Let's end the practice of idle promises

Canute Thompson

Sunday, March 11, 2018

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It is said that Jamaica's national character is Brer Anancy, who is known for his ginnalship. The defining quality of Brer Anancy is in being able to mislead the same set of people every time he wishes. The people of Jamaica need to stop allowing ourselves to be mocked, misled, cheated, and deceived.

Actions that bring results

New Chief Justice Bryan Sykes has made public utterances about the areas which require improvements in the justice system. One hopes that in short order he will make public a specific plan which outlines the programmes he intends to pursue. The country needs to be told the objectives, strategies, timelines, and the financial and other resources required. Sykes has offered a three-year timeline. We need to see some results each year over the next three years.

I fear that we are at risk of being Anancied again — and not because of any trickster tendency on the part of the learned chief justice, but because “is jus so di ting set”. Few, if any, would question the erudition and commitment of former Chief Justice Zaila McCalla or Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn, but we have to ask: What was the state of the justice system when they assumed their respective roles, and what is it now?

I think the evidence is clear that not much progress has been made on the real issues that affect people's lives, thus justice continues to hang in the balance despite the noble promises of Sykes. I remind Sykes of, and call the public's attention to the 2007 Jamaican Justice System Reform Task Force (JJSRTF) Report, which assumed a 10-year horizon for effecting major improvements in the justice system. The report projected that by 2017 a number of major improvements would have been implemented in the justice system to address some chronic and entrenched problems such as:

• delays in the time it takes to achieve a fair disposition of matters in both civil and criminal matters;

• lack of respect accorded to individuals who come in contact with the justice system (disrespect for their personal dignity, their time, and their rights to privacy;

• lack of consistency in the enforcement of laws and outcome of various legal processes;

• barriers to accessing the justice system, including the inaccessibility of legal information, legal assistance, and the courts;

• perception that individuals are not accorded equal treatment by the justice system nor do they receive the equal benefit and protection of the law; and

• procedures and language that are too complex and, in some cases, archaic.

A 2009 Jamaica Justice System Reform Policy Agenda Framework Report, authored by attorney Dennis Darby, identified similar concerns as those contained in the 2007 JJSRTF Report. Darby, however, highlighted a painful reality that:

“One of the major challenges that a policy review faces in Jamaica is general scepticism… this (scepticism) is built on a common perception that however good the analysis may be — nothing much will happen in the end...” (Page 12)

Given the public utterances of Justice Sykes, which curiously reflect the same talking points of the Government — a fact which gives pause — the greatest threat to his legacy is that, despite the opportunities to learn, and the lofty promises “…nothing much happens in the end….”

The new police commissioner

Everyone, I am sure, wishes Major General Antony Anderson well in his new role. But we may do well to temper our expectations and be cognisant of certain facts. These include that we have had army men head the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) before in the persons of the late Colonel Trevor McMillan and Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin. Was either one successful in transforming the JCF? The evidence is clear.

A second fact of which we must take cognisance is the unfortunate politicisation of the position of police commissioner over several years, with few noble departures. Rear Admiral Lewin was perceived to be (I do not know that he was) Comrade-affiliated, and thus was deemed to have been pushed out by the Bruce Golding Administration and replaced by Owen Ellington, whom some claim similar affiliations (though I know of no supportive evidence), but who was retained by the Portia Simpson Miller Administration — a fact for which that Administration took credit.

Major General Anderson was appointed national security advisor and later chair of the Firearm Licensing Authority. In that regard, one would assume that he is likely to be a sympathiser of the ruling party. But, regardless of Anderson's political stripes, if any, he, as is the case with the chief justice, should present a detailed action plan for the transformation of the JCF and the management of crime. The two previous commissioners under this Government were pressured to produce a “crime plan”. I am sure that having served in the role of national security advisor, General Anderson comes to the table with a plan. The public should be advised of those elements of the plan that are fit for public consumption, but most importantly, the new commissioner should be bold and accountable in telling the country what results (not rhetoric, not public relations, not strategies, but results) to expect. Shouldn't he?

Emerging realism or Anancyism?

So we have seen two years of the Andrew Holness-led Administration and, I dare say, a great deal of the Holness personality and political philosophy. Some things concerns me greatly.

It will be recalled that Prime Minister Holness promised that, unlike previous prime ministers, he would be holding his Cabinet ministers accountable and that this would begin with, and be achieved by, issuing each one with a job description. To date, no such job description has been issued, and the last time an explanation was given for this failure to do so was in September 2016, when Holness said the ministers needed more time to get acquainted with the jobs. Wow! Unheard of! Is this emerging realism or plain Anancyism?

Another interesting area in which there appears to be emerging realism or plain Anancyism is in relation to the Government's promise of “free health care”. In a news report carried in the Jamaica Observer of Monday, February 12, 2018, entitled 'Gov't committed to universal access, not free health care', Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton is quoted as follows:

“(Universal access and free health care) does (sic) not mean the same thing, and I have had to struggle with it in my own capacity as minister of health and, indeed, as a politician who campaigned in order to get to office on the basis that free health care is something we should guarantee… and the fundamental challenge with that is that you give equal access in an under-resourced capacity to the rich and to the poor, in effect, subsidising both socio-economic segments; and in an under-resourced or limited resourced arrangement, you're actually depriving the most marginalised through the subsidisation of those who can afford it.”

The translation of this is that the Government (then in Opposition) always knew that the promise of “free health care” was always going to be a non-starter. The minister is here admitting that the promise was used “…in order to get to office…” Having got into office the minister is now willing to admit that what was promised is not workable so the Administration is seeking to rewrite the promise to have been one of “universal access”, not “free health care”.

This extended reasoning by the minister of health cannot be unsaid. He continues:

“…the fundamental challenge with (free health care) is that you give equal access in an under-resourced capacity to the rich and to the poor… (by) actually depriving the most marginalised through the subsidisation of those who can afford it.”

This is what the minister, and by extension the Holness Administration, believes. I conclude that the matter of free health care was plain Anancyism.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of three books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or

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