I am humbled and deeply moved by the number of people in this room tonight; either the economy is booming, or I should begin to take myself more seriously.
In any event, I am sincerely grateful for your presence.
I am to speak tonight for fifteen minutes – no more!
I will take the first couple of minutes to recognise my partners and benefactors in the life that the creator has given to me and whose influence and guidance are responsible for my presence on the podium tonight.
And the remainder of my time expressing my hopes and fears for my country.
I am the sum total of the careful socialisation by my blessed parents, the calm and patient guidance of my wife Linda, and the loyal and somewhat bemused love and affection of my two daughters, Erin and Kirsten, who vary between raising their eyebrows at my latest eccentricity and laughing at my comedic stunts.
I have been blessed by the mentorship and example of my dear departed friend Raymond Chang and more recently by the inspiring friendships with people such as Howard Hamilton, Leighton McKnight, Peter Moses, Owen Ellington, Butch Hendrickson, Chris Zacca, Glen Christian, Dr. The Honourable Christopher Tufton, Michael and Thalia Lyn who every day strengthen my belief in the essential decency of mankind.
My best friend since childhood, Dr. Aggrey Irons, perhaps became a psychiatrist because of his perceived need to care for me; there are so many others in this room tonight who have made my life respectable and given me a sense of self-worth and purpose that there is no time to recite all their names.
I can only record that every single morning, I wake up with the realisation of my blessed good fortune for having them all in my life.
The Executive Director of the PSOJ will give a formal vote of thanks. Still, I want to reach out to the sponsors of this event and to Kevin Hendrickson and his team at the Pegasus and record my heartfelt appreciation for their contribution to this wonderful evening.
I also want to single out the Honorable Gary ‘Butch’ Hendrickson for never missing an opportunity to make me the butt of his satanic humour while at the same time supporting and encouraging all of my productive and worthwhile attempts to better myself and the society that I live in.
Butch Hendrickson, Glen Christian and Thalia Lyn represent the finer aspects of responsible entrepreneurship in this country, and I am incredibly honoured by their friendship.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am mindful of the fact that my presence on this podium tonight is a representative symbol of the values and attitudes of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica and of its mission to be an advocate for the broader attributes and elements of a productive and prosperous society which prizes equal opportunity for all its citizens.
At its core are the values of integrity and accountability in all of the institutions of this society. The PSOJ has never been and must never be merely an advocate for the technical elements of success for commerce.
Indeed, that is a part of its mission, but more compellingly, it must advocate for good governance, discipline, respectful dealings and the rule of law equally and fairly applied in a democratic context.
That is the creed that formed the PSOJ in 1976, and that is the creed that we as members should live by. In that sense, we may be different from other private sector groupings, and I make no apology for that difference.
In fact, I have tried my best since my original membership in the PSOJ in 1983 to operate my business ventures according to the code that the organisation represents.
I hope that you will understand, therefore, that my public pronouncements over the years have been my interpretations of the prescriptions of this organisation.
I know that I have ruffled some feathers, and for my own safety, I have carefully noted some extremely negative responses to my clumsy attempts at articulating those prescriptions.
Thankfully, free speech is alive and well in our country.
One of the gentler criticisms of me is to describe me as a prophet of doom.
In fact, my friend of many years, Dr. The Honourable, Horace Chang, who, as Minister of National Security, knows everything about me, including that my middle name is Samuel, often reminds me of the second book of Samuel in the bible wherein Samuel is described as the first prophet of god, after Moses, not Peter Moses. The biblical Moses!
Well, I have been called worse things, and it at least gives me an opportunity to speak from a respectable platform. So tonight, I will continue to prophesy. Ladies and gentlemen, Jamaica has accomplished wonderful things – we lead the world in track and field and sport generally, in music, and the deep and intricate texture and flavours of our cuisine; our people have spread to the four corners of the world and achieved much as individuals.
And more recently, led by two remarkable politicians, Dr. Peter Phillips and Dr. The Honourable Nigel Clarke, in a unique effort of cross-partisan policy continuity. We have escaped from the fiscal valley of death.
It is said that, as a country, we punch above our weight. We also murder more than normal, scam more than normal and practice more general ginnalship than most other countries.
We have shown that we are capable of great things, and we have made great strides in equipping ourselves for the changing paradigms of the 21st century in ways that other societies have been found wanting. But I put it to you that we are in grave danger of failure as a nation, as a society, as a community of souls.
We are hell-bent on self-destruction because of our culture of selfish and divisive tribalism, which steadfastly ignores value unless it is clothed in green or orange.
We practice the doctrine of divide and rule that was practised upon us for many years past by our slave masters and refuse to acknowledge the damage that we now do to our future; we steep ourselves in the culture of piracy and mayhem and theft, which is so ingrained in our beginnings but will be the cause of the end of us as a functional society, and we blame it on everything but our own refusal to establish for ourselves the values and attitudes that are critical to survival and true prosperity.
More recently, we have treated lives as commodities to be bought and sold by contract, and we have substituted brutality and perversion for reasoned dialogue and loving correction.
Unfortunately, the pronouncements and behaviours of some of our political leaders encourage our less progressive elements to actions and attitudes that take us further down the slippery slope to hell, and even more unfortunately, there is little or no chastisement and accountability from their peers.
A country with no beliefs, with no centrality of established values, is a body without a brain, a computer without an operating system, and no amount of hasty, inappropriately adopted legislation will change that!
Morality cannot be legislated. It must be taught, encouraged, exemplified and most importantly, it must be led!
When the laws that make up the rule book by which we function and prosper are mocked, avoided and flouted by leadership, when rules are applied selectively, enforced on the weak but not the strong, the gate to autocracy is opened and spells doom in a society with immature institutions and confusing or nonexistent values. I am deeply concerned that Jamaica today fits that model.
