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We cannot continue to be a cross-eyed nation

Al Miller

Sunday, October 01, 2017

The headline screamed, 'Dream Denied — Slain 13-year-old wanted to be a great footballer'. Another week and another child, full of potential and desire for great things, is cut down by a gunman's bullets. I am constrained, therefore, to continue on this crime issue.

We need decisive action now to overcome it; to pull it up by its very roots. This is the season to tackle our most perplexing and debilitating national scourge. We cannot miss it.We're still in the early post-jubilee years. We have come through our first 50 years of Independence and we are transitioning from the leadership of the first 50 years to new leadership for the next 50 years. We need new thinking and new approaches relevant to our 21st- century world and national needs. We need our leaders to be free from the trappings that entangled the feet of their predecessors, and perhaps even their own. They must be freed to propel us into realising the visions of our founding fathers.

We must right the wrongs and mistakes made by our early leaders and not perpetuate them to our detriment and the blighting of our children's future. We owe it to our children to give them the best opportunity and environment in which to develop their potential and make Jamaica great. We owed that responsibility to 13-year-old Jahime O'Connor who was gunned down while playing football last Sunday. We failed him as we have failed so many others. How long will we be content to have our children slain in their beds or on the playing fields?


Stop cursing the kettle

There is no point in us continuing to just curse the kettle for being black. Wash off the kettle! The kettle can't clean itself.

We need a truce in order to establish unity. Parliamentarians need help to break the division and unite the nation. This is an action that the Church should lead. Where is the Church when it is most needed? May the light not fear the darkness, but dispel it! Our nation can and must be transformed. And the time is now.

We must be prepared to make sacrifices and to take the tough political and social decisions necessary to build the new Jamaica. We must love the nation enough, be committed enough to change, and bold enough to pressure the political system. We must break the shackles of political tribalism, garrisonisation, and donmanship culture that our politicians created and from which they cannot seem to extricate themselves. Intervention is necessary to help reposition them so they can better carry out their parliamentary and governance assignments.


A cross-eyed nation

A cross-eyed man was walking down a busy street. Another man bumped into him and the cross-eyed man said, “Why don't you look where you're going?” The man replied, “Why don't you go where you're looking?”

This is not to make fun of a disability, but to make a point. A great tragedy of our nation is that we are acting as if we are cross-eyed. Our national reality suggests that we are looking in one direction but moving in another, and yet we don't understand why we are repeatedly colliding. We think we are going where we are looking, but in fact we are not looking where we are going. We are looking at progress and prosperity but heading towards deterioration and implosion.

Our divisions, low trust levels and fears have kept us apart; inhibiting our ability to muster our united strength for the common good. Therefore, Jamaica, a great nation with a great people, can only be spoken of as having great potential.


No PNP country or JLP country

The talk of by-elections is stirring up the sharp tribal divisions to which I have been referring for the last few weeks. They remain a major source of our current social problems of crime and violence. I know it is so deeply ingrained in the psyche of old-style politicians that perhaps only a Damascus Road experience can change them.

Julian Robinson, the People's National Party (PNP) general secretary, a man I really like, who hopes to be among the younger, new era leaders and an agent of change, was reported as saying that St Mary South Eastern is “PNP territory”.

I can only conclude that he has not been reading this column. That statement is representative of the old-style divisive language and thinking that must change. The PNP does not have a territory, neither does the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). This is not JLP or PNP country. This country belongs to Jamaicans, who are free to go and live anywhere in it at any time.

Once we begin to talk about territory, then we move to the idea of opposing territory and conflict and enemies. This divisive thinking is what produced the garrisons. It's time to move beyond the warring factions and to end the perpetual war. This is why I said in the article 'Enough is Enough 2' published on September 3, 2-17 that to break the negative, abusive tribal cycle the parties must begin to speak differently. A new standard of acceptable rhetoric must be embraced and practised. These new messages must be repeated until they permeate our thinking.

If the current crop of politicians cannot change their tribal mindset and conduct, then as a people we will have to remove and replace them all. We have to do what is necessary. We are in a state of crisis that demands action now. Anyone in the political process who denies responsibility for the morass and who is not unreservedly committed to work for the transformation renders himself or herself unfit to lead or serve the public.

We accept that nothing can be done about our past. Moping over it is unproductive, but we can do everything about our future by taking action now. Whilst we acknowledge the start that has been made with the zones of special operations (ZOSO), the problem extends way beyond what ZOSO is designed for and has the capacity to address. The prime minister must commission a team outside of the confines of politics and the security forces with appropriate resources and empower it to tackle the transformation of the negative political and social ills as a priority. This matter cannot be ignored or placed on the back burner any longer.


Police force

The second critical matter that must be addressed with equal urgency is the endemic corruption in the police force. A corrupt police force has no hope of being able to address the crime problem. It is impossible. But no one wants to seriously deal with it. Just as we cannot break the back of crime and violence without dealing with tribalism, garrisons and the donmanship culture, we likewise cannot deal with crime without a radical transformation of the police force.

