27 September 2009


what we have made is not enough for song

so we are told by critics of the age

who always urge the young to disengage

and tell the old they are no longer strong

the middle-aged must see they can't belong

and therefore are required to quit the stage

it seems there is no text left on this page

that can't be so thus the whole tale is wrong

where we began no hero could pretend

to claim the moment and the victor's crown

but infant struggles of the teller's art

convert each listener into a friend

bring each lost wanderer safe back to town

and know the climax is there from the start

Revaluing People

John Maxwell

On my first visit to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, my wife's hometown, I was struck by some immense differences with Kingston, a city of the same size. Apart from the absence of slums and substandard housing the major difference was in the way people treated other people.
One day I was taking a tram but the tram got to the stop before I did. I had been running and was about to stop when I noticed that several seconds after the last passenger had boarded the tram had not moved. I trotted in to find that the last passenger before me had blocked the door, stopping it from closing and preventing the tram from starting.
I thanked the woman and thought to myself that I could not imagine a similar show of the kindness of strangers in any other large city I could think of.
I noticed other things; how unobtrusive the police were although they were always about; how many street gardens and flower boxes there were; how many street markets flourished and lots more.
In my latest visit, to be treated for advanced lung cancer at the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek /National Cancer Institute I noticed much more. Over the eight months of my treatment I cannot remember a single unpleasant encounter in the polyclinic. Everybody, from the mainly immigrant cleaners to the highly trained oncology nurses and technicians to the specialist physicians at the top of the tree clearly knew their jobs, were determined to put their patients at ease and certainly in my case, radiated optimism even knowing that my chances were not good.
Having since read an internet piece on the morbid effect of depression on cancer patients I now realise that my response to the treatment –which surprised even my doctors – probably was enhanced by my own optimism and refusal to surrender, some of it owed to the people who were caring for me.

A Caring Society

The Dutch have a high tolerance for street markets and in some areas, whole streets are blocked off for vendors of food, clothing, luggage, books, electronics, flowers, curios and almost anything your heart desires. The municipality regulates these markets, providing sanitation, parking and police services just as they would in front of the Royal Palace, and from time to time there are Ferris wheels and other amusements right in front of the palace itself and a book-market there on weekends.
The texture of real democracy is easily felt in such surroundings. The sanitation services designate special depositaries for garbage, glass, paper and plastic waste. It's a lot easier to live in a healthy environment in Amsterdam than in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios or Kingston.
The reason is simple: the Dutch society is a caring society. Such societies are denounced in the United States and in Jamaica as socialistic. What they are is civilised and rock ribbed conservatives as prehistoric as Otto von Bismarck and Winston Churchill, realised that any good machine, which a state is, requires expert handling, operation and maintenance.
On this side of the Atlantic we have been spooked by a wide array of fundamentalist opinionators – I refuse to call them thinkers. It is thought to be sissy to recognise basic human rights, to accord dignity to domestic helpers, cane cutters and so called blue collar workers. For them it is survival of the fittest – which, in subsistence societies means the survival of the fiercest, the most dysfunctional, the most abused.

