The big question: Are we satisfied with the justice from our justice system?

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, March 04, 2018

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You must attend to your business with the vendor in the market, and not to the noise of the market. — Beninese proverb

Paradigm shifts are invariably scoffed at by the short-sighted and the status quo. The two are sometimes indistinguishable. Many of our most important institutions/innovations today were initially treated with cynicism and even rabid opposition. When incontrovertible success came it was often greeted with the tepid retort, “We knew it was a great idea all along.”

Recall that when our National Stadium was completed some said it was unnecessary. Most Jamaicans today will attest to its immense and unqualified value. When Sir Donald Sangster, Jamaica's second prime minister, spearheaded the vision of an international airport in Montego Bay, many said he was mad. When Hugh Shearer, our third prime minister, commenced a network of bypass roads and highways to stimulate increased economic growth in the late 1960s, some made infra dig comments about his humble beginnings in Martha Brae, Trelawny, and a few even whispered aloud that his then plans for Jamaica were scarcely more than the mutterings of an unlettered man. The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) was instituted in 1966. The People's National Party (PNP) tried legislatively, and in popular culture, to invert NIS to 'SIN'. They failed. Today the NIS continues to deliver significant life-saving benefits to thousands of Jamaicans.

Michael Manley, our fourth prime minister, championed the development of the National Housing Trust; it was treated with great suspicion by some. It is today one of our best institutions. When Edward Seaga, our fifth and best prime minister to date, spearheaded the Jamaica Stock Exchange (1968), Jamaica Development Bank (1969), decimalisation of the Jamaican currency (1969), introduction of merchant banking in Jamaica (1969), Jamaica Mortgage Bank (1972), National Development Bank (1981), Agricultural Credit Bank (1981), National Investment Bank of Jamaica, Export-Import Bank (1986), Jampro [formerly Jamaica National Investment Promotion Limited] (1987), Digiport [first satellite telecommunications data processing operations], and the Self Start Fund (1984), many created straw men which have since suffered cruel deaths.

Credit to our sixth prime minister, P J Patterson, for a park and recreational meeting point in the commercial centre of the city. Patterson was needled by some who wanted the expansion of the 'concrete jungle'. Today, Emancipation Park stands as a Kingston landmark and a powerful metaphor of the strength of the Jamaican people.

“Just because we cannot see clearly the end of the road that is no reason for not setting out on the essential journey. On the contrary, great change dominates the world. And unless we move with change we will become its victims,” said Robert Kennedy, as reported in The New York Times, July 2, 1964.

A few weeks ago our ninth prime minister, Andrew Holness, made a call for greater accountability in our judicial processes. Some who are involved in what I described in a previous article as a game of intellectual ping pong went on a rampage. Others ranted that their 'sacred' space was being encroached upon.

Are ordinary citizens across the length and breadth of the country satisfied with the justice from our justice system? The answer to this question was somehow buried deep into the background by numerous intellectual 'top-rankings'. And, of course, there was the missing element of Acting Chief Justice Bryan Sykes's views.

That is no longer the case. He spoke in unambiguous terms on Saturday, February 24, 2018 at a case flow management workshop in St Ann. Sykes made it clear that it was not going to be business as usual. This Jamaica Observer story was instructive: “Acting Chief Justice Bryan Sykes says the time has come for a re-examination of how resources are requested and allocated within the court system.

“He noted that, often, concerns are raised about case backlogs, which evoke calls for increased manpower, but argued that in many instances the solution is to 'utilise the existing resources that we have in a more efficient manner'.

“ 'Oftentimes, the cry coming from the courts is that we need more resources, but what kind of resources do we need? Is it human resources, is it material? Is it computers? Is it utilising what we have more efficiently? We have to begin to think now in terms of sometimes moving the cases around in the parishes or within the same parish,' he noted.

“ 'It may be that you have to use the outstations a bit more efficiently. Can we have a physical plant really that is being used once per month or once per week? Is that an efficient use of resources, particularly in the context of a developing country?' he questioned.

“Justice Sykes was addressing a workshop on case-flow management for parish court staff at the Jewel Paradise Cove Beach Resort and Spa on Saturday.

“He underscored the need for greater efficiency in the Jamaican court system in order to drive economic growth and development.

“ 'If you look at countries that have developed economically at different points in our history, one of the critical components has always been an efficient legal system,” [he said] citing the example of the UK [and adding that] the legal system was the vital component that “drove the Industrial Revolution and made England the financial centre of Europe”.

“ 'It established a reputation for fairness and relative efficiency, compared to what was happening in the rest of Europe, and that attracted businessmen and investors from other parts of Europe to have their cases litigated in the courts of England,' he pointed out.” ( Jamaica Observer, February 26, 2018)

I particularly liked the points Justice Sykes made on greater efficiencies in the judicial process, economic growth, and developing economies. It's not rocket science. This excerpt from The Economist of March 13, 2008 is helpful: “And there are proxy indicators connecting legal reform with growth in other areas. The value of rural land in Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand increased sharply when people were given title deeds, because owners were more willing to invest. One independent study for the World Bank a decade ago found a surprising link between projects the bank financed and civil liberties — projects in countries with strong civil liberties had far higher rates of return than those in countries with weak traditions of liberty.”

I anticipate that some will say, but Jamaica has one of the finest judicial systems in the world. Again, are the majority of our citizens, especially ordinary folk, happy with the justice from our justice system?

