It was a small job, but I’d guess it’s going to cost twice what it’s worth and take three times as long as it should, if indeed it is done at all. And we see this all over the island – waste, failure to plan, poor workmanship, incompetence, hopelessly inefficient logistics. This is why the recurring ‘lack of resources’ argument as an explanation for the spreading ramshackle around us rings so hollow.
Nor is the failure to deliver confined to the state. Over the past four years, I’ve been involved in moving and renovation – first the Jamaica Environment Trust’s office, then my home, then my sister’s home. I’ve dealt with every possible type of general contractor – large companies and small ones – and a host of individual skilled and semi skilled workers, such as plumbers, carpenters, electricians, painters, masons and labourers. I’ve dealt with designers, makers of curtains, cushions and slipcovers, air conditioning and refrigerator technicians, furniture and appliance companies, grill and window contractors, washing machine installers and roofers. NO ONE was able to deliver the agreed job on time and on budget. While reasonable work, sometimes even excellent work, was delivered in the end, it was achieved only after endless, frustrating and occasionally hostile follow up.
Sometimes the problem was the weather – if you’re working outside, a torrential rainstorm is indeed a hurdle. But the weather was a problem even when the work was inside. And virtually no work crew could start on time – say, 8.30 A.M. – which would have yielded at least a few hours of work before the afternoon rain began.
The worst problem was when task A depended on task B being completed first, or even more problematically, tasks A and B being done at the same time. Assembling three different contractors at the same time to complete a job was about on par with getting a result of any kind from the American Congress.
What does all this mean for our development aspirations? We easily embrace a narrative of Jamaican exceptionalism – our country is the most beautiful, our people the most creative, our athletes unbeatable, our musicians the very stars in the firmament. The truth, however, is that whatever our innate and abundant talents, we squander them in lack of seriousness; in failing to understand the value of what Norman Washington Manley called “fixity of purpose and commitment to the task.”
(I think it was NWM – could not find the quote on the internet. Relying on shaky memory. If he didn’t say it, he should have!)
Make a plan. Cost it properly. Anticipate predictable hurdles like bad weather. Show up on time. Speak to customers when there’s a delay of whatever kind. Apologize for failures. Don’t cut corners. Deliver. It doesn’t sound so hard.
Here are the consequences of our lack of fixity of purpose: There’s work undone at my house, which means jobs and income for some, but I’m too frustrated to bother with it.