If there is no rule of law everything is permitted.
Pardon me for taking massive liberties with renowned Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky's aphorism: "If there is no God, everything is permitted."
There are some among us who, for reasons that are blindingly obvious, want chaos to reign. We saw many of these actors last Monday when some taxi, bus operators, mostly in the Corporate Area, tried to stick up the State. Why? They racked up hundreds of traffic tickets and now they want an amnesty — bear in mind that they got an amnesty in 2017.
The videos on social media of some taxi, bus operators hurling expletives at police personnel, thugs physically removing law-abiding citizens from the vehicles of colleague taxi operators who did not join the melee, the blocking of major roadways, and threats and intimidation of commuters are clear and present reminders that the barbarians are inside our gates. They have been inside for a long, long time. We who treasure this Rock must repel them with every democratic sinew. Miscreants must not be allowed to turn Jamaica into ashes.
Last Monday thousands on Jamaicans on traditional and social media strongly registered their disapproval of the illegal actions of taxi operators. The malefactors who attempted to stick up the State had very little in the way of public sentiment on their side. I am glad that thousands of Jamaicans here and abroad repudiated the illegal actions of taxi operators who are evidently convinced that wrong and strong is a great virtue.
Of course, they have a constitutional right to demonstrate. But they do not have a right to compel others who do not want or wish to be part of their demonstration to join. The hostage-type stick on the State, and the preventing of others from going about their lawful business, are not traits peculiar to taxi operators.
These types of strikes have cost the country dearly. A strike earlier this year by workers of the National Water Commission (NWC), this newspaper reported, cost our country some $200 million. The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) reported a 50 per cent loss in production because of last Monday's strike.
A belief has taken deep root in this country that citizens will not pay attention unless they are able to creative massive dislocation. This creation of dislocation often means breaking the law. Over many decades we have turned a blind eye to this sore. It is now gangrene.
For those who specialise in conflation, I repeat, I support the right of all Jamaicans to peacefully demonstrate. I do not, however, support reigning terror on people who do not share particular causes and/or interests.
I am happy that hundreds of taxi drivers, particularly in the western parishes, did not participate in the illegal actions of some of their colleagues in the Corporate Area, St Thomas, and St Catherine last Monday. Indeed, many law-abiding taxi operators, especially in St Elizabeth and western parishes, did denounce the blocking of roads and the committing other illegal acts in support of demands to have the Government grant another amnesty. A number of taxi operators who were interviewed categorically stated that they pay whenever they get a ticket and would never support those who did not.
I still believe there is hope, great hope for Jamaica.
Consider this: "The leadership of several taxi associations in western Jamaica blasted Monday's protest by some public passenger vehicle (PPV) operators across the island as they demanded that the Government grant them an amnesty on outstanding traffic tickets issued by the police. (The Gleaner, November 15, 2022)
Contrast this repudiation with these wishy-washy snippets from the People's National Party's (PNP) spokesperson on transport and works Mikael Phillips. Headline: 'PNP urges dialogue to end public transportation strike'. "The People's National Party (PNP) is calling for an immediate end to what it says is the punishment of the commuting public caused by the withdrawal of public transportation services.
"Opposition spokesperson on transport and works, Mikael Phillips, said that he is urging the Government to allow good sense to prevail to immediately end the ongoing transportation crisis, which is now causing widespread dislocation in the public transport system.
"The spokesperson also appealed to transport operators to end their strike, while recommending that the operators and the Government reopen dialogue on their outstanding issues." (Jamaica Observer, November 14, 2022)
It sounds to me that Phillips is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He needs to say definitively whether he supports the call by some taxi operators for another amnesty. A simple 'yes' or 'no' will do, Phillips.
I believe we need to cease the sending of mixed signals to those who are involved in illegal actions. The entire country needs to firmly and resolutely speak with one voice when groups — whether taxi operators, civil servants, essential workers, etc break the law. The days of sitting on the fence and embracing a rancid retort of "on one hand... but on the other hand", in relation to the breaking of the law, are over. Mealy-mouthed statements will not do. Leaders must lead and not simply cotch on sidelines in the hope of picking up a few political crumbs at the expense of Jamaica.
I was overjoyed at this: "The police are reporting that a man seen in a viral video harassing and intimidating passengers in a taxi in downtown Kingston on Monday has been charged." (Jamaica Observer, November 14, 2022)
Those of us who own a motor vehicle should not take the foolish attitude that the melee caused by taxi operators last Monday is "none ah wi business". What happened on Monday is the business of ever well-thinking Jamaica. A goon who uses threats and orders law-abiding passengers to get out of a taxi anywhere in our country is a negative reflection on all of us. Had this miscreant, who described himself as a professional clown, got away with his criminal actions, he and others like him would be emboldened. We must guard against adding to our already high mountain of problems.