We are witnessing an unremitting atavistic and cannibalistic onslaught on our regulatory institutions by other state entities that should be supportive rather than destabilising. I regret that much of our civil society appears to be either obliviously asleep or compromised by complicity in the efforts of the destruction of the social and institutional framework of the country in order to maintain the status quo.
Our magnificent efforts to escape from our self-imposed debt trap will be for nothing unless we further rescue ourselves from the anti-social and savage culture that is growing within us despite the best efforts of some of the agencies of the state and our well-meaning civil society change agents.
Ladies and gentlemen, we need first to change our immediate behaviours and, secondly, to restructure the constitution and the legislated rules and incentives that no longer serve our purpose.
The state by itself cannot stop the rot in our behaviour. No amount of state of emergency can prevent the rising tide of contract killings and savage domestic violence.
The first step has to be a positive manifestation of the majority of our civil institutions, and citizens desire to reverse the corrosive deviance in our social relationships; civil society must speak up and speak out! And we must act.
I, therefore, propose a national values and attitudes campaign encompassing all of our society and driven and motivated by a broad-based national steering committee, sufficiently funded by civil society, the diaspora, the state and with any international assistance that we can mobilise.
Yes, Prime Minister Patterson, I know it’s not an original thought. But it’s a thought that has never been given a chance. It has never been properly strategised and implemented, and if you stop and think about it, Jamaica suffers from a massive vacuum of communal beliefs. Our motivations are largely tribal or individual, and we are socialised accordingly.
All our organisations and social structures are designed around tribal or individualised contests for self-satisfaction, devoid of respect, civility or any care for the consequences of a win-at-all-costs value system.
To start this campaign should not cost a lot of money because once we have established the specific targets in terms of behavioural change, we can simply work the message into our existing marketing plans. Many companies in this room tonight are already promulgating positive messages and good values.
By way of examples:
- Sandals have for decades lived a culture of excellence, discipline and caring for others that has global recognition. Tonight, I am honoured by the presence of my friend Adam Stewart, and it has added considerably to my already overflowing heart.
- Island Grill has for years promoted love and harmony in its operations.
- JMMB and the Duncan family have built an admirable ethos of love and caring that permeates its entire culture and positively affects all who come in contact with them.
- Continental Baking Company, with its Bold Ones campaign, promotes ethical entrepreneurship and is in itself a pillar of positive values.
- The Ministry of Health and Wellness with its Jamaica Moves campaign and, more recently, its ‘Know Your Numbers’ initiative.
- The Jamaica Constabulary Force is using social media not just to report criminality but to send positive messages to our citizens.
- GraceKennedy is leading the way, as usual, in establishing an environmental, social and corporate governance strategy to guide its activities. Again, it should not require an increased budget for that program to carry a positive attitudinal message.
- Finally, let us not forget the PSOJ’s Project Star initiative, to which many of us have contributed and which is already having a positive impact.
Let’s face the facts: our political leaders, adept as they are in messaging prosperity and patronage, find themselves conflicted in carrying a message of peace, love and harmony while preaching that the other half of the nation are deviant scoundrels who wish to steal our porridge!
It is civil society that must lead this initiative, and it is the private sector that must make the first move! We have played this role before… We are influencers, and We can do it again! We must.
I ask our leaders and influencers here tonight to give this values and attitudes initiative your serious consideration and thoughtful action.
I have another, no less important concern. We have embarked upon a clumsily introduced proposition of consulting our people on the reform of our constitution which appears to my layman’s eye to be focused on the goal of removing an irrelevant archaic holdover of a paper monarch while hiding our true intentions as to the much more substantive issue of a final court of justice and ignoring the even more critical questions of whether our parliamentary processes serve our people or accomplish even average efficiency in the making of our laws.
The truth is that our problems are caused by dysfunctional and inappropriate political systems and processes. Not primarily by aberrant and deviant human actors. Those persons are the symptoms, not the cause. They are acting out against badly designed rules and incentives produced by structures and systems that don’t work for these modern times. For instance, how can a lower house that meets together in full only half a day a week for two-thirds of the year produce laws that really address our needs?
The current constitutional reform initiative appears to be majoring in the minors and playing a game of self-deceit while ignoring systemic inefficiencies which frustrate our well-meaning elected representatives and facilitate the tendency to corrupt behaviour among the ill-intentioned and misguided few.
My friends, we know where the roadblocks and impediments are in our current constitution, and we should seize this opportunity as leaders of civil society to influence our political leaders to make our constitution a functional and efficient framework for the development of a modern society that fully serves our people.
This is our duty, and it is in our own interest to do it.
When I was thinking of what to say to you tonight, a friend said to me: “If this was your last public speech, what would you want to say to your fellow Jamaicans”?
Well, I have tried to express that message, and I sum it up as follows: it is quite simply up to all of us who want true development to become the driving force for that positive transformation of Jamaica.
It is our mission to work collaboratively to push back the negative forces and promote the values that build and strengthen. The days of taking what we are given and leaving it to others to build in their
own image, a society that does not reflect the tremendous good that is in us, that stifles our true destiny; those days must be left behind us, and we must find true independence in a world that increasingly demands more from us than a government left to its own devices can provide.
We must demand to participate with the state in building a nation that lives and grows with integrity, ethical principles and energetic and constant consideration for the upliftment of all of us, not just fifty per cent on a rotating basis, according to our tribe.
Ladies and gentlemen, again, I express my heartfelt appreciation for your support and presence here tonight. I am deeply honoured and humbled. Thank you.