ALL over the world, politicians are despised for one reason or another. But usually, it is because they are deemed to be corrupt and dishonest. In Jamaica, every politician is seen as a "jinnal" and a thief. Indeed, numerous jokes, stories and anecdotes have been bandied about in reference to the shenanigans of elected officials and their cronies.
Needless to say, this broad-brush approach has left many well-meaning and honest politicians in the lurch. If we are to go by the encomiums heaped on retiring or dead politicians, one would think they are all angels. So much for the hypocrisy and double-speak that pervades public discourse. In the meantime, the majority of Jamaicans have abandoned their democratic right to vote and have allowed just party die-hards affiliated to the People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party to decide who governs. Is this true democracy when the minority decides who rules the roost at Jamaica House?
In conversations with young Jamaicans, the usual disparaging and negative remarks are forthcoming when they are asked to give their views about parliamentarians. As a result, very few of them have any desire to enter politics and frown upon those who do. I well recall when I decided to run for the People's National Party (PNP) in 2011, I was met by an elderly man in a supermarket who tearfully remarked that while he had always respected and admired me, he was most concerned that now I had gone into politics I would become corrupt and dishonest. And many young men and women whom I have mentored over the years are still aghast that I chose to become an elected representative.
Of course, part of the problem rests with the politicians themselves who have failed to help come up with a job description and to stick to it no matter what. Oftentimes, the question asked is, what does it take to become a member of parliament? What are the necessary qualifications? The answers are many and dubious because over the years no set criteria have been established. For many Jamaicans, therefore, a Member of Parliament is for all intents and purposes a Mr or Miss Boops. In other words, he or she is here to distribute handouts and preside over the spoils and scarce benefits generated from state resources. In this context, if the MP is not careful, he or she spends most of his or her time pandering to the demands of party faithful who feel that "is fi we time now". In such a scenario, the constituency is never well served because it is that noisy, cantankerous, intimidating, slothful minority who claim that they have direct lines to the party hierarchy that seeks to control, manipulate and badmouth the MP.
The time has come for there to be a national consensus on the role of the MP as there is a great deal of misunderstanding out there that has led to parliamentarians being blamed for a great deal of things that are not part of their job. It is this tremendous pressure that is placed on MPs by their constituents and the wider public that has caused them sometimes to make empty promises or tell blatant lies in order to remain popular and relevant. This situation reminds me of a joke I read once entitled "Jamaican Politicians' Lie Clock."
A man died and went to Heaven. As he stood in front of the Pearly Gates, he saw a huge wall of clocks behind him. He asked St Peter, "Wah dem clock deh fah?"
St Peter answered, "Those are Lie-Clocks. Everyone has Lie-Clocks. Every time you tell a lie, the hands on your clock move." "Oh, ok," said the man.
"So who fah clock dat?" he asked pointing to a gold clock on the wall. "That's Mother Teresa," replied St Peter. "The hands have never moved, indicating that she never told a lie."
"Eh eh?" said the man. "And who fah clock is dat one?" he asked, pointing to a huge silver clock on the wall. St Peter responded, "That's Abraham Lincoln's clock. The hands have moved twice, telling us that Lincoln told only two lies in his entire life."
"So whey the clock dem of some Jamaican politicians dey?" asked the man. "Those? They are using them in Hell as ceiling fans."
Laugh as we must, this is a serious thing, the matter of how our politicians are perceived by John Public. Last Wednesday, the House of Parliament staged a "Parliamentary Practice & Procedure Workshop" at the Terra Nova Hotel which, unfortunately, was very poorly attended by MPs and senators. In a spirited panel discussion moderated by a UWI professor for the most part, participants including MP Fitz Jackson, former Senate President Mrs Jeanette Grant-Woodham and Rev, Gary Harriott of the Jamaica Council of Churches shared their respective views on the "The Role of the Member of Parliament and the Role of the Senator." One major observation that emerged from that discussion had to do with the role of the backbenchers in Parliament, the fact that they have a very limited opportunity to represent the interests of their constituents and are forced by the current system to be primarily rubber stamps. This is an area that needs urgent review for which the stage needs to be set. 'Nuff said!'
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.