Columns

We say we want change... but do di same ole things

Rev Al Miller

Sunday, February 04, 2018

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American stand-up comedienne Amy Poehler said that, “The only thing we can depend on in life is that everything changes... Change is the only constant ...and its painful uncomfortableness directly correlates to your happiness and general well-being.” Amy has evidently not had the privilege of taking a look at our Jamaican crime and violence prevention strategies. They never seem to change; just old, failed approaches being returned to the table, in new packaging, to continue the old, failed system that is just not working.

I am impelled to press for real change, not cosmetic adjustment. In 2018, our nation must move to turn the corner in dealing with the fundamental issues that have dogged us for decades. We cannot afford, and must not allow ourselves, to circle the mountain of moral and socio-economic stagnation for another year.

Real and meaningful change means challenging the systems, structures and arguments that stifle change and maintain the status quo. Real change may mean causing some discomfort. Some of the old arguments are sincere and well-meaning, but sincerity alone cannot cut it, for it is possible to be sincerely wrong!

We must force ourselves as a nation to think again about some things we have taken for granted, accepted as norms, or allowed to grow like an untamed child among us. We must now admit that the solutions we have applied or the punishments we have administered have been unable to bring change and deliver the new Jamaica we all yearn to see.

If what we have done and how we have done it could have brought about real change, it would have produced it by now. We must now conclude that we must do things differently.

The nation is at a crossroads. I believe it is a do-or-die situation for this generation. If we do not find answers and begin to turn the tide now, it will be decades before any possibility of recovery.

I am convinced that this is Jamaica's moment. We must seize it. I am prepared to be radical, bold, and by faith do everything to push for us to make the most of this moment.

Political culture

Problems must be solved from the root. In too many of the problematic situations in our nation we have been content to deal with the fruit or break off a branch. It could be because of ignorance or possibly a lack of courage and the will.

We need to see a turn in the political culture towards maturity and a breaking free from the one-upmanship and cheap, political point-scoring. Although such practices have been the traditional approach maintained by many political systems across the world, it is time for us to shed it. Could this not be another area in which we can take the lead in the world?

What would it take? We must begin to put the nation first above party, work harmoniously regardless of political stripes, speak the truth with boldness, and give credit and support to opposing parties where it is due. The debates would then be about issues, policies, methods, the quality of leadership, or evidence of proven successes or failures. The parties would be showing their ability to bring high-quality representation to the people; leaders with integrity and the ability to influence, inspire and transform lives and communities. This type of political approach is what would bring hope of progress and prosperity, evidenced by serious growth and development for all strata of our people. Unless we transition to a new political culture, our nation will continue to circle the mountain of “nah guh nuh weh”.

Does the capacity to make this kind of transition exist within our major political parties? I would like to think so, but is the will to do so present? If the will to renew themselves is absent in our parties, then there is no question we will have to begin to pray for some new wineskins; for you cannot 'put new wine in old wineskins'.

10-point plan is

The People's National Party had a recent press conference after a three-day retreat of the shadow Cabinet. It touched the pulse of critical areas of concern and interest for the nation. However, it highlighted that we continue to repeat the same old approaches that still have not worked.

Allow me to use the press conference as an example, not to criticise but to highlight what needs to change for a 2018 turning point.

The Opposition leader referenced his party's intent to substantially re-imagine and reform our educational system, give priority to boys at risk, accelerate justice reform, deal with rampant corruption, and regularise squatter communities.

Firstly, why were these excellent things not being done over the last 25 years? Are they new discoveries and observations? Is it the manifestation of the saying, “Hindsight is 20/20 vision”?

With regard to the police force, whereas the areas of concern are legitimate, the recommendations are not solutions, but simply a repetition of the old, failed approaches. The recommendations do not accept the fact that the force is systemically corrupt and has to be fundamentally transformed for any real possibility of them dealing successfully with crime. Therefore the call to bring the force to full strength is to multiply the corruption and waste resources that could be better spent on education or on the poor and their social development to lessen the number of at-risk youth. I am far from convinced that increasing the number of police officers is the most urgent need. It is not without benefit, but not essential to producing results. We can get the job done with fewer officers and more technology and other supporting elements that can come at an affordable cost. The corruption in the police force is a far bigger problem.

Phillips also called on the Government to “provide the force with the mobility it needs to carry out its work”. Greater mobility is a benefit, but not the solution! The call for more resources is understandable, but it's not the major hindrance to fighting crime. We can defeat crime with far fewer resources if we allocated them more creatively and redirected funds to technology and forensics.

Before any political elite says it can't be done, it may be better to say, “I don't know how to do it differently.” It can be done, but the how cannot be for public discussion at this time. What it would surely need is a bold leader of integrity and vision with a creative team. More police, more money, and more mobility is what all successive governments have done, yet no decrease in crime has resulted.

Replacing Quallo is

Changing the minister of national security or the commissioner of police has not made any appreciable impact on crime over the years. We have heard that the commissioner of police has proceeded on pre-retirement leave. Less than one year ago, Quallo was chosen upon his integrity and ability. Why would he take the job merely to resign so soon afterwards? It seems premature and is certainly a great loss to the nation. In this crime crisis, it really is not the time to be distracted by another search for a commissioner.

I must say that I don't know all the circumstances that have led to his demitting office, but surely a resolution must still be possible. Of all the suggestions swirling as possible reasons for Quallo's departure none appears to rise to the level of seriousness that would warrant this action, given what he has brought to the table primarily in light of the plight of low trust and morale levels in the force. We ought not to be content to easily let him go. Men of integrity are not made overnight. With a noted systemic corrupt force, a commissioner with integrity is a prize to be treasured. Any other perceived weakness in his approach to crime fighting can be addressed in other ways.

The argument of Quallo not being tough enough is weak and even nonsensical. His personal toughness should be a very secondary consideration to integrity and leadership. For what our crime fighting needs the most is integrity and commitment to uphold the law and ensure justice. The strength in the authority of the law when enforced is more than enough to support any seeming lack of personal toughness in a commissioner's approach.

The prime minister and his Government should not accede to the narrow thinking of those who want to see him go. It reflects the same old failed approach mentioned above. For the Government to let him go is to blunder badly on this one. They should be humble yet courageous enough to do everything to ask the commissioner to withdraw his resignation and continue to serve the nation out of this difficult period. Although he has left office it is not too late. National interest must always take precedence over all other factors.

I use this column to urge Commissioner Quallo to reconsider and for the Government to accept a withdrawal of his resignation at this time. This is too important to the nation to let slide, and as citizens we should start a petition to request him to stay on.

Don't just talk!

None of the crime fighting strategies over the years has focused on treating the critical root causes of crime — tribal division, garrisonisation, donmanship, and injustice. Neither have they directly addressed the primary offending cohorts — the violence producers aged 15-30, or the corrupt elements of the police force.

I am reminded of a declaration by a first-century lawyer of great repute: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” So as we engage this discussion let us stop beating around the bush and engage the power of right action.

Do we have the conviction that these situations can and must change? Do we really want better for our people or are we satisfied with talk? Are we ready for real action and, if we are, how can we solve a problem by ignoring the primary causative agents that hinder real change? Come on politicians, pastors, opinion leaders, citizens all, we've got to get it right this time!

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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