Stop the 'soon come' and act!Sunday, February 21, 2021
THERE are indeed potent lyrics in Bob Marley and the Wailers' classic, Soon Come. In the song they crooned about amatory matters. The lyrics, in my view, can also fittingly apply to a major Achilles heel in our defective politics and damaged governance infrastructure which has and continues to cost us dearly.
For decades we in this country have been operating along a trajectory of crisis response. We have a bamboo fire approach to solving our nation's problems. This flaw is evident in our pronounced inability to consistently implement successful policies and programmes on a timely basis.
The constricting tentacles of 'soon come' are blindingly obvious across the Jamaican landscape. Consider these headlines and the dates:
'Ticketing system to be developed for COVID-19 breaches' ( The Gleaner, September 30, 2020)
'Gov't mulls ticketing system to address breaches of COVID-19 protocols' ( Loop Jamaica, October 2, 2020)
'Ticketing system for COVID-19 breaches will be ready soon' ( Jamaica Information Service, November 27, 2020)
'Work advanced on ticketing system for COVID-19 breaches' ( Jamaica Observer, February 11, 2021)
More than four months after the Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton announced in Parliament that a ticketing system to improve compliance with COVID-19 measures was forthcoming the system is yet to be rolled out. Its development is not exactly nuclear fusion. The Administration is not required to reinvent the wheel, either, since similar ticketing systems are being used in several other countries. Where is the bottleneck, Minister Tufton?
Recall, too, that Tufton had announced on September 30, 2020 that: “Prime Minister Andrew Holness has asked the ministries of national security and justice to collaborate on the initiative for the enforcement of the measures by the police.” The Andrew Holness-led Administration clearly dropped the ball here.
When you get the basics right, most things tend to fall into place. This axiom has great relevance to good governance. We, in Jamaica, have had a decades-old problem with getting the basics right. Add that reality to the fact that we live in a low-consequence environment and the result is a hugely flammable mix.
Last December, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie told the country that: “More than 300 events are being held on a weekly basis, although municipal corporations have not been issuing any permits for the past five months because of the coronavirus pandemic.” ( The Gleaner, December 5, 2020) The exponential increase in coronavirus infections which is taking place now was visible from a mile away.
In relation to the specific areas of compliance and enforcement, the Administration has been reactive and manifestly unimpressive. I say, enough of this darn soon come!
Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his team are needlessly losing valuable political capital. Early in the novel coronavirus pandemic the Administration won widespread praise from local, regional and international authorities. It was was duly earned. I believe the Administration needs to guard against cancelling all the good work it has done over the last 11 months. Hospitalisations are soaring, COVID-19-related deaths are nearing 390 and, cumulatively, we are just over 20,000 cases of coronavirus infections.
In my The Agenda piece on December 20, 2020 I noted that a skyrocketing in the mentioned areas would result in “convenient amnesia, prevalent especially among those who broke curfew rules and others who are anxious to plunge a sharp dagger into those who now hold the keys to Jamaica House”. Acceptance of personal responsibility is low on the totem pole in our country. Nonetheless, the obvious black eye of compliance and enforcement will quickly develop into a severely disfigured face if the Administration fails to execute, in a clear, efficient, open, and honest manner, the vaccination process which, we are told, will commence later this month.
It is an open secret that socio-economic factors often influence if not determine access to especially scarce goods and services in this country. In times of scarcity, the worst of human nature emerges.
Consider this: 'Peru's foreign minister resigns in furore over secret vaccination of Government officials' ( CNN, February 15, 2021). If this sordid episode or derivatives of it are repeated here, 'soon come' will not palliate the tsunami of public anger against the Holness Administration. Credible results are needed.
Recall this headline? 'New timeline for update of 'laughable laws' ' ( The Gleaner, October 5, 2018)
The news item said, among other things: “More than one year after Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck first indicated that the Government would be speedily reviewing and modernising Jamaican laws with ridiculously low fines, the justice ministry is now promising that the first set will be before Parliament this month.”
'Chuck says country's outdated laws will be addressed this year' ( Jamaica Observer, January 24, 2019)
'Low, outdated monetary fines to be increased' ( Jamaica Information Service, February 27, 2019)
'Obeah law could be repealed soon' ( Loop Jamaica, June 5, 2019
So we have been going the rounds of these 'soon come' announcements and reannouncements since 2017. Minister Chuck now needs to tell the country if all the laws been updated.
No dilly-dally, just act!
Administrations formed by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) do well when they spearhead and implement big, bold, political, social, and economic actions, in a timely manner. One could go as far back to 1961, when the founder of the JLP, Sir Alexander Bustamante, championed the position that we needed to sail our own boat.
On September 19, 1961, in a national referendum, Jamaicans voted on the question: Should Jamaica remain in the West Indies Federation? The JLP supported withdrawal and the PNP supported membership. Some 45.9 per cent voted “yes”, but 40,000 more voted “no”, with 62 per cent of the electorate voting. (Statistics from the Electoral Commission of Jamaica).
Bustamante ushered Jamaica into political independence and was the first prime minister of independent Jamaica.
