Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jamaica: Redefining governance post-Bruce Golding

Redefining governance post-Golding

By LLOYD B SMITH



Even as Jamaicans breathe a sigh of relief in the wake of the departure of Bruce Golding as JLP leader and prime minister in what was a seamless transition, a dispassionate post-mortem needs to be done and a new job description arrived at for our head of government, the so-called first among equals.

Of course, one of the recurring challenges that beset any such attempt at meaningful discussion is the rabid tribalism that plagues the Jamaican society. So much so that even when a perceived "independent" political analyst seeks to cut through the putrid fat of partisan fatuousness in order to get to the bone of the matter, he or she is likely to be pilloried, if the views expressed are not in sync with a particular party and its motley assortment of hacks and spin doctors.

In this vein, political discourse in many instances becomes a desperate attempt at playing to the gallery or is so overly "balanced" that it becomes lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — which leaves many readers and listeners in a stupor, not knowing whether to swallow or spit it out.

One of the unfortunate traits of many Jamaicans is a seeming inability to argue a point without "tracing" (verbal assault which often leads to one denigrating one's opponent). This has become a regular feature in the political arena which also sees some talk show hosts and columnists joining in this kind of vacuous verbal diarrhoea leading to character assassination, especially when their victim speaks or writes the truth. Yes, the truth hurts, and can be very offensive.

Against this background of intellectual dishonesty, if governance in Jamaica is to take on a meaningful trend, then the role of the media needs to be redefined in this burgeoning information age. In the United States, for example, which is regarded as one of the bastions of democratic governance in the world, a journalist or newspaper can openly, or in any other acceptable way, endorse a political candidate or party. Even newspapers, radio and television stations are known to co-exist peacefully and without threat of extinction, notwithstanding their particular ideological or partisan stance.

In Jamaica, because of the divisive, intimidatory and vindictive nature of our political culture, most media practitioners are forced to walk a tightrope, and so in many instances a latent form of hypocrisy laced with sycophancy and doublespeak becomes the order of the day. "O judgement thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason!" (Shakespeare - Julius Caesar)

I therefore posit that if good governance is to come to the fore and is sustainable, then the media in Jamaica must be truly liberated, not shackled by an archaic set of libel laws. As the people's watchdog, it must be allowed to have more bite than bark which means that the politics of the day must become more enlightened, tolerant and accountable.

For this to happen, then those at the top must raise the bar of discourse within the context of contending opinions which too frequently become the news of the day via soundbytes and "select" headlines. Newly installed Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller must declare their hands during the coming general election campaign because it cannot be business as usual.

At the outset of what was to be Golding's ill-fated "governorship", he set out to define his style of governance by dubbing himself the chief servant, a sobriquet fraught with good intention and a sincerity of purpose. But very soon, the man who was also called "driva" found himself in a pickle and had to opt, in the final analysis, to put the interest of the party over patriotism.

Golding, in essence, became victim of a political system which he once abhorred but had to ultimately embrace in his quest for power. Looking back, one may well ask if Golding had stuck with the National Democratic Movement through thick and thin, would his legacy have remained untarnished and would that fledgling party have gained enough social capital to take on successfully the status quo?

Interestingly and most intriguingly, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has attributed much of his political acumen to the mentorship of Edward Seaga and Bruce Golding. He has, in one fell swoop, defined his political persona, and what remains to be seen is whether he will emulate the good qualities of his mentors or embrace their bad characteristics.

Picture a typical cartoon character with an angel on either shoulder (usually one is a good influence and the other bad). We have been told that "Prince Andrew" is his own man; let's now see if he will be able to prove that he is not a chip off the old block, or worse, a clone.

From all indications, he has the acumen to rise to the occasion, but his most serious challenge will remain how he manages the JLP while steering the ship of state. For this to happen, he will need all hands on deck, so I am very pleased that so far one commentator has described him as a consensus builder, because in redefining governance in Jamaica, the nation's leaders need to coalesce around certain objectives, and whoever is prime minister must lead that charge.

At the same time, prime minister and JLP leader Andrew Holness, now that he is fully in the saddle, must rein in those unrepentant "tribalists" who see as their only role that of tarring and feathering as well as running out of town anyone who dares to criticise him, the party or the Government of the day.

If Jamaica is to be governed effectively with equal rights and justice for all, then there must be room for dissent. We cannot all see things through one set of spectacles. Let the wheat and the tares grow together until the day of harvest.

Outside of the media and political leadership, the church and civil society need to play a more aggressive as well as assertive role in the redefining of governance in Jamaica. The power and influence of civil society and the media were in full force during the Manatt/Dudus affair and we have seen the result of that debacle.

It has allowed a new day to dawn on the island's political landscape teeming with many possibilities. Increasingly, the church must be the moral compass without taking sides, and civil society must pursue without fear or favour that route that leads to equity in terms of justice and economic opportunities.

Once again, Jamaica is at a crossroads and we must decide where we are going in real terms. Winning an election must not be an end in itself, but the first step in a journey towards economic independence, peace, safety and national unity. Whichever party wins, it will not be an easy road. Governance, not "gangsterism", must define our path. Enough said!

lloydbsmith@hotmail.com

October 25, 2011

jamaicaobserver