Factors of production

People who habitually describe other people as "human resources' scare me. Too often they come from a world n which there was no love, in which to spare the rod was to spoil the child. I slapped my son's backside once, one blow which I have never forgotten nor for which have i ever forgiven myself. I have never physically punished either of my daughters. Yet, they are all well adjusted people, civilised people with no known enemies or neuroses.
As one who was 'flogged' more than once by my father and regularly bullied and caned at Jamaica College, I can testify that physical punishment, no matter how justified, is an assault on the soul with ineradicable scars. It leaves behind a thirst for revenge.
When I hear people speaking about the cost effectiveness of reducing work forces I wonder how they would feel if they were subject to downsizing and redundancy. Mr Don Wehby wants to add to the total of unemployed: ""I think we need fewer people in the public sector and pay those who are there more based on their productivity," Wehby said.
Of course, as the man known as "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap proved a decade ago, shareholder value will rise, at least temporarily, the more people you fire because output per worker will go up, at least temporarily.
"Chainsaw Al" was for a time regarded as a capitalist superman. As BusinessWeek said at the time "To investors who made millions by following him, Dunlap was, if not a god, certainly a savior."
In a few years, at four corporations, Chainsaw Al made $100 million for himself and millions more for other shareholders while driving 18,000 families to the breadline. When he was eventually fired after wrecking the Sunbeam corporation former employees took to the streets to celebrate.
According to BusinessWeek: ''I laughed like hell,'' says Dunlap's 35-year-old son and only child. ''I'm glad he fell on his ass. I told him Sunbeam would be his Dunkirk.'' Dunlap's sister, Denise, his only sibling, heard the news from a friend in New Jersey. Her only thought: ''He got exactly what he deserved.''
What's wrong with Jamaica can't be cured by Chainsaw Al. We have been exporting our resources for so long that we no longer recognise what we are doing.Our "human resources", our ablest people have been running away from home for years, depleting our capacity. According to World Bank figures about 80% of all our graduates have fled. Exporting brainpower and decimating the labour force is a recipe for disaster. Richard Thelwell and I, in 1979, figured that soil erosion in the watersheds of Eastern Jamaica alone plus the brain drain cost us nearly $70 million every year – half in lost farm production.and half in brains.
Our GDP has never grown by $70 million in any one year.
We are among the few countries in the civilised world with a regressive income tax which necessarily penalises the poor and enriches the rich. The poor like everyone else, are further forced to pay sales taxes on everything they consume. The poorer you are the more onerous the tax.
Meanwhile of all the thousands of highly paid professionals, entrepreneurs and self-employed/ own account workers in Jamaica, only 5,000 pay any income tax, the main burden being borne by the PAYE contributors who cannot escape.
Everybody in Jamaica is, at the same time, a consumer and a taxpayer. Most people do not realise that we pay the salaries not only of our civil servants but also of the ginnigogs of the private sector. There is no free lunch. We are being asked to beat up civil servants while allowing the wealthy to behave like 18th century plantation owners and slave-masters.
If we were to fire the entire board of directors of one firm of importers we could save the nation more than $200 million for the loss of ten jobs. Much more cost effective than firing 200 civil servants and more humane, to boot.
If our leaders were honest with themselves they would, I think, ask how any form of development could possibly make up for the economic bloodletting in brain power and soil erosion. The answer is that nothing can; what we can do is to stanch the bleeding.
We need to make Jamaica people friendly again; to stop the UDC and the parish councils tearing down shacks, to stop the police stealing and smashing the property street vendors, to stop firing people to improve a theoretical productivity index and to slake the unslakeable and demonic thirst of the IMF and the World Bank. We need to start to design a Jamaica fit for Jamaicans and not tailored to the tastes of Oleg Deripaska, our bauxite landmaster who lost 39 billion (with a B) dollars last year and hasn't noticed it.
We need a Jamaica hspitable to the domestic helpers, to former cane cutters, to small farmers, to the unemployed, to the so-called self-employed selling bottled water and doughnuts on the street and more hospitable for their children – who might yet be persuaded to swap their guns for places in school, on the playing fields and the beaches, for places in the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
Copyright©2009 John Maxwell


20 September 2009

love ties its hopes

love ties its hopes to what it thinks a rock

the furthest outlier of a merry isle

where there's no foe except the hateful clock


your modesty inclines you to take stock

in all those things that we would not revile

love ties its hopes to what it thinks a rock


impervious to any mortal shock

we hope to land and stay for quite a while

where there's no foe except the hateful clock


our ship is not for any normal dock

we've gone way past the ordinary style

love ties its hopes to what it thinks a rock


rejects enclosure will break every lock

and has more power still than any bile

where there's no foe except the hateful clock


though you despise and though you still may mock

our sacred purpose you cannot defile

love ties its hopes to what it thinks a rock

where there's no foe except the hateful clock

Black is a State of Mind

John Maxwell

Much of the Western media and the people they serve, are almost reflexively racist. No other people are as concerned with the ethnic credentials of their neighbours. At no time was this syndrome better exposed than by the murder trial of O.J. Simpson. TIME magazine apologised for picturing him on the magazine's cover as "darker than the hero he was". Newsweek opined that Simpson was trying to become white – "He even played golf."
This week, in illustrating a story about the increase in a world hunger the stock illustration has been a black Somali woman with her terminally malnourished baby. The story was not about starvation in Africa; it was about hunger worldwide:
World Food Aid At 20-Year Low, 1 Billion Hungry
Now there aren't a billion people in all Africa, so even the most boneheaded of editors should have used his imagination to illustrate the story differently.
According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation the tally of the hungered is as follows:

