People must trust the Gov't; does the Gov't trust the people?Wednesday, June 09, 2021
In an impassioned speech recently in Parliament, Prime Minister Andrew Holness lectured the nation on the importance of people trusting the Government. This was in the context of his Administration's handling of the distribution of benefits to people consequent on the novel coronavirus pandemic. Given the history of the distribution of such benefits by successive administrations since independence, Holness will forgive the big question mark that hovered over my head when he made that statement.
The truth is that Jamaican governments have not been stellar in the distribution of scarce resources to the people. And resources have remained very scarce in Jamaica, either due to misallocation, mismanagement, and incompetence; or the perennial corruption that has been at the centre of political governance over the years.
One of the best summaries of how the politics has played out was given by former Prime Minister P J Patterson when he characterised the politics as a tribal contest for scarce benefits and spoils. No truer word could have been spoken, and no greater indictment of political governance given.
In a piece reflecting on the country's 57th year of Independence, I wrote in August 2019: “The poor and amorphous mass reap the scarce benefits that are available, which are largely the little crumbs of bread that fall from the tables of the Dives — the rich biblical character in one of Jesus's parables — among us. For, to the Diveses belong the spoils. The spoils are largely derived from patronage and support of the respective political parties that they aid and abet in this tribal struggle. As commanders of the heights of the economy they insist on being paid by whatever tribe emerges in Gordon House, and from whoever is given the privilege to occupy Jamaica House. They are the ones, the real movers and shakers in the economy, who can determine how high their puppets in whichever party forms the Government must jump.”
There is not anything that I would change in that reflection today. There is still a tribal struggle for the still scarce spoils and scarce benefits. The significant difference is that today the ability of the politician to dole out benefits to supporters has been severely cauterised by the necessity for fiscal prudence which, we must not forget, the country was forced into by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The political battle for power by tribal elements in both parties has not lessened, but there seems to be a shift in the thinking of people at large that Government is not capable of delivering on their expectations as they wish. Thus, they have become more wary of the promises that are made from political platforms during political campaigns. If this is a trend, then it is a welcome one.
So Holness should understand people's scepticism when he appeals to them to trust the Government. People are yet to be convinced that this trust is reciprocal. The relationship between the governed and their governors constitutes a social contract that the governors would be given a certain amount of authority to enact policies that should redound to the welfare and benefit of the governed. But often the governed get kicked in the butt or get shafted if they play by the rules. Many poor people in Jamaica know instinctively that, other than their vote, if it is counted properly, they have little or no influence on policy; that it is the Diveses of the day that really sit in the halls of power.
The net result of all this is a growing cynicism between the governed and their governors, which is clearly reflected in the poor turnout at general elections. You can count on the hard-core, or who I prefer to call “the calcified”, in either party coming out. A vast number has voted with their feet or remain uncomfortably on the fence. This is the sad reality, Prime Minister. With this growing cynicism don't expect any spectacular changes any time soon.
But I will say this for your Government. I have seen a glimmer of hope in what appears to be a determination on your part to insist that resources are not squandered on the altars of political expediency. I have seen a movement toward greater accountability in an apolitical disbursement of needed benefits to the poor. This was evident in the distribution of the COVID-19 benefits to which you alluded. All of this, if pursued with an eye to fiscal prudence, may be a start of something which can help us to a better place of trust.
George Wright's resignation
So, Member of Parliament George Wright has tendered his resignation from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), but seems determined to remain in the people's Parliament. If the words of the party's general secretary, Dr Horace Chang, is anything to go by, the party seems satisfied and relieved that he has resigned — no doubt as a result of behind-the-scenes prodding from influential people in the party.
But the question still remains: Why did he really resign from the party? Perhaps a further and more pressing question to be answered is why didn't he resign from the Parliament as well. Does he consider the reasons for resigning from the party far weightier than any he may consider for remaining a Member of Parliament?
These questions may never be answered, but the fact that he has not resigned his parliamentary seat in the context of the great events that have overtaken him speaks volumes to the distrust in which our political representatives are held. It is matters like these, Holness, that make it difficult for our political representatives to earn the people's trust.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books: Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at https://bit.ly/epaper-login