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


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