I commend the police for taking swift action to capture this hoodlum. His day in court must be soon. I was not moved by his exhibition of discomfiture after he captured in by the authorities. Crocodile tears are among the trick of wrongdoers who are cornered.
I was intensely happy when Loop Jamaica News reported, among other things, last Tuesday: "The police has stepped up their search for more individuals who were part of a group intimidating passengers in and around the Corporate Area as taxi and bus operators staged a protest on Monday."
The rule of law is a necessary prerequisite for economic growth and development. Those who do not subscribe, tacitly or otherwise, to this view will be hard-pressed — indeed, they will find it impossible — to identify a single example of a society that has achieved consequential levels of economic, social, and/or political success as measured by internationally recognised benchmarks without adherence to the rule of law.
I do not believe it going to be easy to seismically change our national appetite for violence and decadence. But, a cultural shift will have to be secured. I envisage there will be serious resistance from those who want to preserve the status quo. But, if a critical mass of us are consistent in repelling the miscreants Jamaica will realise her full potential.
I have said before in this space, but it bears repeating, no one is coming to save us, we have to save ourselves.
I agree with clergyman Errol Green who said, among other things, last week at Phillippo Baptist Church: "The evil that's around us is because of the choices that we individually make. We know right from wrong. So, while some are calling out for divine intervention, that is good. But we all need to look ourselves in the mirror and we need to be guided by our individual consciences." (RJR News, November 14, 2022)
Except for those who recently landed here from Mars, it is known that robot taxis are illegally operated vehicles. Many are notorious for breakneck speeding; unrivalled rudeness; deplorable hygiene; ganja and alcohol use while driving; and the blasting of loud, lewd, and crude 'music'. Yet, many among us prefer to continue to risk life and limb by patronising these illegal operators.
SOEs and referenda
On the matter of choice, the Opposition spokesperson on national security Peter Bunting continues to bury his head in the proverbial sand with regard the life-saving benefits of the state of public emergency (SOE) as a crime fighting tool.
In previous articles I have presented copious evidence to substantiate the position that SOEs have resulted in the saving of hundreds of Jamaican lives.
I continue to argue that life is the most important human right. Credible polls continue to show overwhelming support for the SOEs. Yet the PNP continues to oppose their use. Ironically, the PNP says it is for the "small man".
The PNP seems to have an abnormal fear of referenda and SOEs. These seem to hang over 89 Old Hope Road like a great pall. Why? My hunch is that the answers can be found in events which happened in 1969 and 1976.
Recall there was a tug-o-war between the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the PNP as to whether Jamaica rightly belonged in the West Indies Federation. A referendum was held to decide the matter. Jamaicans voted against the West Indies Federation on September 19, 1961. Since that referendum defeat the PNP has been scared of anything to be decided by that method.
Then there was the sordid 1976 State of Emergency which then Prime Minister Michael Manley manipulated to win a general election.
Recall that a commission of enquiry headed by the then chief justice, Kenneth Smith, was set up to look into the 1976 State of Emergency. The findings of the Smith Commission revealed that the state of emergency's calling was predicated upon the facilitation of political opportunism and not bona fide concerns about national security.
The Smith Commission also uncovered that the heads of both intelligence agencies of government — the Special Branch of the police force and the Military Intelligence Unit (MIU) of the Jamaica Defence Force — never advised Manley of any potential threat to national security during Carifesta and, indeed, Deputy Commissioner Curtis Griffiths, head of the Special Branch, testified to the commission that he knew nothing about the intention to declare a state of emergency; he read of it in the press, although he was the chief intelligence officer of government. Captain Carl Marsh, in charge of the MIU, also gave eye-opening testimony. He advised that there was no need for a state of emergency.
In the weeks and days preceding the December 15, 1976 General Election several key JLP people, including Olivia "Babsy" Grange and Pearnel Charles were detained. Charles was jailed for almost a year. The records are available at the Institute of Jamaica and The University of the West Indies, Mona archives.
In 2014 I made a recommendation in this space for the establishing of a substantial public fruit orchard in each of our 14 parishes. I recall saying that, while the planting of ornamental trees was all fine and dandy, folks needed food in additional to aesthetics. Anyways, the recommendation fell on deaf ears. Admittedly, it was not an original idea, since several countries have had public fruit orchards for decades.
Last week I read a very interesting article on the site of the World Economic Forum which noted that Copenhagen in Denmark is planting trees along its streets so everyone can enjoy fresh fruits. Ottawa in Canada is planting fruit trees to support local food banks. And Adelaide in Australia is considering planting fruits trees to help feed the homeless. Jamaica could have been at least 9 years ahead of all these countries.
It is not too late to consider and implement my recommendation for 14 public orchards — if for no other reason than "food is staff of life", as my late grandfather use to say.
Garfield Higgins is an educator, journalist, and a senior advisor to the minister of education & youth. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.