The curse of 'a fi wi time now'Friday, June 11, 2021
Jamaica's fragile democracy has oftentimes been compromised, as well as its so-called Westminster parliamentary system, by what can be termed the politics of exclusion. In essence, this can best be defined as a scenario in which when one political party is in power it is expected by many that the supporters of the losing party will have to “suck salt through wooden spoon”. In other words, the “a fi wi time now” syndrome reigns supreme.
This age-old practice has helped to divide Jamaica in a most insidious and deleterious way and, although the spectre of political violence is no longer prevalent, many Jamaicans have been marginalised and continue to be victimised because of the party they support.
Of course, there are those street-savvy Jamaicans who proudly wear the PIP (Party in Power) badge. These people quickly align themselves to the ruling party to ensure that their noses are in the trough. And, interestingly, these individuals are to be found in every stratum of the Jamaican society — from top to bottom. Just watch how some of those in the commanding heights of the society genuflect and become sickeningly sycophantic at cocktail parties and official functions. This level of hypocrisy and opportunism is most nauseating, but that is the nature of the game.
One would have thought that Jamaica would have begun to move away from this ugly partisan game. For example, why is it that when a new Government is formed by the party that was in Opposition it becomes par for the course that all who are not supporters of that party should be axed from their jobs? Let's be practical. It is no secret that when Opposition party operatives are retained in sensitive posts there is always the likelihood of sabotage, deliberate or otherwise, and as such any new Administration would want to have in place its own loyalists who will carry out its preferred policies and projects. Then again, there have also been cases in which the people in these pivotal positions were not qualified for the jobs, but were simply placed there because they are well-known political activists who must be rewarded for bringing home their party to the winner's circle. In this scenario, nepotism and cronyism become rampant — as can be seen in a number of scandalous instances that have been brought to the fore mainly through the investigative work of mainstream media and oversight committees of Parliament, such as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC).
With corruption in the public service continuing to rear its ugly head, it behoves both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding to explore this vexing issue and set about establishing the correct protocols with respect to transition in government. Too often we hear about files being destroyed or stolen, and people connected to the outgoing Government left on tenterhooks, while others remain defiant even in defeat.
Surely, a new Government should have a clean slate, and part of the protocols should be that individuals employed in sensitive positions are to willingly tender their resignations, allowing for a smooth transition. However, this does not always happen because of the lack of security of tenure. I am therefore urging both leaders to put this on the front burner so that protocols can be established before the next general election.
Then there is the issue of contracts and subcontracted work. One of the biggest pork-barrel activities in Jamaica for decades has to do with roadworks. It is the unwritten law that all contracts, subcontracts, and works to be done must be given to supporters of the party in power. Competence, probity, and the ability to complete the job on time and in good stead are not necessarily among the main criteria. Intrinsic in all of this are the perennial practices of giving kickbacks (money under the table) and the funding of political parties.
Let's face it, it is no secret that one of the biggest funders of both the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP), especially at election time, are the contractors and corporate entities that have benefited from taxpayers' money. It's a sort of quid pro quo situation that is accepted and pursued with much alacrity and with no sense of guilt.
A Member of Parliament (MP) has to ensure, at all times, that his party supporters get most, if not all, the jobs or State benefits emanating from government coffers. If he or she does not follow that rule of engagement then he or she will fast become unelectable. In this vein, the office of the MP, most times, becomes an enclave for only party supporters, and this ought not to be so. It may well be that the MP should have two offices — one for the party and the other existing without any partisan paraphernalia to serve the wider constituency. The latter, I think, should be paid for by the State with the Jamaican flag placed in a prominent position and staffed by people dedicated to serving the entire constituency, not just Comrades or Labourites.
Against this background, the issue of campaign financing looms large on the horizon and must be tackled forthwith. For too long there has been a lukewarm approach to this issue. In this regard, two recent matters come to the fore — the allegation of massive vote-buying in the September 3, 2020 General Election and the insistence of Labour and Social Security Minister Karl Samuda that MPs be fully involved in the disbursement of government assistance during this period of the novel coronavirus pandemic. While Minister Samuda may well have good intentions, the political culture puts the entire system in a possible compromising position, to say the least.
In the final analysis, we are all Jamaicans and ways must be found to wean partisan supporters off the breast of pork-barrel politics, which has helped to underdevelop Jamaica socially and economically. As we approach our 60th year of having gained political Independence, the nation must exhibit a greater level of maturity by committing itself to an equitable dispensation of State resources as well as a higher level of probity, transparency, and accountability with respect to the public purse.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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