As the three-headed serpent of crime, 'corona', and corruption wind its way through the Jamaican society leaving much bloodshed, mayhem, and imposed poverty in its path, Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness continues to fail for the most part in providing astute, visionary and transformational leadership. Instead, he has been gnashing and his critics while making veiled threats at his perceived opponents, some of whom, in fact, want him to succeed in taking Jamaica to a better place.
During his latest Jamaica House charade when he once again unleashed yet another round of states of public emergency (SOEs) on selected sections of the Jamaican landscape, he ill-advisedly took a swipe at some of his detractors, who he labelled as “academics”, suggesting that they served no useful purpose in the scheme of things, as he sought to defend his decision to impose more SOEs on the nation.
It should be noted that Holness himself is a graduate of The University of the West Indies (UWI), so his remarks beg the question of whether informed discourse has any role to play in a democratically structured political system.
Previously, it was elements of the media fraternity that were chastised by the Most Honourable Brogad because of their sometimes aggressive, if not assertive, attempts at arriving at the truth with respect to burning national issues. This aspect of the prime minister's leadership style is worrying, to say the least, especially within the context of the continued use of SOEs, as well as the extended powers he now enjoys with respect to the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA).
Not that one is suggesting that Holness is harbouring autocratic tendencies, but there is the age-old saying that, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This brings into sharp focus the need to revisit the matter of separation of powers as, in the current scenario, the Holness Administration has gone ahead and reimposed the SOEs despite the fact that there is an issue before the court in relation to its constitutionality. What if the court should throw out the Government's appeal against the ruling that individuals who were detained without charge had seen their constitutional rights infringed? What then, Prime Minister Holness, National Security Minister Horace Chang, and Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte? Already there is a queasy feeling that such a state of affairs could see the Government in a head-on collision with the judiciary.
To any discerning and dispassionate observer, it ought to become obvious that the reimposition of the SOE, with the understanding that it could possibly be repeated for up to as much as seven years, is an admission of failure on the part of the Government to tame the crime-and-violence monster. And no matter how Holness and his genuflecting supporters seek to spin this issue, the bottom line is that the Government — like successive governments before it — has not, to date, presented to a beleaguered nation an effective and sustainable crime plan.
In the meantime, concerned citizens are convinced that this latest implementation of the SOEs is, in essence, a public relations exercise to shore up the Government's battered image, given the alarming murder rate. In real terms, was it really necessary to stage a grand announcement at Jamaica House? What of the element of surprise? Yes, it may be argued that it is incumbent on the Government to publicly state its intentions, but the tragedy is that, even before that grand announcement was made, criminals among other miscreants were sufficiently informed about his move, which would have given them enough opportunity to relocate to parishes outside of the cordoned area.
Against this background, one waits with bated breath to see how results-oriented this latest binge of SOEs will be. Apart from seeing to a decrease in the murder statistics, which is always good news for terror-stricken citizens, this joint exercise featuring the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) must also focus on bringing in the guns and ammunition, so much of which is out there. After all, it is these illegal weapons that are killing people. Therefore, if the violence producers are captured and the vast number of their weaponry remains untapped, these SOEs, in the long run, will have been an exercise in futility. Of course, in order for there to be a better success rate in this area, the security forces should be relying more heavily on intelligence rather than just doing random searches.
In the meantime, it has been said that a statesman puts his country first, while a politician puts his party first. Prime Minister Holness, at this critical stage of his leadership of this problem-plagued country, needs to determine whether he wants to be remembered and revered merely for his successful political pursuits as opposed to being remembered for taking on the mantle of being a bold, pragmatic, and emotional intelligence-driven statesman.
Against this background, one suspects that, at present, Holness is between a rock and hard place, even as his party and, by extension, his Administration are plagued by one corruption scandal after another, which he appears incapable of tackling in a decisive and patriotic way.
Then there are the head winds of the fourth wave of the dreaded novel coronavirus and the continuing increase in the high cost of living that he must seek to successfully worm his way through, even as the local government elections are scheduled to be held in February 2022.
In order for the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to do well on the hustings after its impressive victory in the September 3, 2020 General Election, these aforementioned issues will have to be addressed forcefully. “Bollo work” alone may not cut it. A wily “Anju” must be aware that, with the very low turnout in the last general election, in addition to the fact that local government elections traditionally do not attract much voter support, the anticipated positive results may not materialise if Labourites stay home — figuring that it is a done deal — and Comrades are motivated to go out and vote in larger numbers.
So whatever Prime Minister Holness does or says between now and next February may not necessarily be “statesmanlike”. And one may ask: Why? The answer: It's the politics, stupid!
Lloyd B Smith has been involved in Jamaican media for the past 45 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.