Prime Minister Holness in his 2018 New Year's Message situated the rule of law as a central theme. Some might not have understood its relevance: “The rule of law is held to be not only good in itself, because it embodies and encourages a just society, but also a cause of other good things, notably growth.”

“No other single political ideal has ever achieved global endorsement,” says Brian Tamanaha, a legal scholar at St John's University, New York. ( The Economist, March 13, 2008) Tamanaha's points are axiomatic. I have a very good feeling about Justice Sykes, and I believe there are many, many more like me.

More signs of sunrise

Some very good news that will doubtless cause some political convulsions among those who suffer with unenlightened Jamaica House Withdrawal Syndrome came last week. A news item from the Old Lady of North Street said, among other things: “Jamaica has risen 15 places in the latest Corruption Perception Index .” ( The Gleaner, February 22, 2018)

Then this ray of sunlight hit some who prefer to behave like political amoebas. Among other things, this newspaper reported: “Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett is reporting that Jamaica recorded increased visitor arrivals to the island for the first two months of the year.

“Data from the Jamaica Tourist Board showed that a record 4.3 million tourists visited Jamaica in 2017, providing a revenue flow of approximately US$3 billion.

“Bartlett also mentioned the current enhanced security measures, in the parish of St James: 'Things are looking better, because we are on the road, and we are talking to our partners, and they are understanding that what we are doing is to maintain Jamaica as a safe, secure and seamless destination,' he added.” ( Jamaica Observer, February 25, 2018)

Some would have been politically discombobulated when news came that the State-owned oil refinery, Petrojam's corporate office, was renamed the Edward Seaga Building.

“The move to rename the building was reportedly led by Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley.

“General manager of Petrojam Floyd Grindley says it's being done in recognition of Seaga's contribution to national development, particularly his spearheading of the purchase of the Petrojam refinery from Esso West Indies in 1982.

“Petrojam was mandated to be the least cost supplier of petroleum products to the Jamaican market.” ( The Gleaner, February 21, 2018)

Edward Seaga is a trailblazer. He changed the political, social, economic, and cultural landscape of this country for the better.

Seaga and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) built the National Arena in 1963; Things Jamaican in 1963; Student Revolving Loan Fund for Higher Education (1970); established Jamaica Racing Commission and Jockey School (1972); Golden Age Homes for the elderly poor; Programme for Advancement of Early Childhood Education; HEART (now HEART/National Training Agency) in 1982; establishment of the Office of the Contractor General (proposed in 1979) in 1983. His contributions to legislation not timetabled and dictated by the International Monetary Fund that have improved life for thousands upon thousands of ordinary Jamaicans are a matter of public record.

On the matter of legislation, Seaga should be forever credited for his unrivalled magnanimity when, after the 1983 General Election (selection since it was uncontested by an unprepared PNP), he did not use the Government's total control of the Senate and the House of Representatives for raw political advantage. Seaga could have changed the constitution of the country to the eternal advantage of the JLP. He did not. Instead, he appointed independent senators and demonstrated statesmanship. Compare Seaga's actions with the behaviour of Michael Manley and his clandestine use of his constitutional powers to declare a year-long state of emergency in 1976.

As a builder and facilitator of cultural initiatives and institutions Seaga is matched by few: Jamaica Festival (1963), return of Marcus Garvey's remains to Jamaica (1964), several museums inclusive of the Arawak and Port Royal (1965-1969), introducing National Heritage Week (1968), Creative Production and Training Centre (1971), and the Media Divestment Programme to establish several small private radio and church television stations. And I could go on.

Seaga's genius has benefited Jamaicans in ways yet to be fully understood. World-renowned psephologist and academic, the late Professor Carl Stone, of The University of the West Indies, Mona, said: “Seaga's dominance of the JLP is generally misunderstood. He is a difficult man to get along with, and he is very demanding. In a low-intensity work culture, in which most people operate at 30 per cent of their capacity, Seaga puts out 100 per cent, which is the main reason why he is disliked by many of his colleagues. He believes in tight party discipline and a strong chain of command that runs the party more like a military structure than a democratic organ. He has sacrificed democracy for organisational discipline. He gets away with it because he is better able to get things done than any other politician in the country. We may not like him, but we are forced to acknowledge that his methods work in a country wracked by indiscipline, irresponsible behaviour and laziness. Seaga's dominance of the JLP is not just a reflection of his personality or leadership style. Seaga has revolutionised the JLP from being a 'rag tag', populist party with no clear ideological direction into an 'ideas party' that challenged PNP socialism in the 70s with a strong liberal-capitalist ideological and intellectual offensive.

Under Alexander Bustamante, the JLP was no intellectual match for the ideas party that the PNP was under Norman Manley. The ideas that drive the current JLP are the thoughts of Edward Seaga, and this gives him a level of intellectual dominance in the current JLP that has no parallel in the PNP or the earlier JLP.

“Seaga single-handedly won the ideological battle with Michael Manley and the PNP to the point where Manley and the PNP are now echoing and articulating Seaga's liberal-capitalist ideology. Any objective analysis of politics in this country over the last two decades has to acknowledge that Seaga, not Manley, has been the political personality who has had the most decisive influence on our country's policy and ideological direction.” ( The Gleaner, October 22, 1990)

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has hinted that the country will bestow an important honour on former Prime Minister Edward Seaga for his contribution to national development. Seaga has done us proud!

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

Honour is the reward of virtue. — Marcus Tullius Cicero

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or




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