Editorial

Extend Jamaica House petition portal to all government ministries

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness is not short on big ideas, the latest being yesterday's launch of a Jamaica House Petition portal to enhance communication with the people.

Jamaica House said the portal gives local groups and members of the public the opportunity to petition the Government on matters of national importance, as part of its national consultative approach.

The portal, which can be accessed via the website of the Office of the Prime Minister at http://opm.gov.jm/participate/jamaica-house-petition/, gets our immediate approval — as does anything else that promotes transparency, accountability. and greater citizen involvement in the governance process.

The bald truth is that governments of Jamaica traditionally talk at or down to the people and not with the people. Too many critically important announcements are made as fait accompli, without consultation with the people whom they will affect.

As a result, government programmes and policies are largely ignored by the people, or noticed mainly when there is a perception that they will hurt, especially in the pocket.

The other problem, of course, is that even when a paltry effort is made to communicate with the people, it is greeted with apathy and the belief that nothing good will come of it.

Because of the traditional lack of communication our people are not accustomed to sharing their views with the Government. Every joint select committee of the Parliament can attest to this fact.

People prefer, by and large, to vent or make suggestions on radio talk shows, believing that only by exposing and shaming the Administration will anything be done about their problems. Perhaps that is why former Prime Minister Bruce Golding did one from Jamaica House.

We certainly hope that this Jamaica House portal will gain in credibility and stature by making a difference. Obviously, not every issue can be handled immediately, but people have to see results for them to emerge out of their malaise.

We also suggest that the portal concept be extended to all ministries which should be able to deal more quickly with issues that fall under their portfolios and prevent Jamaica House from becoming a bottleneck, thereby ensuring its failure.

Naturally, the other means of communication with the people, such as the town hall meetings, should be continued and increased. We agree with Jamaica House that “public participation is an integral part of preserving our democracy”.

We recognise that, in our overly politically polarised society, efforts by any government to promote dialogue can be testy. It's not here alone. Notice how many congressmen in the United States are afraid to attend town hall meetings with their constituents.

It is a self-assured and secure Government that will stand and face its people, especially when the going gets tough. Still it is our hope that people will make effective use of the Jamaica House portal and not make it into a device merely for chastising government.

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