To whom much is given…


To whom much is given…

David Abrikian

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

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The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has received a massive mandate at the last general election and the saying, “To whom much is given, much will be required...” is greatly applicable. There are many areas that fit that “requirement”, including the most recent, to bring COVID-19 under control, as well as the longest standing, to address the crime situation. A third relates to the effectiveness of the national education system, whether this is during or outside the pandemic.

All three of these both affect and are affected by the physical and social conditions of the country, in particular those that exist in many urban communities, where the prevailing environment and local culture have stifled human development and the avenues and opportunities for individual growth.

While the advantaged class in Jamaica has within its grasp the essentials of a First-World experience, another large part of the society languishes in a mess. And, while there have been sporadic attempts and programmes to, as they say, “alleviate the poverty/poor”, in a number of ways the exploitation and misleading of deprived communities carried out by many leaders in the interest of attaining and maintaining power has only deepened the situation.

To simplify things, the greatest “requirement” appears to be the need for a modicum of uniformity regarding the opportunities for human development throughout the country. The reason for this should be fairly obvious. Development opportunities for individuals who are fairly evenly available will eventually lead to a more uniformly developed nation, reducing deprivation and its attendant ills — the greatest sustainers, if not motivators, of various types of antisocial behaviour. These, by definition, are simply internal societal conflicts which cannot avoid having adverse effects. Crime, violence, corruption, resentment, division, etc, are the expected results. So, not only will the individuals involved benefit personally when opportunities become more available, but the society, as a whole, stands to gain significantly.

What has been repeatedly stated over the years is that what is holding back the country is the number of deprived, dispossessed, uncared for, and neglected communities — therefore, people — in the country. The focus for the country needs to be in the development, the uplifting, the security, and the stabilisation of the poor and disadvantaged in the country, without in any way diminishing the same for those that already have these.

The question therefore arises: To what extent is this the focus of the present Government?

In answering, if there are signs that seem to point to this, there are at least three that appear to indicate otherwise.

Firstly, given the circumstantial gift of an open space waiting to be developed into a refreshing, facilitating park, located in the centre of the most densely populated area in Jamaica, why would there be the desire to ignore that opportunity and end its future as a park by covering it with concrete. Surely, this is a major disregard for the communities in its vicinity.

If the proposed parliament building is built elsewhere the Heroes' Circle enclosure can be kept for a park. The idea of government buildings surrounding and on the outside of Heroes' Circle has value, and the parliament building could be included in that group, or could be located somewhat further to the west, but the parkland should be kept as a park. Who says the less fortunate cannot also benefit from park space?

There are numerous other locations for the proposed parliament building, including Jamaica Defence Force lands, King's House lands, plus more.

Another one, associated with the upgrade in Kingston roads, begs the question: Why completely move a market facility that was providing a valuable service to the community and employment for the resident market vendors, who happen to be part of a group of the most industrious persons in the island?

I speak of the former Constant Spring Market. In spite of the road improvement — which was a real improvement — there is still an abundance of space that could accommodate a smaller, well-planned, and well-managed market at Constant Spring. Is it true, as is rumoured, that some high-end development is planned for that area? Why can a market for the vendors not be fitted in as well? They should not be disregarded.

A third indicator relates to when former UK Prime Minister David Cameron came some time ago with a proposal for a prison gift, which was rebuffed without any further consideration. In England, it is considered inhumane and is illegal to deport Jamaican law offenders to serve sentence in Jamaica, such is their perception of prisons here — though unfortunately correct. The circumstances, therefore, were ripe for discussions that might have worked to Jamaica's benefit. Reparation considerations were in the air, but regarding the prison offer there was scope for negotiation, which would have had no effect on any reparation concerns. Two or so years after Cameron's visit and, much to the Government's embarrassment, the deplorable state of the prisons was shown to be even worse by the revelation of individuals being incarcerated for years without trial. The need for prison reform in Jamaica is a tremendous “requirement”.

These are merely indicators, although important in their own right. But to return to the most recent “requirement”; namely, that of bringing COVID-19 under control, what the pandemic has exposed may be of even greater significance than the pandemic itself. COVID-19's silver lining for Jamaica has been the glaring revelation of the great disparity in developmental opportunities, particularly in education, across the levels in society. This situation has before now been often avoided, ignored, or rationalised away, but COVID-19 has brought it to the forefront, much like a painting covered with translucent cloth that is suddenly removed. And, addressing this issue may be our greatest requirement of the Government.

While many individuals, organisations, and companies have made tremendous effort to help — all of which deserve overwhelming gratitude and commendation — there needs to be a national initiative. The greater the focus and input here, the brighter and lighter the silver lining will become. We need desperately to avoid the other option, where the lining is ignored and then merges back into the darkness of the cloud.

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