642 million in Asia and the Pacific
265 million in Sub-Saharan Africa
53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean        
42 million in the Near East and North Africa

If you add together those hungry in Black (sub-Saharan Africa with those in North
Africa you will get 307 million, still less than half those hungry in Asia and the Pacific. Yet, the cliche picture is of Africans.
Being black is an undefinable abstraction. A back shoemaker in Washington 50 years ago did not recognise me as 'black' because of the way I spoke and the way I walked. In the BBC's newsroom in the late '60s my colleagues ranged between those who saw me as a black outsider – nigger – and the typist who though I had the 'most wonderful tan'. There were those who said I must be from the South Seas and others who thought that Jamaicans lived in trees.
While I was at the BBC one of their commentators said on television that 'X' was the first white man to finish in the 100 metres at the Tokyo Olympics. He came sixth. When Randolph Turpin beat Sugar Ray Robinson for the world middleweight title he was transformed from a 'darkie from Leamington' to 'the Briton' by the time the fight ended. The process was reversed in the next fight when Ray Robinson beat the daylights out of Turpin.
Last weekend, at the US Open tennis championships, the world's best tennis player lost her temper and the title match after she shouted imprecations at a lineswoman who had – wrongly – called her for a foot-fault. (Nobody mentioned that fact)
Serena was in a bad mood because the American hoi polloi, who mainly patronise tennis, was rooting for Serena's opponent, a Belgian, against their own home grown champion. In tennis, with its polite hand-claps, it is much easier for the spectators to unsettle a competitor than in most other sports. Serena lost her temper not just with the lineswoman but with the whole racist cabal of tennis officialdom and the media. YouTube videos heralded the moment by speaking of 'the jungle' and similarly flattering epithets
Serena was fined 10,500 and reprimanded. While she was apologising for her behavior, another tennis star, this time white, male, Swiss and named Roger Federer, was abusing the match umpire using precisely the same language as Serena had. Abusing a lineswoman is obviously a crime. Abusing a match umpire in the same terms isn't, in the free and democratic United States of America, where Free Speech rules. Federer was not penalised and most of the media ignored his lapse.

Third World USA

The Southern United States is that country's Third World, so vividly exposed by Hurricane Katrina. Unlike the rest of the Third World, the southern USA is not noted for much apart from William Faulkner, bourbon and the continuing disaster that is Miami. Its politicians who used always to be Democrats and rabidly prejudiced are now mostly Republicans and rabidly prejudiced.
The Deep South has for some time been the intellectual – if you can call it that – powerhouse of the Republican party. It is spiritual home to such as Roger Ailes president of Fox News, David Duke, the KKKlansman, and Karl Rove, once known as George Bush's brain.
In the Deep South is where you will find the most atavistic opposition to the American president, Barack Obama, for the simple reason that he is black – or perhaps as some say – passing for Black.
There you will find the most ignorant, hysterical opposition to progressive ideas of any kind, including the attempt to craft a new, more just, health service for Americans. It is in the Deep South that you will find labourers voting against unions and where Walmart was born
One of the newest heroes of the deep south is a hitherto unknown congressman named Joe Wilson whose most memorable utterance before now was his advice to Strom Thurmond's black daughter to shut up. Thurmond – the old racist – had been Wilson's boss and mentor and the protégé was terribly vexed that any details of his scrofulous past should be revealed.
Wilson was one of the three or four hundred congressmen present when their President addressed a joint session of the Senate and the House.
In the middle of the speech Wilson shouted "You Lie!" at the President, thus achieving his flyspeck place in history.
Some journalists saw Wilson's rude eructation as harmless; others, like Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, heard in that outburst, the invisible snarl of the racist:

'… fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!
'The outburst was unexpected from a milquetoast Republican backbencher from South Carolina who had attracted little media attention. Now it has made him an overnight right-wing hero, inspiring "You lie!" bumper stickers and T-shirts.'
Dowd goes on to explain that until now she had not agreed with those who thought that much of the hate being spewed at Obama was race-inspired. She had classed it with the vituperation aimed at Roosevelt, Truman and JFK. She now admits:
"But Wilson's shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted "liar" at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it".
Dowd may have missed a few other manifestations such as the fact that on at least two Presidential occasions men armed to the teeth have boldly paraded in the near vicinity, almost daring the Secret Service to interfere with their 'constitutional right' to bear arms. I don't believe that these men would have tried to kill the president themselves; they were merely demonstrating to others, less scrupulous, that there were other loonies like them and that it may be a good idea to go hunting a President.
The level of hatred shown to President and Mrs Obama extends into the Democratic Party itself. Obama's 'Secretary of State and her husband as well as other opponents of Obama have all made statements that black people recognise as coded messages. One does not have to do a Henry II – 'will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?'
Perhaps what Obama needs now is to recognise himself for what he is, to do what he promised and, perhaps, to seek the advice of another turbulent priest, to wit: the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Obama is a child of the sixties and is perhaps not black enough to realise that in this sort of situation, soft answers, far from turning away wrath, encourage it, rather like not standing your ground in front of a menacing dog.




I lost two good friends on the same day this week: Wayne Brown and Trevor Rhone. Jamaica lost two good men, two stars of the arts.
Rhone was the man who proved that one could survive as a serious playwright in Jamaica writing about the Jamaican culture. The cult of slapstick to which too many Jamaican playwrights subscribe, was not his genre. Trevor proved that there were large audiences for serious theatre about Jamaica. He was a kind and gentle man.
Wayne Brown was a gifted teacher, poet and journalist. When both of us wrote for this paper, people used to ask us whether we ever consulted beforehand. The answer was no, but both of us had the same kind of news-sense and the urge to speak truth to whomever.
Early this year, when I was in Amsterdam being treated for lung cancer, Wayne sent me an email saying that he too had been diagnosed with the same disease. Unfortunately his was a more advanced case than mine, although I had started smoking when Wayne was six, more than a decade before he started. I had had hopes that both of us would have survived until, when I went to see him three weeks ago, he told me his doctors had said that he needn't think of buying Christmas presents this year.

I am just one of thousands here and abroad who will miss these two hugely gifted men _ eloquent spokesmen for our world.

Copyright 2009 © John Maxwell jankunnu@gmail.com

19 September 2009

at the dockside

we go to meet

the losing side

nowhere to hide

the river's fleet


time has in tow

all our desire

so tell the choir

how much you know


out from the port

no ship departs

the while our hearts

each hope distorts


choices are made

visions described

policemen bribed

that is the trade


so when we learn

just how to speak

in the antique

manner you yearn


to see us grasp

all of your pride

held well inside

falls from your grasp


what is said true

within these walls

nobody calls

honest or new


nothing but old

rumours and lies

that we despise

pass here for gold

13 September 2009

autumn vintage

there's nothing noble in this kind of rot

we weather storms but reach no harbour sure

our choice is clear pay up or lose the plot


some day there is an answer this time not

no other means our safety to ensure

there's nothing noble in this kind of rot


we tell ourselves there is but we forgot

how much of nonsense we have to endure

our choice is clear pay up or lose the plot


like children here with noses full of snot

we cannot breathe and cannot find the cure

there's nothing noble in this kind of rot


so we must leave but first undo the knot

that binds with certainty both raw and pure

our choice is clear pay up and lose the plot


leaving behind enough to fill the slot

in hope that reason will some day mature

there's nothing noble in this kind of rot

our choice is clear pay up and lose the plot

Preying on the Public Interest


John Maxwell

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jamaica's so-called Urban Development Corporation (UDC) is not about urban development - no matter what its name says. It has been my contention for years that this entity would be more aptly named the Universal Devastation Conglomerate to better reflect what it actually does.

I must declare interest, since I have been personally involved in disputes with the UDC for more than 30 years - as every sensible Jamaican would be if they knew the facts. My first run-in with the UDC came in 1974 when, as I have previously related here, I attended a news conference the UDC had mounted to impress its new minister, Allan Isaacs.

