I have always believed in the supremacy of the rule of law. 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.
Last Tuesday some 2,000 National Water Commission (NWC) workers took strike action to, among other things, demand that the Andrew Holness-led Administration pay outstanding reclassification monies, which they say are owed to them from as far back as a dozen years ago. As I understand it, the law requires that NWC workers give notice prior to the withdrawal of their services, since, among other things, they are an essential service. Sections of the media reported that the NWC workers/unions did not give notice that they were going to withdraw their services. I think we are heading down a slippery slope here.
EVEN IN HELL
My grandfather use to tell me that, even in hell, there are rules. American Army General William Sherman said, “War is hell.” But, even in war, there are rules. For example, civilians, medical personnel, and/or aid workers are to be secured and those not able to fight, like injured soldiers or prisoners, are to be protected.
Based on reports in sections of the media, the unions did not know that NWC workers were going to take strike action. Apparently, the unions were made privy to the strike at the back end.
Last Monday, however, a voice note began circulating which warned that pipes would run dry — starting as early as Monday evening. The messenger did not identify himself as a representative of the NWC or any of the five unions that represent its workers. The mysterious message admonished “Comrades,” to “catch up water”.
Just over 50 per cent of Jamaicans are not on social media. Additionally, I suspect that thousands who are on social media did not hear the voice note mentioned. They would have been caught unawares.
Last Tuesday morning, reality hit most NWC customers when they found their taps dry. By Wednesday, the second day of the strike, many schools had to be closed, hospital services were hampered, day-care centres had to call parents to collect their young ones, numerous businesses around the country had to significantly scale down services and many householders had to resort to buying water. The actions of the NWC workers cannot be defended. Those among us who defend the breaking of the law, in the hope of gaining political mileage are to be condemned. We must never compromise or sacrifice the rule of law, the glue of society, for any individual and/or group.
A very dangerous threshold has been breached by this NWC strike. If the actions of the NWC workers are overlooked/rewarded then what is to stop the nurses, doctors, Jamaica Public Service (JPS) workers, air traffic controllers, police, and other categories of workers that are considered as essential services from carrying out similar and related clandestine acts?
Those who are celebrating that the NWC workers scored a big goal for the poor need to have their head examined. The people who suffered most from the two-day strike are poor. The well-to-do among us can afford to purchase water at prices which, to them, are mere ‘chicken feed’. Those who have generous reserves of disposable income can afford to purchase several black tanks — the poor cannot. The numerous small businesses which employ two and three people, which had to abandon their operations for two whole working days, are in large part owned by people who are living from one cheque to another. Their burdens were made that much heavier. That is reality!
Disrespect and disregard for the rule of law is “walking this land like man”, as rural folks like to say. Some continue to ignore this reality at great peril.
The celebration of disrespect for authority is evident in much of what passes for music these days. Some among us say music does not influence lewd and crude behaviour. I am not talking here about people who recently landed from Mars.
Crassness is placed on a pedestal by some among us who have benefited from education at great public expense. And I am not talking about people who are strangers to the realities of our crime rate and the abnormal levels of violence. Crime is costing Jamaica five per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) per year, according to World Bank estimates.
What does this have to do with NWC workers taking industrial action last Tuesday and Wednesday? Everything!
A premium is being placed on disregard for the rule of law. It is increasingly infecting nearly every facet of daily life in this country. We had better wake up and smell the coffee, and fast.
The Doubting Thomases among us should consider the dreadful circumstances in which 62-year-old Chieftin Campbell was brutally killed in Manchester last week. From the reports I have seen in sections of the media, Campbell was an upstanding citizen. He was a member of a school board in his home community and was making other valuable contributions to the development of his parish. I gather he was scheduled to get married last Thursday.
Today, Chieftin Campbell is in a morgue. Why? A set of our fellow countrymen did not engage their brains before they inflicted massive and deadly injuries on Campbell, a father of three. Last Sunday, this newspaper reported that: “A video, which went viral on social media, shows Campbell lying on a sidewalk surrounded by a crowd hurling robbery accusations.”
The abovementioned Jamaica Observer news item also reported that: “Campbell’s neighbour, Nicola Stewart, believes his death was a case of mistaken identity. ‘I have known him for over 45 years. I have not known him to be a criminal, I have not known him to be in any wrongdoing, so it was surprising yesterday [May 6] when I got a call that Mr Campbell was killed in Mandeville,’ she said.
