'Guvament' we have, Government we needFriday, October 08, 2021
In today's confused and contentious Jamaica, 'Guvament' is being blamed for just about everything. “Is Guvament fault.” “Guvament nah do nutten.” “Guvament a waste a time.” “Guvament is ongle fi di big man.” “Guvament too corrupt.”
These are but some of the many caustic and negative utterances that are frequently spewed at the elected establishment by disgruntled and disenchanted citizens of Jamaica who, since Independence was granted in 1962, have not had the luxury of good government. Of course, nowadays the buzzword among political pundits is “governance”. What then is good governance?
According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, government is “the governing body of a State; the system by which a State or community is governed”. In the meantime, governance is described as “the action or manner of governing”.
In Jamaica it is safe to say that what we have had for the past 59 years can best be described in a derogatory and demeaning way as Guvament. In other words, a kind of corrupt, bastardised form of Government that is neither of the people, by the people nor for the people. Indeed, it is safe to say that our guvaments, for the most part, have been for some of the people, some of the time. And, most of these people have been politicians and their close relatives and cronies. That is why, in recent times, there has been an increasing outcry for good governance, but these strident calls have been falling on deaf ears.
Also, another resulting factor is that more and more Jamaicans have become turned off from the political parties which, every five years or so, seek to form a new Government with a barrage of empty promises, basically to “fool up” the people.
Some years ago, when Bruce Golding left the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to form the National Democratic Movement (NDM), his platform of constitutional reform spoke to the need for good governance which would be emboldened by the concept of separation of powers, that is, ensuring that each of the three arms of government — legislative, judiciary, and executive — have distinct powers and responsibilities, where none is able to influence the others.
But constitutional reform has remained a not-so-sexy subject for the Jamaican electorate, so Golding had to abandon that platform and successive administrations have basically ignored it like the plague.
Former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller tabled a Green Paper on constitutional reform, which Golding panned as not sufficient and insincere in its intent. And way back in the 1970s, Michael Manley sought to champion the cause of constitutional reform, but it is fair to say that only Golding's proposition went the full gamut in terms of making Government more accountable, as well as allowing for a greater level of probity and transparency in governance matters.
To date, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has seemingly not gathered enough courage to take on the mantle of being a transformational leader, which is what is need to galvanise this process to a fulsome conclusion.
In the meantime, civil society has so far failed to take the bull by the horns and seek to put the whole business of good governance on the front burner of national development. In this context, it is not surprising that many major donors and international financial institutions have been increasingly granting aid and loans on the condition that reforms ensure good governance. However, for succesive governments, it has been more a case of lip service and grand announcements.
A broader definition of governance is “the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented)”.
In focusing on Jamaica's many ills, this writer is primarily referring to national and local governance, which would relate directly to central and local government structures as we know them to be at present. Needless to say that, in a market-driven economy, corporate governance also has to play a critical, if not a supportive and advocatory role.
Who makes decisions for the Jamaican people and how are these decisions implemented, if at all? Regrettably, it is roadblocks, “kitchen Cabinets”, so-called consultants, party hacks, organised crime syndicates, and area dons, as well as sectoral interest groups that carry the most influence on Guvament, not the electors who, through their ballots, should be the major driving force for meaningful change. In such a scenario, this kind of decision-making process is the result of corrupt practices or leads to corrupt practices.
And, lest we forget, Government is but one of the actors in governance. Outside of Government, the judiciary, and the military, the most potent force ought to civil society, inclusive of the media.
But, to what extent is civil society playing an effective role in Jamaica's governance process? Indeed, it is the lack of involvement from civil society, coupled with a submissive and passive electorate, that has led to the sorry state of affairs in which the country finds itself.
It must be stressed that, in order for Jamaica to enjoy sustainable human development, good governance has to be the order of the day. And what are some of the main ingredients to ensure good governance?
These must include the rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensus-building, equity, equality of opportunity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency in deliverables, and accountability.
While space contraint limits my ability to expand on these critical areas of concern in this medium, the average Jamaican can check the boxes for what constitutes good governance and conclude for himself/herself that, as a people, we have been seriously short-changed by successive Guvaments since Independence.
Now that we are approaching our 60th Independence anniversary without having achieved economic independence, it behooves every well-thinking Jamaican to zero in on this vital issue of good governance and examine the manifestos, utterings, and track records of the political parties, as well as their leaders, to determine which one, if any, can truly take us to the Promised Land.
Jamaica needs to move away from the “nutten nah gwan” mentality – the blame game – which means most of us just point fingers at the Guvament. Instead, “mek wi work together and mek suppen gwan fi all a wi”, which will help to set the stage for the promulgation of good governance.
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.