Rule of law disappearing rapidly in Jamaica


Sunday, April 06, 2014    

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In the last couple of weeks I have been doing quite a bit of reading on the East Asian economies, in particular Singapore with emphasis on the period 1959 to present. There seems to be a common denominator that underpins the economic achievements of these countries — admirable social order — cemented in a wider framework of the rule of law that is riveted in Confucianism.

During my readings I happened upon an interview that Fareed Zakaria — a journalist that I respect tremendously — did in 1994 with Lee Kuan Yew who Richard Nixon said, "might have attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli, or a Gladstone, had Lee lived in another time and another place".

I disagree with Nixon. Lee Kuan Yew, in my view, is on the same stage, alongside Churchill, Disraeli and Gladstone with respect to his leadership and the consequences of that on his people. A tinge of racism seems evident in Nixon's backhanded recognition.

According to Lee Kuan Yew, no society can succeed without social order and no successful society has ever existed without the rule of law — this in response to a question by Zakaria as to whether the rule of law was a necessary and sufficient prequisite for economic growth. This profound response has lingered in my mind, especially against the background of a report that appeared in the Jamaica Observer on March 28, 2014 titled 'Ministry condemns damage to fire truck'.

The gist of the news item centred on a man who slammed a vehicle into a girl [after allegedly injuring two persons on Spanish Town Road], who was on her way to school. This incident happened in Payne Land. The driver, electronic reports said, had driven away the vehicle [that might not have been owned by him] from a car wash.

Some residents, in what is now too commonplace in Jamaica, took the driver from the vehicle, beat him within inches of his life and then set the car on fire.

Let me declare that I condemn in the strongest possible manner the illegal actions of the driver and I equally condemn the illegal reaction of those citizens who were involved.

After 50 years of political Independence from Great Britain this kind of reprehensible and savage behaviour should not be happening in our country. But why is this happening? In answering this question I reflected on a number of issues, among them the continued diminution of social order, and more broadly the rule of law in Jamaica, rabid political opportunism, as evidenced in the original release sent out by the Ministry of Local Government and Community Development, apparently without following one of the ground rules of information dissemination, that of checking and double checking information; and Jamaicans' general lack of confidence in our justice system.

All these issues are interconnected and tend to have a single result — continued and/or ultimate underdevelopment.

Social order is rapidly disappearing in Jamaica. It's not unusual to see some adult males urinating in public spaces, vendors typically blocking roads in many town centres, public passenger vehicles — less so the JUTC's — routinely breaking traffic rules with absolute glee, and pedestrians walking out onto roadways as they feel a mind.

We are also seeing numerous relatives abandoning their 'loved' ones at hospitals, some parents wearing 'tights' and 'B' riders/short shorts to meet with teachers at schools, and 'bandooloism', 'letoffs' and 'blighs' are hard currencies at public and private sector levels. These are but some of our realities and they are antithetical to economic growth and development.

In the interview Zakaria asked Lee Kuan Yew what accounted for the moral decay in American society and how he would address it if he were an American. Lee's response was profound.

"What would I do if I were an American? First, you must have order in society. Guns, drugs and violent crime all go together, threatening social order. Then the schools; when you have violence in schools, you are not going to have education, so you've got to put that right. Then you have to educate rigorously and train a whole generation of skilled, intelligent, knowledgeable people who can be productive. I would start off with basics, working on the individual, looking at him within the context of his family, his friends, his society."

In this description — some may say prescription — Jamaica can learn a thing or two, or maybe three. Order in society is a necessary condition for everyone to enjoy their freedom. We cannot have a society in which it is commonplace to beat, chop and stab persons, sometimes to death, and set vehicles afire when there is a traffic accident.

We cannot have a society where — as happened on Spur Tree Hill not too long ago — people loot a trailer carrying beverages when it had overturned while they paid little attention to the driver who was pinned under a portion of the vehicle crying for help.

The persons involved in the dastardly act in Payne Land were said to be adults. This incident points to deficiencies in our education system. If these 'adults' were educated it is highly unlikely that their reaction would have been what it was. The same obtains for the driver.

This is an instance in which I support the present minister of education, Ronald Thwaites, in his thrust to fully reinvigorate the teaching of citizenship education [credit also to the former minister of education Andrew Holness who championed a similar cause] or civics in our schools.

The general disrespect for law and good order is but a symptom of an education system which needs some strong, ram goat weed, ginseng, sarsaparilla roots and soursop leaf tea. Readers from the rustic parts of Jamaica especially, know what I mean. As Lee Kuan Yew said, we need to start with the "basics".

This must mean graduating students who are mathematically competent, who can read, write, think with facility and have a marketable skill. One can teach oneself almost anything once you have acquired those necessary skills.

Then we saw where some person or sets of persons within or maybe outside the Ministry of Local Government were quick to use a tragic occurrence in an attempt to gain political mileage. According to the Observer story: "The ministry, in a release, originally put the blame on residents of the Jamaica Labour Party-represented Denham Town, when in fact the incident took place in Tavares Gardens, popularly called Payne Land, a section of the South West St Andrew constituency of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, president of the ruling People's National Party."

The fact that there was an apology afterwards raises the question, why would anyone have wanted to benefit politically from such a tragic situation? What kind of misinformed and deeply anxious person wrote the original release? It would have been a simple thing to check with the police and/or maybe even the fire department to ascertain where the accident happened. Why was that not done? Or was it?

This kind of behaviour goes to the heart of our political problem. We have a politics that is characterised, as PJ Patterson, former prime minister, said "by a fight for scare benefits and spoils carried on by hostile tribes which seem to be perpetually at war".

The Observer story said "The residents torched the car involved in the accident and later stabbed and beat the driver. A fire truck which was called to the scene was stoned by the angry residents, who smashed the windscreen.

"It was only yesterday the ministry revealed that four firefighters were injured in the incident and had to be treated at the Apex Medical Centre."

The ministry's news release quoted junior minister Colin Fagan, who has direct portfolio responsibility for the Jamaica Fire Brigade, as saying: "It is understandable that residents would be enraged by the actions of the driver, and understandably so, but the manner in which they chose to express their vexation is not only destructive but also very expensive."

It is absolutely shocking that the junior minister did not use the word 'illegal' to describe the actions of the residents. Is this because they are from a PNP community?

This trajectory of events reveals a lot, especially in relation to what is important and what is not. If a matter such as this can be so politicised, then Jamaica is in for even sadder times if we do not change course immediately.

This sad state of affairs graduates into the palpable distrust that thousands of Jamaicans have for our justice, some say 'injustice system'. People feel that if you are not well connected monetarily, socially, and politically there is little chance of your getting justice. A kind of Orwellian reality has dawned upon us: "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."

While this is the reality, anarchy cannot be countenanced in any shape or form. Those who are paid to fix the justice system must do so with alacrity instead of resting on their laurels wasting time thumping benches in Parliament at the announcement of platitudes.

The police must also do their job to arrest those who perpetrate the destruction of public property. In these times of economic austerity we cannot afford these kinds of expenditure. Those persons who smashed the windscreen of the fire truck need to ask themselves what if there was a fire in Payne Land and this same truck which they damaged was needed but could not respond due to their actions? I am sure they would then argue governmental negligence and maybe even demonstrate calling for 'justice'.

This kind of immediate gratification response is another consequence of an education system which clearly is not producing the kind of civic-minded Jamaican that is needed and is also a product of the rapidly disappearing social order and the rule of law.

We need to fix the anomalies urgently.





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