Great was the consternation when I asked the chairman of the UDC, Moses Matalon, for a copy of the corporation's annual report. There was none. Could I have the previous year's? There was none, and so right back to the formation of the UDC six years before. There was more pandemonium when I asked why had the UDC, a government agency, been involved in borrowing money, by way of IOUs, in foreign currency from money lenders in New York. Allan Isaacs was livid, thought the UDC had made a fool of him, and demanded that before anything else was done the corporation should produce annual reports for the missing years. The UDC eventually produced a document, alleged to be the consolidated annual reports from 1968. The only useful fact contained therein was confirmation of my statement about IOUs.

Nobody was ever fired for these delinquencies and Moses - who was "God" before Vin Lawrence - continued happily destroying 'God-forsaken mangroves', pumping sewage into the sea and inflating our foreign exchange debt as he thought appropriate. After 35 years and at least three or four chairmen and an unknown number of new boards, little seems to have changed.

The last UDC Annual Report covers the year 2005 but, from internal evidence, was obviously presented late.

A run-through of the Annual Report confirmed the impression I have always had of the UDC - lots of marvellous chat but little effective action. The UDC's skin has been saved by successive governments giving it duties once more, economically and competently undertaken by the Public Works Department and the Building Section of the Ministry of Education.

Meanwhile, mouldering away in countless dusty filing cabinets are lavish brochures produced by the corporation over the years promising to redevelop downtown Kingston, to redevelop Rae Town, to create a misconceived 'city' at Hellshire and generally to revolutionise urban development in various towns across Jamaica, to rehouse people in 'de ghetto' and to provide civilised services to urban areas. Instead, it has become Jamaica's largest property speculator and real estate developer, though why we need one financed by public funds is a question only the IMF can answer. Few of the projects described in the brochure have come to fruition. Hellshire is a collection of suburban tract developments in a desert: Hellshire gets far less rain than any other part of Jamaica.

Yet, the geniuses at the UDC, in 1977, were planning to pump their sewage into a pristine underground lake of 'connate' water, formed more than half a million years ago. We at the NRCA managed to stop them then, but it is very likely that the corporation's resident demon has again convinced them that this transcendental act of environmental sacrilege is, after all, a good idea.

The UDC has had more than its share of disasters: at Negril, where its obstinate refusal to listen to environmental advice has ruined seven miles of beach and Jamaica's second most important wetland, itself a potent attraction if properly husbanded. Then there is the catastrophic debacle of Ackendown/Sandals Whitehouse which ended in enormous cost overruns and a black eye for Sandals which was unable to open the hotel on time because the building was still unfinished after huge delays and millions in wasted foreign exchange.

There are more than a dozen companies subsidiary to the UDC, many of them moribund monuments to Big Thinking. Most of them were chaired by 'God'.

The Beach-stealing Campaign

At this moment the UDC is engaged in a campaign to rid ordinary Jamaicans of their public beaches. They have already disposed of Pear Tree Cove (Bahia Principe) and are doing their damnedest to screw us out of the Winniefred (sic) Rest Home Beach, claiming, against all evidence and logic, to be the legal owners of the property. The UDC is now attempting to sell the Cardiff Hall Public Beach. Caveat Emptor! The corporation has already hauled before the court several handicraft vendors, charging them with trespassing on this desirable 'beachfront property'.

This is a replay of what the UDC did on Hellshire Beach. After more than 30 years of trying to deny the fishermen the 10 or so acres given to them by the Government in 1978, the UDC, illegally and with maximum malice, began to bulldoze the dwellings on the ground that the fishermen were trespassing on UDC property. This, despite the fact that the UDC had handed over the title of the property to the Cooperatives Department in trust for the Hellshire Fishermen's cooperative.

This was another blow to weaken and further destabilise the idea of public ownership of the beach with the result that the Halfmoon Bay Fisherman's Cooperative has been almost destroyed and middle-class squatters have built illegal structures on the beach.

In its wisdom the UDC, against scientific advice, constructed an illegal groyne at the exit to Jackass Water Hole - obviously pre-named in honour of the UDC - and this groyne for years starved Halfmoon Bay Beach of its sand. The sand is now back and has reawakened the lusts of property developers of all kinds, no doubt including the UDC and certain councillors of the Portmore municipal council which never had any connection with Halfmoon Bay.

