Positives, negatives and hope

Michael Burke

Thursday, February 23, 2012

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YESTERDAY was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent for this year. Is it too late to organise during this period for the entire nation to reflect on the positives and negatives of the last 50 years of political Independence? Is it too late for this Lent to have the entire nation reflect on our collective sins over the past 50 years? We have a lot to celebrate in terms of our achievements over the past 50 years but some of the negatives have helped to keep us back. Our positives have been in education, health and infrastructure. Our negatives have been the undisciplined attitude of many, the selfishness of some and everything from subtle dishonesty at all levels of society to outright corruption in some places.

We love to talk about the dishonesty of politicians without looking at ourselves. Some say that those who are angry with corruption at whatever level are only so because they did not get a share of whatever was stolen. But there is a type of dishonesty that is found in marketing practices. Yes, some politicians are guilty because they too market their product, especially in the period before an election. Indeed, perhaps they market their product more forcibly than anyone else.

On more than one occasion, a political party while in Opposition has criticised the size of the Cabinet and when the Opposition turns into government after victory at the polls, the Cabinet is bigger than the one before. This happened in 1972 when the People's National Party won; it happened in 1980 when the Jamaica Labour Party won and it happened since this year when the PNP took the reins as a result of the December 29, 2011 elections. While I prefer a larger Cabinet to a smaller one that needs more advisers, all of whom have to be paid according to their worth (read university degrees and previous high-salaried job), it is time that politicians level with Jamaicans rather than dishonestly criticising the size of the Cabinet.

The former minister of finance, Audley Shaw, spent the entire four years of the last JLP government speaking about what he inherited from the previous government as an excuse for less than satisfactory performance. Now the PNP is in power and Peter Phillips is finance minister. Phillips reported to Parliament what he has found in taking up office as was the correct thing to do. Then we heard Shaw stating that Phillips should stop complaining and get on with the job.

While I am not surprised at Shaw's remark because I expect that from him, I am insulted by the contempt that he seems to have for us. It is all right for him to spend four years talking about all he inherited, but not all right for his successor at the start of his tenure to make an honest appraisal of what he found. We are all supposed to be so unintelligent that we should quickly forget what he said for the four years that he was finance minister.

But then, to be fair to Shaw, it might have had to do with the way the question was posed by the media. You might know that media reporters have a way of posing a question in that the person being interviewed has not even given great thought to, but an answer is given and it is published and broadcast in such a way to give the impression that the person initiated the response. I know because they have done that to me also. But even so, Shaw should not have made that statement. This sort of attitude represents the sin of politicians who will say and do anything to maintain power, even to the detriment of others.

In 1987, the American televangelist, Jimmy Swaggart, who had a super-ministry and a large following of Christians, was accused of adultery. Someone rang Hotline on RJR and at the time Wilmot Perkins was hosting the programme. The caller berated Swaggart, but Perkins told the caller that when a man like Swaggart - who gave so many people hope and so many people something to live for - had his private sins publicised, it could destroy lives.

I held no brief for Jimmy Swaggart who was very critical of the Roman Catholic Church. But he did give some people hope by preaching about Jesus Christ. Swaggart, of course, will have to answer for his own sins and like the clergymen guilty of paedophilia, whether exposed or not (mostly depending on which denomination they belong to) will have to answer also for theirs. I mention this only to emphasise the importance of hope.

One of the positives over the past 50 years of political Independence which gives us hope is our strong talent for negotiation. It certainly took the powers of negotiation to be able to do that. And having done that, why not make some money by inviting economics students from all over the world to show them how a country that is 50 years independent and has no gold or diamonds or oil was able to borrow money in order to reach a level of development that we are at today? And we could throw in lecturers in other areas of negotiation, such as trade unionists and lawyers.





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