Mending fences in Tivoli
The fact that no major transformational social intervention has taken place in Tivoli Gardens and the wider West Kingston area since the deadly security operations of May 2010 may confirm the sceptic’s view that the Government stands for nothing much beyond winning elections and achieving power.
The current commission of enquiry that seeks to find out exactly what happened when the security forces swooped down on Tivoli Gardens in search of fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke was one of the suggestions made by then Public Defender Earl Witter. We agree that '76 dead' is not an easily dismissed statistic. and the public needs to know exactly what happened.
But Witter’s extensive report made various other suggestions as to the kind of response required of a “responsive and responsible government” to reintegrate the Tivoli enclave into the wider society. He recommended a slate of measures for the medium- and long-term rehabilitation and revitalisation of Tivoli Gardens.
Jamaica’s democratic system of government has overwhelmingly operated to please party supporters. And given low voter turnouts in recent elections the winning party does not represent a significant majority. It is becoming abundantly clear that our governments are not responsive to the majority of citizens. It has always been that the Government in power takes care of its people and the rest can await their turn. Many are now questioning the validity of that model.
Indeed, our governments have never developed or implemented policies that are deemed fair, effective and transparent to most of the people. At this time, the country is crying out for initiatives to develop more stable, competitive and economically resilient communities. Just listen to the strident voices of backbenchers in Parliament who argue that Government is not doing enough for constituencies. Lately, they have been lamenting the neglect of their constituencies and their voices reflect feelings of betrayal.
Witter suggested that Government create institutions and incentives for citizens to create wealth from productive activity and he cited areas such as vending, music and sport. The inner city, as is well known, is beset by problems of unemployment (especially among young people), lack of opportunities, and ineffective delivery of public services.
One more thing. The neglect of inner-city communities like Tivoli has given rise to the emergence of dons and enforcers like Coke. Where is the mentorship programme in these communities to rescue young, impressionable, often fatherless boys from the clutches of these evil influences? Does anyone care about changing this model?
Witter, in his report, acknowledged the struggles of the mothers who must bring up these boys on their own and he suggested that some kind of micro-credit facility be set up to assist women who operate as heads of households. The predictable response will be the same tired one: we have no resources.
While it is necessary to build a strong economy and every effort is being made by the Government to fix the economic problems using IMF-style policies, it is difficult to do so at the expense of delivering essential service to various communities.
Given the limited scope of the current commission of enquiry, there is lingering doubt among many whether the outcome will redress the conditions of neglect and unfair treatment meted out to Tivoli Gardens in particular, and inner city communities, in general.
It is doubtful, too, if the security forces will get the message that they are guardians of fair and equal treatment of all citizens of the country they serve.
But it is patently clear that at this point in our history, new approaches to governance are sorely needed. Strong, innovative leadership is required now to break out of the current mode and fix societal problems in order to improve lives and save the inner city.