened criminal because they have grown up in a society where there is no accountability for breaches of the law, and therefore feel confident graduating to the major crimes.

So the young boy who grows up not feeling the necessity to adhere to not drinking when driving, or being at parties until 4:00 am with the music blaring, doesn’t feel that when he gets into gang-related activity that it will be any different. Eventually, that gang-related activity leads to major crimes and before you know it, enough of these acts lead to crime being a big problem for doing business.

It is therefore important for us, as a country, to recognise that if we want to realise the economic and social development we desire, then we must do something about the level of indiscipline in the society. This must not only be through accountability being enforced by the authorities, which must be fairly applied, but must also include each of us taking personal responsibility for our actions.

So hopefully that gentleman in the silver Nissan Tiida (licence number withheld) will think twice about treating the streets like his personal garbage bin.

Dennis Chung is a chartered accountant and is currently Vice President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica. He has written two books: Charting Jamaica’s Economic and Social Development – 2009; and Achieving Life’s Equilibrium – balancing health, wealth, and happiness for optimal living – 2012. His books are available on amazon.com. He blogs at dcjottings.blogspot.com. He can be reached at drachung@gmail.com.

This article is published with permission. It was published on Dennis Chung's blog, dcjottings.blogspot.com,  on Friday, January 31, 2014.

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