Governing the governed
Members of both Houses ofParliament pay attention duringthe Throne Speech delivered byGovernor General Sir Patrick Allen(right). (Photo: Michael Gordon)

One of America's founding fathers, James Madison, in advocating for the American Constitution, famously said, “First you must enable the Government to control the governed... and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Were we to use Madison's prescription for a successful liberal democracy to measure Jamaica's climb, or lack thereof, up the democracy ladder, I suspect honest brokers would have to admit that — notwithstanding some important economic gains, especially in recent times, several social advances and some admirable political institution building — Jamaica has, by and large, failed to control the governed, and successive administrations have failed to control themselves.

Why do I say this? Among other things, the State has not exhibited the ability to control significant portions of the governed. Just look at where most of the country's murders are committed.

The most basic function of a State is the protection of its citizens. By any objective measurement the Jamaican State has failed miserably in this respect.

Deadly realities

Last year Jamaica registered 1,463 murders. That is a 10 per cent increase compared to 2020. We have grappled with over 1,000 murders every year since 2004. Jamaica has been stuck in the ignominious category of countries with one of the highest murder rate in the world for the last 35 years.

We have a violence epidemic. In the midst of this deadly reality many “see and blind, hear and deaf”, foolishly so, because their silence only delays their delivery into the hands of the merchants of mayhem.

Whole communities in our country have been hijacked by men of violence whose singular objective is robbing, killing, and raping. Their so-called community protection is a euphemism for holding people hostage. Dons call the shots in these enclaves. This cruel reality has existed for near 50 years. This is a veritable tinderbox.

This long-standing and miserable status quo says to me that, by and large, numerous governments have failed to control the governed in communities that have been commandeered by gangsters. As I see it, sustained solutions mean we have to do more than disrupt and deter; we have to address the root causes of 'opportunitylessness' — my coinage — which is rampant in communities that have been seized by those the police call violence-producers. Our elected and selected representatives need to immediately begin the process of degarrisonisation, though a process of more equal distribution of educational opportunity, infused with skills training and attendant economic investments.

Thomas Sankara, pan-Africanist and former president of Burkina Faso, said, “The enemies of a people are those who keep them in ignorance.” I agree! Numerous studies globally have found that when people's educational circumstances change for the better, in general their economic state also quickly advances upwards. Ignorance is the greatest ally of poverty.

I believe, we need to make up our minds, whether we want one State or numerous states within a State. There is an urgent need for the Jamaican State to embrace a new ambition.

Control itself?

Billions of dollars have been misappropriated, corruptly used, and/or have been designated as “missing funds”, especially over the last 45 years. One only needs to read the numerous auditors general reports, contractors general reports, and numerous commissions of inquiry reports to see the corrupt use of public funds.

Successive administrations have proven time and time again that they cannot control themselves. Foul money and related scandals, and dozens of repugnant cases of misgovernance — which have tainted various administrations since political independence in 1962 — litter the pages of newspaper archives.

Again, notwithstanding many great achievements, particularly in sports and culture, were we to apply Madison's prescription for a successful liberal democracy to Jamaica it becomes obvious that we have squandered the great opportunity that is political independence — albeit that we are still a very young democracy.

I anticipate that some are going to yell, 'Why are you applying Madison's prescription?' Some are going to howl, Madison was a white man. To those people, I say, why should [I]/we not use a core standard of one of the most successful liberal democracies in the world to measure our still emerging democracy?

Some are going to, doubtless, bellow, 'But remember the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021?' To those people, I say, a successful liberal democracy does not mean a perfect one. Political utopia is a myth.

But, why have successive governments here failed to control the governed? And also failed to ably govern themselves? There are numerous reasons. The late Wilmot “Motty” Perkins, journalist extraordinaire, often remarked on his radio programme that “one of the greatest failures of the Jamaican State was its failure to understand, release, and then maximise the huge potentials of the Jamaican people”.

If we are honest, we cannot ignore that there is copious evidence of this reality all around us. It has been this way for donkey's years. No amount of fanciful investments in wasteful ideological trinkets, palliatives, idle jest, and or 'samfie', will change it.

Paradigm shifts needed

Madison and the other founding fathers of America recognised that a total shift in the social order was needed if they were to build a new society. A revolution is, after all, a total change in the social order. Of course, I am not advocating a bloody revolution like that which took place in the America. I am, however, advocating that we need to embrace new thinking in relation to the governed and the governors. This I believe is a prerequisite to kick-start a 180-degree shift needed to cauterise and then hopefully correct our long-standing and now rapidly deteriorating social order.

I believe new thinking is urgently needed to enable our country to sprint socially, economically and politically; instead of our crawl by inches — two inches forward and, more often than not, four backwards.