“I thought that they had robbed him and killed him, but further, I found out that citizens mobbed him claiming that he was a robber,’ she added.”
If the tragic death of Campbell does not send chills down your spine, maybe you don’t have one. Believe it, what happened to this gentleman could happen to nearly any one of us who traverses the corridors of this country, daily.
Those who bury their heads in the sand, like ostriches, to protect themselves from the awful long-standing social decay in our society, which is now manifesting itself in rank indiscipline and disregard for social order, might not have seen the recent attack on members of the security forces by citizens in a section of Denham Town, west Kingston. Men and women openly hurled abuses and threats at soldiers who have been placed in their community to protect them. I have no stomach for the trampling of the constitutional rights of citizens. Rights, however, cannot exist without attendant responsibilities. Rights, minus responsibilities, exist only on Fantasy Island, where I gather there is no gravity.
Two Fridays ago, Prime Minister Andrew Holness delivered a forthright reiteration that law and order will not be diluted to suit anyone or set of citizens.
Said Holness: “Let me make it clear to whichever intelligence is operating behind criminality that the Government of Jamaica will not pull down the zone of special operations (ZOSO) in Denham Town to give space to criminals.
“So, if there is anyone who is deliberately trying to plan, coordinate, stoke [confrontations], that will not work. We’re not going to allow criminals to dictate our security response.”
I agree with Holness’s position wholeheartedly. Like the prime minister, I believe that we should not surrender a single inch of this country to those who believe that lawlessness must be the order of the day. Creators of mayhem, have one objective, that is to destroy Jamaica. Merchants of murder, who have invested in death, must get their just deserts.
Several Sundays ago I said, among other things, in this space: “Recently we were presented with another road map: the report of the Jamaica Education Transformation Commission, chaired by Professor Orlando Patterson of Harvard University. I think that if we neglect this most recent opportunity, then we have sounded our death knell.” I stand by that.
We are going to have to help to save this country via the transformation of education. For years I have been saying in this space that by transformation I don’t mean tinkering with an education system which is churning out large-scale failure. We have to achieve seismic shifts that will radically increase the life chances of the vast majority.
Numerous studies, far too many to cite here, point out that there is a direct relationship between improvements in standards/quality of education and improvements in people’s life chances. If we are going to reset Jamaica, we are going to have to, among other things, faithfully implement the paradigm shifts outlined in the Patterson report.
A Hard Job
Fayval Williams, minister of education and youth said she was committed to the implementation of the recommendations. (The Gleaner, Janaury 14, 2022)
In the abovementioned article, Williams also said, “ … If we faithfully and diligently implement the many recommendations, they will begin to show dramatic results, short term, as well as long term.”
Many months ago I said in this space that, “Fayval Williams, the minister of education, youth [,and at the time,] information, had the second-hardest job in the Cabinet.” She has a Herculean task to reform education in Jamaica. I do not believe the urgently needed seismic shifts are going to be easily achieved.
Changing a culture is never easy. I envisage there will be serious resistance from those who want to preserve the status quo. But, if we truly love this island and want to see Jamaica realise her full potential, we will put our differences aside and help steer this nation away from the huge rocks ahead that are almost certain to smash Jamaica into pieces if we do not grab the paddle of educational transformation and help guide her to safety.
Long ago I declared in this space that I believed in academic excellence, and that I also strongly believed in the development of the spiritual needs of our students. I part company with those who are only too anxious to exorcise devotions from the school system and erase any mention of God.
Some weeks ago, Rev Dr Alvin Bailey, the presiding bishop of the Holiness Christian Church in Jamaica, called for the retention of devotions and other Christian rituals to counter the wave of satanic practices he believes are prevalent in Jamaican schools. Some have argued that Dr Bailey’s suggestion is unhelpful. They are entitled to their views, and those like me who agree with Dr Bailey are entitled to ours, too. I do not see where we need to go to war over the matter of devotions in our schools.
I also agree with Dr Bailey that, “In the schools, there must be reading of the Bible and saying prayers.”
He also noted, “I think it gives the devil flight. It allows for the safety, sanity, decency, moral rectitude, and ethical values in the life of the school when Christianity is present.” (The Gleaner, April 4, 2022)
Dr Bailey makes eminent sense to me. Some among us want us to ape nearly everything which comes from elsewhere. I think we should be careful to sift before we embrace. We must examine carefully the qualitative and quantitative results of decisions. There are some societies which too many among us imitate in an almost unthinking way.
We have our unique set of circumstances here in Jamaica. We must never forget that.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.