Should Andrew Holness become a benevolent dictator?Thursday, April 01, 2021
Prime Minister Andrew Holness is increasingly finding himself in a quandary as he seeks to rule over a country that is fast becoming ungovernable. What with the novel coronavirus pandemic and the runaway crime situation, especially when it comes to murders, the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Administration has sought to pursue some draconian measures to bring a seemingly recalcitrant people in line.
The recent COVID-19 restrictions passed in Parliament have given the prime minister certain scary executive powers with respect to prescribing criminal charges, a development which caused Opposition Leader Mark Golding of the People's National Party (PNP) to raise the red flag (well, not literally!). In the meantime, his insistence about using states of public emergency as the Government's flagship crime-fighting tool has raised many eyebrows in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling which dismissed this piece of legislation as unconstitutional with respect to human rights violations.
Readers will also recall that infamous episode with the unsigned resignation letters featuring two JLP senators, not to mention the national identification system (NIDS) kerfuffle, which saw the PNP getting a favourable ruling from the Supreme Court with respect to making it mandatory, among other foot-in-the-mouth utterances that have left many well-thinking citizens to wonder if Andrew Holness has dictatorial tendencies. At the same time, some have argued that, in these very challenging times, the nation's leader may well have to take on the role of a dictator of sorts.
In speaking with many concerned citizens, it is oftentimes suggested that what Jamaica needs, if it is to be put on the right path towards peace, progress and prosperity, is a strong dose of dictatorship for a specific period of time. Indeed, every so often when the Singaporean model is brought to the fore to be compared with this country's many shortcomings, economically and otherwise, proponents of that island State's success story tend to overlook the fact that were it not for Lee Kuan Yew's dictatorial powers, much of what has been achieved since gaining independence in 1965 would never have occurred.
According to the quality-of-life index by the Economist Intelligence Unit some time ago, Singapore has the highest standard of living in Asia, and is ranked 11th in the world. It was once a fishing village, having few natural resources, yet it has a foreign reserve of some US$119 billion. Primary education is compulsory; hence, there is a literacy rate of 95 per cent. Seventy-six per cent of its resident population, aged 24 to 64, are employed; and is a popular travel destination, making tourism one of its largest industries. Some 8.9 million and 9.7 million tourists visited Singapore in 2005 and 2006, respectively, and Jamaica is feverishly seeking to peak at between three to five million visitors per year, bearing in mind that Singapore is just about the size of the parish of Hanover.
Interestingly, Singapore is a republic with a Westminster system of a unicameral parliamentary government representing different constituencies. Notwithstanding this, Singapore has been seen as a country with a “hybrid” system with democratic and authoritarian elements.
In terms of the law, some offences can lead to heavy fines or caning (corporal punishment), and there are laws which allow capital punishment for first-degree murder and drug trafficking.
In real terms, the present form of governance in Jamaica is not working. For decades it has been all about “scarce benefits and spoils”, while “Jah kingdom goes to waste”. Edward Seaga had such an opportunity in 1983 when he was faced with a one-party Parliament, but instead of going the dictatorial route (save and except within his own party), he opted for an accommodating system which saw independent senators being appointed, but it is safe to say that he could not have been accused of any abuse of power during the period leading up to the 1989 General Election. What if he had adopted a Lee Kuan Yew approach, would Jamaica have been a better place today? Today, Andrew Holness has a 49-14 advantage in Parliament which sets the stage for him to flex his political muscles should he choose to.
According to Wikipedia, a benevolent dictatorship “is a Government in which an authoritarian leader exercises absolute political power over the State, but is perceived to do so with regard for benefit of the population as a whole, standing in contrast to the decidedly malevolent stereotype of dictator who focuses on their supporters and self-interests. A benevolent dictator may allow for some civil liberties or democratic decision-making to exist, such as through public referenda or elected representatives with limited power, and often makes preparations for a transition to genuine democracy during or after their term. It might be seen as a republican form of enlightened despotism”. With the increasing possibility of Jamaica becoming a republic, this may well be a tempting proposition.
But it may be extremely difficult for a dictatorship to work effectively in this country, given the nature of the Jamaican psyche. Recall the PNP's dalliance with democratic socialism cum communism in the 70s, which received very strong resistance from the average Jamaican. Indeed, a United States survey at the time “secretly” revealed that Jamaica would never easily become a communist State because most Jamaicans have an ingrained entrepreneurial spirit ('hustling' mentality) which would be anathema in a communist State ruled by a dictator, a la Fidel Castro.
Arguably, Lee Kuan Yew, “the father of Singapore”, effectively dealt with government corruption (so rampant here), and brought his country from Third World to First World status. Every so often insightful critics have posited that Jamaica has the potential to become the Singapore of the West, but for this to be achieved within a reasonable period of time we would have to accommodate a benevolent dictator. Is Andrew Holness the likely candidate for such a bold experiment?
Mancur Olson is said to characterise benevolent dictators as “not like the wolf that preys on the elk, but more like the rancher who makes sure his cattle are protected and are given water”. Whatever may be the ultimate argument, it can be posited that, with the current trajectory that Jamaica is on, this “unruly” nation needs a very strong leader who is willing to make bold but meaningful decisions in the best interest of the country, and not his party or himself. Call it an authoritarian leadership with benefits, if you will. Food for thought.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 44 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 email@example.com.
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