BlackBerry thinking is now obsolete. It is time we embrace touchscreen thought processes and modalities. Low-voltage misleaders who bombard us with doing the same failed things, in the same way, decade after decade, need to be cut away and cast away on the trash heap of irrelevance. The clock is ticking!

Action time now

I am a firm believer that when moral suasion fails, legislation — buttressed by concentrated enforcement — needs to be employed to inspire behaviour change and, ultimately, culture. Jamaica has been lagging behind in the areas of completing and enacting certain critical legislation for more years that I care to remember. And please don't tell me about the agenda of Parliament being jam-packed. I recall that when we had a borrowing relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and edicts were given to us by them to pass certain legislations Parliament met for hours to ensure that it was done. Today Jamaica is financially better off. It should not be that an external entity has to hold a big stick over our heads for us to act in our best interest.

Recall that in the annual Throne Speech delivered by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen in February last year, the Government outlined a raft of legislation and attendant regulations which it committed to pursuing. Recall the Government committed to fast-tracking amendments to the Urban Renewal (Tax Relief) Act, Financial Services Commission Act, Financial Administration Audit Act, Income Tax Relief Act, and I could list several more. From these, the Government managed to push through Parliament, only, the Urban Renewal (Tax Relief) Act.

Remember Madison's prescription regarding a core cog in the wheel of a successful liberal democracy. Failure to implement critical legislation on a timely basis is, in my humble view, proof that a Government is failing to control itself.

Earlier I mentioned the crucial relationship between education and social and economic mobility. I have been hearing about the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill and amendments to the Education Act for at least 15 years. Those two critical pieces of legislation are desperately needed to positively and seismically change education. They seem to be in a permanent state of gestation.

We will not realise Vision 2030 of becoming “the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business” unless we make paradigm shifts in our education system. In April, last year, the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) told us that “65 per cent of Jamaicans, aged 25-54, have no examination passes at secondary level”. Yet, among other things, we continue to paper over the huge cracks in our low-wage, low-output economy. We will never make the necessary leap to a high-wage, high-output economy unless we make radical shifts. That shift cannot happen unless we substantively tackle the elephant in the room. Tinkering with our education system over many decades has landed us in a nationally embarrassing situation.

I have heard enough of the platitudinous excuses, particularly from those whose children do not attend the failing schools. Yes, failing schools, the ones in which teachers are absent for dozens of sessions per term. Those in which lesson planning is treated with scant regard. Schools in which only a quarter of the parents turn out to parent-teacher conferences. Schools in which academic and professional development are resisted and avoided like the plague. Schools in which boards of management are packed with political stooges who know zilch about teaching and learning. Schools, more so holding areas, in which a high premium is placed in underachievement.

At present, only a sprinkling of our best and brightest enter teaching. We need to radically uproot the present structure of pay, performance assessment, and the resourcing of our schools. Our teachers need to be among the most competent, most educated, and the best-paid professionals in the country.

Consider the countries that are doing well socially, economically, etc, then examine the governments that are in control of the governed, while simultaneously in control of themselves. Thereafter, examine their standards of education, and an inseparable link is obvious.

There are several excellent research papers which outline what Jamaica needs to do to recruit, reward, and retain quality teachers. They are gathering dust on shelves.

If Jamaica is to escape from the punishing clutches of a low-wage, low-output economy and make the necessary leap to a high-wage, high-output one, we have to first shake up the foundations of our education system. If Jamaica is to break free from our stifling, low-trust, low -consequence environment we have to totally demolish the rotten scaffolding which holds up our education system.

Former president of South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that the child of a farm worker can become the president of a great nation.” I agree.

If the present Minister of Education Fayval Williams wants to be remembered as one of the best education ministers to hold that critical office she would do well to make bold moves to uproot the present archaic structures of education.

Bishop Desmond Tutu

Words like great, icon, and awesome have been devalued in recent years. But a man who those words deservingly describe is the late Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican bishop, anti-apartheid leader, global human rights activist, and winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize. He transitioned late last month. Black South Africans, in general, do not like when their heroes are described as dead.

Bishop Tutu, notwithstanding all the accolades that he earned, asked that he be buried in a simple pine box. He requested that only one floral tribute be put on his coffin — this from his immediate family — and that his eulogist should not spend too long a time, but should be sure to say: “Desmond loved. He laughed. He cried. He was forgiven. He forgave.”

There are many lessons we can learn from the life of this truly great man, Desmond Mpilo Tutu. Walk good, Bishop Tutu.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

James Madison
MANDELA...education isthe great engine of personaldevelopment. It is througheducation that the daughterof a peasant can become adoctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the headof the mine, that the child of afarm worker can become thepresident of a great nation
PERKINS...one of the greatestfailures of the Jamaican Statewas its failure to understand,release, and then maximise thehuge potentials of the Jamaicanpeople
The late Desmond Tutu
SANKARA...the enemies of a people are those who keep them in ignorance
Garfield Higgins

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