Columns

Has politics underdeveloped Jamaica?

Lloyd B SMITH

Wednesday, February 12, 2014    

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IN recent weeks, a number of utterances and observations have occurred that have placed the country's politics in a very bad light.

Firstly, it was that controversial remark by South West St Catherine Member of Parliament and Opposition Whip Everald Warmington while he spoke at a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) meeting. He is reported as saying: "If you don't vote, you don't count, and you can't ask for government benefits when you refuse to participate in the governance of your country. I don't know how others perform, how others work, but in South West St Catherine dem have to vote to talk to me, nuh care how yuh sick and need it, nuh care how the old lady on the crutch, you didn't vote without an excuse, you don't talk to this member of Parliament."

Then there was that seeming bombshell dropped by Delroy Chuck, member of Parliament for St Andrew North Eastern, on CVM-TV's Live at 7 programme hosted by Simon Crosskill. Chuck declared that Jamaica's politicians had failed the country and that if they (including him) had tried harder, this nation would be much better off today.

Then, as if to add salt to the wound, a vexed Daily Gleaner letter writer recently referred to members of the House of Representatives as "criminals" who were taking his/her money and spending it on trips abroad and other perks, while basic amenities including roads and water are not been effectively addressed.

Interestingly, all of this negativity has come against the backdrop of prime minister and People's National Party President Portia Simpson Miller celebrating her fortieth year in representational politics. Desmond Allen's magnum opus carried in this newspaper outlining her many achievements, trials, and triumphs, and provided an interesting and revealing insight into the life of Jamaica's first female prime minister. Allen's serialised presentation on "Mama P", along with the reported statements of Warmington and Chuck, not to mention that vitriolic letter, have caused many well-thinking Jamaicans to ponder on the politics of the day and must seriously wonder to what extent we have benefited, in real terms, from the activities of our politicians, especially since the attainment of political independence in 1962.

In the case of Mrs Simpson Miller, one can discern from her many references to former premier and PNP president, National Hero Norman Manley, that he has a great deal of influence on her political life. In his most celebrated speech in 1969, when he was about to demit office and exit the political stage, Manley said, "My generation had a distinct mission to perform. It was to create a national spirit with which we could identify ourselves as a people for the purpose of achieving independence on the political plane. I am convinced, deeply convinced, that the role of this generation is to proceed to the social and economic reform of Jamaica." Mission accomplished or mission deferred?

Forty-five years later, Jamaica is still struggling to achieve economic independence, and one of the vestiges of the post-colonial World War II era, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), now has us in its tentacles robbing us of our sovereignty and spirit of self-determination. Indeed, notwithstanding the interventions of the IMF, the fact is that we have had to cede much of our independence of thought and action in order to access well-needed funds to meet our debt obligations.

Yes, we have burrowed ourselves into a hole of crippling debt that has prevented us from embracing sustained growth. Perhaps that is why Portia Simpson Miller comes across as being so determined to ensure that Manley's mandate to his succeeding generations becomes a reality in her political lifetime.

The PNPYO's call for political clubs in schools, though well-intentioned, received the expected beating because it is being posited in a highly tribalist environment. Unfortunately, the word "politics" in Jamaica means "JLP versus PNP". Yes, politics is seen as a dirty word which connotes corruption, crime, violence, failure, decadence and everything that is bad.

But, according to Wikipedia, politics (from Greek, politicos, meaning "of, for or relating to citizens) is the practice and theory of influencing other people on a civic or individual level. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance -- organised control over a human community, particularly a State. A variety of methods are employed in politics, which include promoting one's own political views among people, negotiation with other political subjects, making laws, and exercising force, including warfare against adversaries. Politics is exercised on a wide range of social levels, from clansland tribes of traditional societies, through modern local governments, companies and institutions, up to sovereign states, to the international level.

From this definition, one can safely deduce that politics, in theory, is not a bad thing, but that it is in its practice that things can get dirty. In such a context, it may well be argued that it is not politics that has "mashed up" Jamaica, but our politicians or, for that matter, our political parties. In other words, there is good politics and there is bad politics in the same way there are good politicians and bad politicians.

In this regard, it has been argued that bad politicians get elected by good people who do not vote. Is it this premise that influences MP Warmington's extremist views? After all, the attainment of Universal Adult Suffrage (the right to vote) came through the blood, sweat and tears of our forefathers. And those Jamaicans who do not participate in the electoral process, saying that politics is too corrupt, are doing their country an injustice.

Over the years, we have seen a steady decline in the number of Jamaicans that go to the polls to elect their representatives at the central and local government levels. In the last general election, in 2011, there was a 52.76 per cent voter turnout. In the parish council elections that followed in early 2012, some 26 per cent of the populace of some 2.7 million bothered to go to the polls. This means that the majority of Jamaicans have no interest in how their country is run, which also means that we continue to elect, in real terms, a minority government. This does not augur well for effective governance, and Jamaicans must be reminded that the sin of omission is as bad if not worse that the sin of commission.

It is to be noted that the Jamaican Constitution does not speak to political parties. Perhaps our founding fathers were mindful of the possibility of the debilitating effects of partisan politics. In the meantime, it may well be argued that there is too much politics with us.

Of course, the bottom line is that politics should be about the greatest good for the greatest number. After 52 years of playing dolly house, "room for rent, apply within, when I come out you go in", it behoves our two major political parties to set about getting it right. And the change must begin from within. If I may reference the late Michael Jackson's song, "I'm starting with the man in the mirror, I'm asking him to change his ways, And no message could've been any clearer, If you wanna make the world a better place, Take a look at yourself and then make that change."

Lloyd B Smith is a member of Parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party or the Government of Jamaica.

lloydbsmith@hotmail.com

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