In St Ann, at Cardiff Hall, as at Portland's Winniefred Beach, the UDC is engaged in a struggle to take illegal possession of one of the first of Norman Manley's public beaches.

When I was chairman of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (and Beach Control Authority) 1977 to 1980, the public had unrestricted access to just over 10 miles of beach while private licensees had privileged access to about another 10 miles out of Jamaica's 488 miles of sea coast. The NRCA was about to recommend the abolition of private beach licences, just around the time of the 1980 elections. Mr Seaga, with his penchant for destroying or renaming anything authored by Norman Manley, decided he would privatise public beaches. There were no takers then, and because of the Government's continuing negligence, most public beaches fell into neglect and remained in varying states of desuetude throughout Mr Patterson's generations in office.
'Me bags dat!'

This made them inviting targets for predators such as the UDC who could come in and say that the beaches - as at Hope Gardens and Long Mountain - were not being 'used'. This doctrine could, of course, be used to capture all kinds of public property including schools, parks, courthouses and even parliament, if the predator chose the right moment!

The UDC appears to have a way to acquire apparent title to public property. Public beaches can under the law only be divested by a procedure outlined in the Beach Control Act. As far as anyone knows, that has not happened either at Cardiff Hall or Winniefred Beach, which means that what the UDC is trying to do is illegal. Does the Public Defender, I wonder, have a duty to defend the public interest? Public property is a public trust and it is more than obscene when so-called public corporations are allowed to pillage and loot public property and to abuse the human rights of people and their economic interest in that property.

The rest of us are so poor that we cannot challenge malevolent dinosaurs of the ferocity and strength of the UDC. The public interest is in trouble in many places, but nowhere more so than in this allegedly free country.

Copyright©2009 John Maxwell jankunnu@gmail.com

10 September 2009

no secret day

this is the limit of no secret day

when clouds depart and all enjoy the view

a sudden moment when each may renew

their sagging heart and then go on their way

more certain now of what's set in the play

than all the wise when first wild flower blew

but knowledge is not all that can fall due

nor is hard money the best mode to pay

here is the rule be silent and go forth

not caring how the errand shall turn out

only expect to see an empty plate

on your return from harrowing the north

you shall discover matters are less stout

yet all will be well on the proper date

06 September 2009

Nothing Personal

John Maxwell


On September 18, 1938, Norman Manley said:

"All effort will be wasted unless the masses of the people are steadily taken along the path in which they feel more and more, that this place is their home, that it is their destiny. They will then do more for it, more work, more effort, more thinking, more sacrifice, more discipline, and more honesty, than by any other measure you can bring in this country."

People keep asking me why I am so hard on P. J. Patterson, George Bush and Edward Seaga. I thought that over the years I had made it plain why those three men have so deeply disappointed me. Bush is in a class by himself. Among Jamaican leaders I rank P.J. Patterson as the second worst Prime Minister we have ever had. He and Mr Seaga are almost tied in my estimation, but Mr Seaga's role in promoting strife in Jamaica gives him the edge by a short head.

I freely confess that having known Mr Patterson ever since we were both at school at Calabar I had not expected much from him as PM. I said so at the time, but I publicly revised my expectations after his inaugural speech.. He struck the right note in several areas but the promise that excited me was his pledge to disclose his earnings and assets annually – an implicit encouragement to other politicians and bureaucrats to do the same. It was a promise to seriously reduce the possibility of corruption

That promise was never kept.

P.J. was great at raising false hopes.


Values and Attitudes

Shortly after he became prime minister, Mr Patterson announced with great fanfare that he was convening an organised public dialogue on national values and attitudes. It was an announcement welcomed universally.

Jamaicans would have, for the first time at last, the opportunity to air all our grievances with each other and the opportunity to reason them out and achieve some sort of communal understanding. That was the common expectation. It turned out to have been a delusion.

A nation to pledged become a union of disparate elements was, instead, deeply divided by race, class and economic condition, by party politics and jealousies and as the Prime Minister himself put it, by the `the fight for scarce benefits and political spoils carried on by hostile tribes which seem to be perpetually at war.''

