Politicians must engage a moral compass

Politicians must engage a moral compass

Howard Gregory

Saturday, September 10, 2016

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Over the last few weeks there have been a number of issues of a political nature in the public arena which may be dismissed by many as the sheer outworking of "politics", but which, nevertheless, raise some moral issues, and which may contribute to the further alienation and disillusionment of a growing section of our population, including our young people.

One of the issues raised by this newspaper from time to time relates to the way in which the transition from one political Administration takes place within our political culture. This issue has focused around changes in the diplomatic representation across nations, the appointment of boards of management, and the naming of chief executive officers for public sector organisations.

These are not issues that are new or that relate to any one political party. Rather, we have come to accept this as a necessary component of governance with the attendant dynamic of political patronage and, worse yet, the inefficiencies that come from this process of starting all over again with each change of Administration. The country just cannot afford this continuing lack of some common policies and objectives in the operation of our institutions and the utilisation of our limited national resources. The ease with which the nation has moved beyond the revelations of the Port Authority payouts is an obvious case in point. Is this not a recurrent decimal which we have come to accept as part of the politics of this nation?

There are some voices crying foul in the non-renewal of the contracts of some managers and executives of some public institutions suggesting political victimisation. It may very well be that there is justification for such action by those in authority because of non-performance, or that people have been placed in positions for which they were not qualified. But this only raises more questions than answers.

The primary question is this: Has the cycle of such appointments now been broken, or is it just the moment for another round of such appointments which the Opposition party will reverse whenever it returns to office? This, again, is another waste of the nation’s resources and the opportunity for advancement if the present Government is not offering the nation the assurance of the breaking of the cycle through the appointment of those who are most qualified for the managerial and leadership openings that exist.

We often think of the diplomatic service as the vehicle by which our economic and strategic interests are represented in the various host nations. And yet, I could not help thinking that it goes further than that in light of some recent developments that have come to my attention. The nation has been made aware of the recall of certain diplomats with the change of Government without apparent regard for the timeline involved in filling such vacancies.

With our growing links with China, more and more Jamaicans are visiting that nation. In recent weeks a number of active and retired teachers went on a tour which took them to China, among other places. Unfortunately, I have been informed that several members of that group had to be hospitalised and, unfortunately, one died as a result of her illness. One can only imagine what it must be like to have such a tragedy occur so far from home and family, and the challenges which this must pose for those involved. While an ambassador does not have to get involved in the micro management of all affairs related to the operations of the embassy, it would surely have been a source of comfort to family members and other concerned parties to know that there was an ambassador in place, instead of the current hiatus which now exists. Although not a precedent set by the present Government, this newspaper has repeatedly suggested that the way in which this important issue has been handled raises questions regarding partisan concern versus national good.

Current revelations regarding campaign finances, the source of such funding, and the handling by the Opposition party, are deeply troubling. It brings to the fore the long-standing concern regarding election campaign funding, on which the Electoral Commission of Jamaica has been making submissions for the longest while, but also the extent to which there is corruption in the way in which those doing business with the Government are engaged in the payment of kickbacks.

The way in which all this has come to light may be construed to lead one side of the political divide to salivate as the story unfolds. The point is, however, notwithstanding the existence of the Office of the Contractor General and the move to bring the matter of corruption under a single umbrella, there is still opposition to the movement toward stronger anti-corruption legislation. Former Contractor General Greg Christie has some bruises to show for it, as does the current Contractor General Dirk Harrison. The very competent and efficient Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis must wonder about the value of the work she is doing for this nation, as her very revealing reports seem to have no consequential impact on the operation of government and those who function in the public sector.

These revelations have brought a cloud over the Opposition party and do not help the image of the party after having gone through the recent political defeat. The nation awaits the outcome of any investigation which may follow as the political culture needs to have credibility and integrity in greater measure. The point is that some party loyalists seem to think that matters of this nature are internal issues within the family network. Unfortunately, these are matters for the whole nation, as each major political party in this country is essential to the functioning of our democratic process.

Just as disturbing is the way in which the leadership issue is being handled by members of the Opposition party within the public arena. Politics constitutes a necessary component of the life of any society, and especially one that is blessed with the heritage that is ours. Every political party has its internal conflicts as we all know from developments in recent years in the life of this nation. It is another matter, however, when individuals begin to abuse, belittle, and make varying allegations about each other, as has been coming to light in recent weeks.

Those of us who have to deal with young people today know that one of the things about which we have to warn them is the way in which they use technology and the social media to abuse and denigrate each other. What do we as adults in our society say to our children now, in light of what is being played out in the political realm at this time?

The discussion of the health of former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is most inappropriate. If indeed, there is a health concern, it is deserving of the confidentially and respect that is due to each member of the society. Insinuations regarding the nature or seriousness of the matter require even greater sensitivity. The fact that an individual is a public figure does not mean that he or she is not entitled to a certain level of privacy and respect.

The nation needs to see a more responsible and mature handling of these differences, especially as they involve individuals who are not just party functionaries, but leaders in the society, and who may one day become the prime minister of our nation. We can rest assured that the ranks of the politically indifferent or marginalised will only expand from the kind of displays within the political arena which we have seen in recent weeks.

An injection of moral principles and consideration in the utterances and actions of those in the political realm is clearly a priority at this time. There is a youth population which is moving into the ranks of the enfranchised, and we shudder to think of what they are making of all these actors and their actions within the realm of our politics.

Right Reverend Howard Gregory is the Anglican Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

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