Op-Ed: Puerto Rico needs to be proactive, productive, transparent
With a change of government at hand and a new year ahead, it would be interesting to dare imagine a vision of a proactive, efficient and transparent Puerto Rico, that is, the opposite of what we have today in many respects. How different would our collective life be like if we had a government that foresaw problems with solutions and attacked them at the root rather than reacting after the conflict is consummated?
Take for example the unprecedented crime wave that affects us and that these days have filled the collective with outrage after the death of publicist José E. Gómez. To use a business analogy, companies have different “production lines” on a social level that generate productive and honest citizens and other people living within the margins of illegal activities and thrive on crime.
A manager of a production line wouldn’t think of checking or evaluating his products at the end of the line. On the contrary, a good manager places controls from the outset and along the production line to minimize low-quality products. We should aspire to this principle as the first element of the proposed vision: a society becomes proactive when it prevents crime rather than focus on the punitive aspect. The National Guard and more police simply will not cut it.
We all know that there is a direct and well-documented link between school dropouts and crime. How do we detect a youth prone to dropping out of school? There may be several indicators, but certainly an important and obvious one is the lack of attendance to class. If we were focused on prevention, we would simply collect and maintain data on student attendance, and use business intelligence systems to analyze and clearly identify those students likely to drop out.
Once identified, agencies should not sit around waiting for the problems and complaints to knock on the door; on the contrary, they should provide resources to support these people to prevent the almost certain fate that awaits dropouts, and the impossible high price we pay as a society.
Operating like the private sector
Without the proper technology this would be impossible to achieve. However, today there are systems to accomplish with all these with ease. This is the way the private sector operates on a daily basis.
However, before the technology, it takes the will, the vision, and profound collective mental change to achieve this. We need a government that is out there, in the real world, on the street, where the problems are and we need to intelligent attack strategies.
Speaking of the second element of this vision: is Puerto Rico productive? How is it possible that our work force participation rate is 39 percent and on top of that we’re inefficient? Think about the few hours we have in production a year to produce less in that time frame than the same amount of hours in other countries. It is the height of the inefficiency.
Therefore, in addition to increasing the participation rate, we must make sure those hours are productive and deliver high quality products and services. Productive hours are those that create or produce a good or service that helps citizens.
A relevant example is the automation of our police force. In the municipality of San Juan, the private company issuing parking tickets does so using cell phones, a fully automated process. Why doesn’t the state police have a similar system? How much time does a police officer waste on these antiquated procedures? I presume tens of thousands of hours that may have invested in preventive patrols.
Achieving full transparency
We need a productive society, both in government and among private citizens. How many companies have filed bankruptcy Puerto Rican in recent years unable to compete with foreign companies? These companies are not sufficiently productive and competitive.
We as a society must use the technology already available and already used for these purposes in many parts of the world. And to function as a team we have to have trust each other, which is achieved with full transparency. Using the government as an example because it is the cornerstone in defining our values and vision for the island, this is where to start looking for transparency and facts.
As citizens we need and are entitled to complete visibility into what our government promises, meets or fails. In Brazil, the government enabled a system where every Brazilian citizen can monitor what goes on, or even anyone in the world can check the finances of any agency.
Puerto Rico needs a leadership that breeds a new direction, a way forward: walk the walk, and we will become part of it. At the end we will see long term, permanent results. Good or bad, everyone will be responsible for those results and they will not take us by surprise.
Let’s develop a rational national vision. Let us not just use words. Let’s do it with modern tools and make our island run like one that belongs in the 21th Century. We are all responsible for it.