Apart from providing the egregious Wilmot Perkins with a rhetorical feeding-tree for the next twenty years, nothing else ever came of an idea most people thought was just what we needed to help the society to re-orient itself to move forward peacefully and more productively. In the cricketing parlance of which Mr Patterson is so fond, the match was abandoned without a ball being bowled. Even today, nearly two decades later, there is still among many Jamaicans a sense of bitterness at the spurning of a once in a lifetime opportunity for the society to come to grips with itself, to face and recognise its contradictions in the hope that having analysed our faults, we could begin to try to repair them.

We could have embarked on a voyage to prosperity through peace and cooperation. We dropped the ball.


Slave ships in Kingston Harbour

In 1994 when I was writing for the then Jamaica Record, I came into head on collision with the government of the PNP. I was seriously pained by this development since I had been elected to membership of the National Executive and Executive councils of the PNP in 1964, some years before Mr Patterson achieved that distinction.

In 1992 the then newly elected president of the United States, Bill Clinton, cravenly abandoned his promise to return democracy and peace to Haiti and to end the George H. W. Bush policy of turning back or imprisoning Haitians seeking refuge from the barbarians who had overthrown the democratically elected President Aristide of Haiti.

As a face-saving stop-gap, Clinton arranged for two massive hospital ships to anchor in Kingston Harbour as the mother ships for official privateers press-ganging fleeing Haitians on the high seas and bringing them to Jamaica for 'processing' – to decide whether they should be sent back to their murderers in Haiti or be among the fortunate 22% to be imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.

I attacked the government for its complicity in harbouring these floating barracoons and in abetting this inhuman and illegal operation. I found our government's behaviour particularly repellent because it was happening under a prime minister who had earlier advertised himself as 'young, gifted and Black'. In 1994 he refused his plain duty and responsibility to rescue the Haitians and to lead the world – through the UN – in recognising that if the Haitians were not free, no black anywhere in the world, and no human being of any description anywhere, could consider himself free. We should have taken the lead in restoring the dignity for which the Haitians had sacrificed so much over more than two centuries.

Patterson's 1994 betrayal of human rights set the stage for the second overthrow of President Aristide a decade later. In 2004 the criminals who controlled Haiti realised that Mr Patterson, then head of Caricom, could be depended upon to do nothing to stop their brutal usurpation of power in the second independent state in the Western hemisphere and the nation more responsible than any other, for promoting the freedom of the rest of the hemisphere.

For me, the failure of the Jamaican government in this matter is an occasion of the deepest shame.



Crime and the Police

Most Jamaican politicians, like most of their constituents, believe that controlling crime is a matter of body count superiority, the American army doctrine in Vietnam that led to My Lai and other massacres and the deaths of more than 2 million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans and, indirectly, of more than 2 million Cambodians.

When Colonel Trevor MacMillan was appointed Commissioner of Police I knew that he was not a body count man. That was his downfall. Patterson and his National Security Minister needed action. They got it by effectively engineering the resignation of MacMillan and a return to the status quo ante.

Some achievement !

The MacMillan debacle, coupled with the Values and Attitudes disaster, made it almost futile to talk about peace. Few politicians have yet read the 100 or so pages of the (now 14-year-old) UWI study – "They Cry Respect" in which the people beg for peace and suggest how it may be achieved. This is so although Mr Patterson's last Minister of National Security was, believe it or not, a sociologist, complete with PhD. [Urban Poverty and Violence in Jamaica – Centre for Population, Community and Social Change, Department of Sociology, UWI 1996].


The Rule of Whose Law?

The Jamaican legal system is the main factor in the celebrated "Pratt & Morgan" judgment in which the Privy Council ruled that keeping a convicted person in the shadow of the gallows for five years amounted to torture, cruel and inhuman punishment.

The reason so many Jamaican murder convicts spent so much time on Death Row was not, as officials like to allege, that they are employing every technical artifice to stay alive; but because the government's legal processes are so slow, cumbersome and antiquated. In a libel case in which I starred, the judges recorded evidence in longhand, making it impossible for the kind of legal cut and thrust which is the essence of the advocate's practice. That is just the start. And the process is slow even though most murder cases are open and shut: most "murderers" are convicted on alleged eye-witness evidence, notoriously the most unreliable. And in Jamaica less than one in ten murderers is ever arrested, charged and tried.