No government has yet had the courage or the will to deal with police force, even though the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) own review admits the systemic problems that exist. I hope that the new-era prime minister and new Opposition leader have the courage. Bipartisan support is ideal. Yet strong, courageous government could just do it.

Certainly, there is more than one possible approach for dealing with the problems in the JCF. One thing is for sure, however, action must be taken if there is any serious commitment to deal with the crime monster. Without dealing with the police force any talk about addressing crime is just empty words.

The ideal solution for dealing with the scourge of corruption in the police force would be to make all members of the force redundant and re-hire only those proven to fit the desired profile. I hope that would be most of the members. We would have to either use the army in the interim or do a parallel recruitment process for the new body — the Jamaica Police Service, perhaps. This has already been recommended as a minority position in the The Report of the National Task Force on Crime (1993), known as the Wolfe Report.

Although this may seem difficult politically, the only real constraint would be the cost of the redundancy exercise. It may not be that expensive when we consider both the savings that the country would enjoy from a serious reduction in crime and the increased revenues that would follow from establishing a safer society.


The second-best option

If it is perceived that we are unable to do a complete disbanding of the JCF, then the second best option is to give the commissioner of police much more latitude in the staffing and operations of the force. Because the structure of the police force is a top down, command and control order, those at the middle and bottom levels cannot effect serious culture change. Neither can those who have been a significant part of the development and maintenance of the current culture be credible change agents.

A senior leadership team, with the right vision, perspective and values, can drive organisational change in attitude and culture. This proposal adheres to the recommendation put forward in the Wolfe Report: to recruit a body of individuals with 'proven reputation, character and calibre' to implement the needed changes in the JCF. It is likely that these people will have to be recruited from outside the ranks of the existing JCF.

Given that it will take time to recruit the right top leadership team, we must give the current system the best chance for success. This would mean a simple but radical change to how we have operated to date. In our context, the job of commissioner is tough by itself without giving them basket to carry water. We hold them to high expectations of change and judge them harshly if they fail in our estimation, yet we have not given them a fair chance to succeed.

We have a new commissioner of police, again. What has not changed is the system that George Quallo now heads. We have been told that he is a good man — better than I can say for some we have had. But if we want change, the new commissioner must be given a free hand to select his top leadership, including his assistant and deputy commissioners, whether from inside the force or without.

It should be an automatic procedure for the top leadership posts to be vacated once a new commissioner is appointed. In this way, the commissioner is not put in the position of having to move colleagues around with all the ensuing relationship dynamics. Then he may select persons that are committed to the vision, goals and objectives that he brings to the office. When you allow the commissioner to select his team and create the structure that he wants, then it is fair to hold him accountable for his performance. Instead, we give them a broken system and expect dramatic results.

Which commissioner in the last 30 years has been able to succeed at the job? Their hands have really been tied; the whole unwieldy weight of the bureaucracy militates against any significant change.


Time to act

I challenge Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the Cabinet to give the new commissioner a fighting chance to succeed by allowing him to select his team, perhaps with the assistance of a civil society advisory board.

What we need is action. This is so not only for the police but also on the broader issues of political tribalism, garrisons and donmanship. They have no place in the future Jamaica. They must be tackled. They will take time and consistent effort to unseat. Serious work must begin to deal with them now.

To refuse to deal with them is to act as an enemy of the State. These three are proven roots of division and the crime-riddled and underperforming nation we have developed. If there is not clear, public and demonstrable evidence of effort to confront and overcome them, then all the talk about love of country, dealing with crime and building a kinder, gentler society is disingenuous.

All of the main sectors of society are culpable in different ways. Often, we have all hoped that the police would be able to solve what are really social issues. Business has backed the divisive political parties and have funded guns and dons. Civil society has stayed back and not been a strong advocate against the decline. The church has significantly withdrawn from active leadership and engagement in many of the communities.


Look where we're going

We must all be prepared to unite against this common enemy. In so doing we will help the politicians who cannot deliver themselves from their self-inflicted entrapment. The monster they created is now holding them hostage and they desperately need freedom. Unless they are freed and commit to help us break the stranglehold, then the whole nation will continue in decline.

Civil society, business and church should come together to assist the political system to break free. The State must direct its authority and resources to solidify and complete the transformation process. The church should be prepared to lead this change.

I have asked and will continue to request the leaders of the political parties to tell us their present position on tribalism, garrisons and donmanship. These three are fundamental reasons why we cannot penetrate and maintain any serious reduction in crime. They are also contributory to other social issues such as corruption, oppression, injustice and poverty. Are our leaders ready to support a programme for real change? If there is no voluntary response and action then it will be necessary to mobilise to ensure change. What we have now cannot continue to be.

For whatever reason, the nation and our leaders have looked the other way for decades. We just cannot continue to do that. We must press for change for the nation's good. Let's stop being cross-eyed and look where we want to go and go where we're looking.


Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or