When our National Stadium was completed some said it was unnecessary. Most Jamaicans today will attest to its immense and unqualified value.
When Sir Donald Sangster, Jamaica's second prime minister, spearheaded the vision of an international airport in Montego Bay, many said he was mad.
When Hugh Shearer, our third prime minister, commenced a network of bypass roads and highways to stimulate increased economic growth in the late 1960s, some made infra dig comments about his humble beginnings in Martha Brae, Trelawny, and a few even whispered aloud that his then plans for Jamaica were scarcely more than the mutterings of an unlettered man. The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) was instituted in 1966. The People's National Party (PNP) tried legislatively, and in popular culture, to invert NIS to 'SIN'. They failed. Today the NIS continues to deliver significant life-saving benefits to thousands of Jamaicans.
Edward Seaga, Jamaica's fifth prime minister, was one of the founding fathers who framed the Jamaican Constitution in 1961. He initiated a rewrite of the human rights section of the constitution to provide for a Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, and created the Office of the Public Defender, plus numerous institutions which today serve the interests of Jamaicans. Again, wishy-washy tinkerings have seldom benefited JLP Administrations. The lifeblood of the JLP is distinct action.
In 2010 our eighth prime minister, Bruce Golding, along with Audley Shaw, the finance minister, began decisive actions, including two domestic debt exchanges, to bring Jamaica's debt trajectory on a more sustainable path. The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) has been a game- changer in the protection of the rights of black, dispossessed Jamaicans. The removal of user fees as a prerequisite to access basic health care was a valiant shift. That decision has worked to the benefit of thousands of ordinary Jamaicans.
The abolition of obligatory fees at the secondary school level and the implementation of the “1.5 income tax relief” by Andrew Holness, our ninth prime minister, were courageous actions implemented in the face of brutish opposition. To date, thousands of Jamaicans have reaped the benefits.
Going forward, similarly, bold actions are needed, instead of a reliance on bipartisan groupthink.
So American JetBlue employee Kalina Collier, who falsely said she was held against her will in Jamaica by “wicked people”, has been fired by her employer. And the chief executive officer of JetBlue Airways, Robin Hayes, issued an apology to the Jamaican Government and the people of Jamaica.
“All's well that ends well,” some may say, not quite so in my estimation.
In an insightful article in this newspaper on Wednesday, Queen's Counsel Peter Champagnie asks the following important questions: “Must we, in Jamaica, wait until trolls have reached the zenith of their vitriolic commentaries before we act to curb their traits? Should we, in the name of free speech, continue to allow such purveyors of false and injurious information to capture and occupy, at their will, the various social media platforms without any legal consequences?”
Given our national proclivity not to act proactively, I would be very surprised if actions similar to Collier's aren't repeated in short order, so soon as the bamboo fire dissipates. What Collier did here was not a first.
Recall this? 'Westmoreland 'mastermind' behind false COVID voice note charged' ( The Gleaner, March 29, 2020)
The news item said, Zavian Patterson, 37, was “charged with creating public mischief in relation to a viral voice note falsely claiming that there would be a shutdown of the parish”. Interesting! Up to the time of writing I was not able to find if the charge had been later dropped or, indeed, what happened with that matter.
Last Sunday, in my The Agenda piece, I said inter alia: “Those who use social media as a kind of lair to systematically discolour people's reputation must be made to pay in the courts. Those whose vocation is the maiming and tarnishing of our country must be repudiated and exposed. Those who damage the country by retailing and wholesaling lies must not be allowed to operate with impunity.”
Champagnie, in the mentioned submission, told us how we might begin to claw back some control. Will we act accordingly? I am not confident we will.
Walk good, Cecil July
With the death of former Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament (MP) for St Elizabeth South Eastern Cecil Roy July, last week, an era that some would like us to forget has once again come to the fore. Some would want us to sanitise and deodorise our political past. That will not fly.
July served as parliamentary secretary in the then Ministry of Youth. He was a highly respected lawyer and philanthropist. He was one of many JLP supporters who was brutalised and dehumanised in the run-up to the October 30, 1980 General Election, the bloodiest in our history.
Many PNP supporters were also pressed to the political abyss during a campaign which ended with the killing of nearly 850 Jamaicans according to police official figures. The run-up to the 1980 general election was a period marred by spectacular polarisation.
July, may his soul rest in peace, had a front-row seat to many of the atrocities. This harrowing account from a former mayor of Black River and sitting councillor for the JLP in the Pedro Plains Division Jeremy Palmer is a reminder of how close we came to the brink of disaster.
Palmer noted, among other things:
“He [July] was attacked by a mob and stoned. He lost five of his teeth and he was hospitalised for about four days.
“A lot of people don't want to remember that Top Hill incident, but it was one of the bloodiest incidents of the election...
“July faced a lot of personal acts of violence against him in that election.”
July sought refuge from the mob in a house, and the house was tear-gassed and fired upon. Two innocent children died, and another was injured. ( Jamaica Observer, February 16, 2021)
We will not, must never go back to that. And to do that, we must never forget.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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