Letters to the Editor

Civil society's impact not in decline

Monday, December 04, 2017

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Dear Editor,

The letter to the editor by Levi Hinds 'The undoing of civil society in Jamaica', published on Thursday, November 30, 2017, showed some acquaintance with civil society organisations, but its evaluation missed much that is happening under the surface.

The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, despite its calculated demise, continues to have an impact. This includes:

• its alliance with the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition in sponsoring three pieces of research, namely on the auditor general, the constitution, and public health, and the first two have stimulated spin-offs;

• the presence in the Partnership for a Prosperous Jamaica of representatives of five civil society groups — environment, women issues, rights, youth, and church — most of which have been articulated there;

• the impetus it gave to its former member organisations, each in its own terrain steadfastly pursuing its goals;

• a continued good relationship between civil society and the private sector, which was an important feature of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition;

• a wide acceptance that civil society should have a place at the table of governance alongside the Government and private sector.

Secondly, a single organisation is not necessarily the answer to having a collective voice. Networking is another route, different quarters supporting an initiative of one member, like the very effective backing of Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) in the Cockpit Country issue to collect 37,000 signatures.

Thirdly, it's a mistake to think of civil society organisations only or mainly in terms of the big names, JET, Jamaicans For Justice, etc. Hundreds of community associations as well as groups of women and youth operate actively below the radar.

Civil society organisations do have a challenge in attaining funding, especially from local sources. They must do more to educate and court the private sector. They have to begin to earn from their own activities. Progressive civil society organisations, to bring the grass roots on board, must also strategically tackle the overhang of Victorian conservatism and Old Testament literalness that afflict that most crucial sector.

I don't agree that civil society is in decline. On the contrary, its voice grows every day unmistakably stronger on TV and radio and in printed news.

Horace Levy





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