In order to shorten the process and get round the five year limitation the government of Jamaica, led by P.J. Patterson prime minister and K.D Knight, Minister of National Security, decided on a novel way to get people off Death Row. They would not abolish capital punishment; they had a better idea –they would abolish the possibility of appeals to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and to the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights, (IACHR) both of which had made very harsh comments on the Jamaican 'Justice' system. The government resiled from the UN Optional Protocol on Civil and Political Rights so escaping the UNCHR. It tried to do the same with the IACHR. It came as a complete surprise to them that in order to escape the IACHR they would need to withdraw Jamaica from membership in the Organisation of American States. Such ignorance is inexcusable and says a great deal about the competence and knowledge of our rulers.

Jamaica joined an exclusive club when it resiled from the Optional Protocol. The only other member of this distinguished club is the Peoples' Democratic Republic of Korea, a paragon of democratic practice, like Jamaica.

Jamaica is one of a very small number of countries which still decrees the death penalty. Apart from the United States, most countries that consider themselves as civilised have abolished capital punishment. According to the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance "The homicide rate in those states with the death penalty is almost double the rate in states without the death penalty. "


To be publicly accused of being homosexual is, in Jamaica, almost a sentence of death. The Star newspaper, several years ago published what was in effect a public mischief, alleging that homosexuals brazenly intended to assemble at Halfway Tree to march on Jamaica House to protest against the criminalisation of buggery. Hundreds of machete wielding vigilantes descended on Halfway Tree eager to dismember homosexuals. Yet politicians – notably the super-macho Edward Seaga – and others throw the accusation about with gay abandon. As I've said before, the homosexual most men fear is the man in the mirror.

Messrs Knight and Patterson were wont to repeat pledges that they were not about to legalise homosexuality – apparently unaware that homosexuality is not and cannot be a crime even though some manifestations of sexual behaviour are prohibited.

Most Jamaicans are also blissfully unaware that homosexuality is not a 'lifestyle', but a condition into which most homosexuals are born. If we are civilised we should know better. And our leaders should above all, be knowledgeable and civilised.


The Environment

Mr Patterson is one of the few surviving signatories to the Treaty of Rio – Agenda 21 – which committed humanity to treat our native planet with care and consideration. Those who signed the treaty declared their intention to protect the environment, recognising that the environment is the foundation of life, the life support system of every earthly organism and the source of all wealth, of all food, all fuel, all minerals, all plastics and every other material, raw or processed. No Ecology=No Economy.

They pledged to involve us in planning for the eradication of poverty; to empower us to make the economic planning decisions that affect our lives, our health, safety, well-being, prosperity, peace and happiness.

Patterson and the others promised that Development would be sustainable, in our interest, the public interest, not predatory and parasitic. Government would be open, participatory and accountable.

In Jamaica we have paid lip service to these solemn promises. The polluters do not pay. The government refuses to sign the SPAW protocol protecting particularly valuable habitats and species. Public amenity is captured for private profit. Mr Patterson was perfectly prepared to turn Hope Gardens into a gated housing development for the rich. Thwarted by public outcry he handed the developer an even richer prize as compensation – the biodiversity hotspot and archaeological treasure of Wareika/Long Mountain. National Heroes' Park began to be turned into a parking lot. Public beaches were captured bythe UDC to be turned over, illegally, to privaqte interests.

So-called private development is bolted on to public infrastructure without public knowledge or consent. Developments like the Doomsday Highway are financed from public funds for private profit. Because of Mr Patterson the poor now pay proportionately more of their income in taxes than the rich while the savings of the poor are captured and rinsed in the remittances which now sustain a third of the Jamaican population.


What did Patterson say?

`The fight for scarce benefits and political spoils carried on by hostile tribes which seem to be perpetually at war.'


What did Norman Manley say?

"All effort will be wasted unless the masses of the people are steadily taken along the path in which they feel more and more, that this place is their home, that it is their destiny. They will then do more for it, more work, more effort, more thinking, more sacrifice, more discipline, and more honesty, than by any other measure you can bring in this country."




Copyright©2009 John Maxwell