Yesterday, as I drove around Kingston, I made a point of observing the many acts of indiscipline and disregard for others that attend daily life in Jamaica. The taxi driving past a line of traffic to get to the front and stopping more or less in the intersection to await the light change. The drivers not bothering to wait for light changes. The minibus making a third lane on Constant Spring Road on the wrong side of the unbroken white line. The gullies filled with garbage. The vendors set up beside “no vending” signs. The windscreen washers. The piles of marl or gravel left on the road from some construction project, in place so long that plants were beginning to take root. The dozens of trash and bush fires. The numerous signs and billboards, erected without concern for aesthetics, many no doubt without permits. The mini garbage dumps everywhere. The cars double-parked on Knutsford Boulevard with hazard lights flashing, causing dangerous lane changes and traffic to pile up. The bicycle men riding on the wrong side of the road. The motorcyclists without helmets. The pedestrians crossing the street three feet away from a pedestrian crossing. The motorists ignoring the pedestrians using crossings. The people living in harm’s way on river banks. If I had driven downtown, I could have got out at the Barnes Gully and smelled the untreated sewage from a broken sewer pipe, flowing for over a month. I could have stopped at any manhole cover in the city, removed it, and chances are I would have seen the drains filled with plastic bottles and other types of trash – which are getting into the sewer system and causing pipes to break.
I went to Sovereign North and parked. When I came out a delivery truck was blocking me and three other cars. When I found the driver, he was reluctant to move his truck. He always parked there, he said with scorn, and people got out FINE. You can’t drive, was the implication. Then he would move it if I would wait until he was finished his business. The restaurant owner convinced him to move immediately. As we walked to the parking lot, he told me I was hard and he could be harder. Why didn’t you park in the overflow lot? I asked him.
Is a lot of chicken in the van, he said.
Then I wondered if Sovereign North has a delivery entrance and if not, why was a commercial plaza permitted without delivery facilities? If it has one, why wasn’t it being used?
Indiscipline flourishes where there is poor enforcement. We’re so used to it in daily life we only notice the most outrageous acts – like when an international airport is effectively shut down for hours because of a party. We can never decide who is responsible either – state agencies blame other state agencies, lack of enforcement is named as a cause but no agent is identified. There are always resource constraints. There is the perverse incentive of regulatory bodies with tight budgets getting fees for the permits they do issue. There is the “give me a bly” culture. And we must always avoid “the blame game”. A probe is to be conducted, of course, and a report made to the Minister. it’s a rigidly choreographed dance we never seem to tire of.
It’s all too easy to observe and describe Jamaica’s culture of indiscipline. Solutions are harder to come by, because they require a seriousness and determination that’s lacking at every level of the society. Mutty Perkins, of blessed memory, used to say: “We trivialize our politics.” I think we trivialize everything. A nuh nuttn. Man haffi eat a food. Move the airport, one person responded on Twitter to the party roadblock crisis. Build a bridge over Kingston Harbour, tweeted another.
What else flourishes in an atmosphere of anarchy? Anger, frustration, disaffection – and crime.