Have we turned our blacksides to Garvey?
Space constraints prevented the publication of Dr Taylor's column in The Sunday Gleaner.
This week in 1925, Marcus Mosiah Garvey completed his first week in prison in the United States. Smack in the middle of Black History Month, the spirit of the second greatest black man of all time must be churning in the afterlife and his bones cringing in his grave over what we have done with our wonderful gift of democracy and statehood.
Even Garvey, with all his vision, did not think that independence would have been given to us on a silver platter, which is why in his 1929 manifesto of the People's Political Party (PPP), he proposed to make "representation to the Imperial Parliament for a larger modicum of self-government".
For him, it was critical to have a country that was ours and governed by ourselves. However, in order to properly do so, he understood that it was necessary to have leaders who stood up to the greatest scrutiny. Above them all must be judges. Not simply magistrates who earn the ire of the constabulary or director of public prosecutions, or those who are frustrated when brighter persons than themselves appear before them. Rather, he was addressing those, as well as persons at the highest level, who sit on the Bench. In Plank 10 of the document, he proposed a law to "impeach and imprison judges who, with disregard for British justice and constitutional rights, dealt unfairly".
In recent weeks, the action of a magistrate came under the microscope over an incident that landed a woman police corporal in custody. That made news for days. Yet, a major finding of Transparency International, which examined perceived and reported incidence of corruption in Jamaica, was that a significant portion of the populace believed that judges are venal.
True, it is perception; just as the belief that 86 per cent of Jamaicans felt that the police are dirty. For judges, this number is 47 per cent. Yet, reality and perception correlate, but do not coincide. Only 12 per cent of Jamaicans say they have greased the palm of Officer Dibble, but a frightening half of that number, six per cent of Jamaicans, say they have given their 30 pieces of silver to Pontius Pilate.
We have myriad entities to keep a watchful eye on the cops, including polygraph tests, but how come nobody strip-searches judges by these invasive biometric tests? Are we saying that the judges of today are incorruptible and perfect? One might not know that Bagawire did not give any statement to the police or the court regarding the seditious libel conviction that the very same judges put on Garvey, for Plank 10. Nonetheless, we know that he was simply asking for what all Jamaicans want now: clean and transparent justice. Has the Government even expunged Garvey's unjust conviction and cleared his name?
He was imprisoned for reminding our judges and politicians of how important the law and Constitution are. British common law is still instructive today in determining legal matters, and our Constitution is not very different from the British's, inasmuch as the latter being unwritten. How disappointed must Garvey's ghost be that, the Jamaica Labour Party founded by people who followed his Universal Negro Improvement Association, and with some of its membership, now has a leader who created a major constitutional crisis. The courts have just ruled that pre-signed letters, written and filed like Swords of Damocles, were dishonestly used by the leader of the Opposition, for purposes they were not intended for, and removed two of his able lieutenants. Supposedly drafted by one of the very 'victims' who never seemed to have thought that the only code of honesty among the treacherous is treachery, the letters and their use reek of dictatorship. Where is the right of freedom of conscience that lies deep in the Constitution?
Worse, an astute Garvey knew that persons within and without political parties would want to unjustly attempt to sway electoral processes. Therefore, he proposed statute "for the imprisonment of any person who, by duress or undue influence, would force another person to vote in any public election because of obligation or employment or otherwise". A decision to put the Caribbean Court of Justice to the Jamaican electorate via a referendum or other means is directly related to this plank. Garvey is betrayed again.
So Garvey would have been displeased with our tampering with our democracy and constitutional rights. He would have been equally upset over the myriad attempts to subvert the gaze of the contractor general in the sale or acquisition of property, especially when the housing stock is so low. In Plank 26, he wanted a law to "prevent criminal profiteering in the sale of lands in urban and suburban areas to the detriment of the expansion of healthy home life for citizens of moderate means ...", the working poor, who, of course, pay over all their statutory deductions. Former Prime Minister Manley read and studied Garvey.
And as Minister Phillip Paulwell attempts to make good on his promise to provide cheaper electricity despite a well-Vaselined dollar, Plank 23, "... cheap electricity to such growing and prospering centres as are necessary," is recommended.
Still, as the Government seems to be making concessions to the Chinese investors, reminiscent of the Bustamante myopia with the bauxite industry in the 1940s and 1950s, my fears are bigger than the White River becoming the Yellow River, or worse, them getting my preferred Black River. It has to do with planks 2 and 5, regarding the protection of native labour, and No. 8, concerning the encouragement of local industries.
In all honesty, much of the 26-plank document has been implemented by the post-1944 governments despite glaring omissions. He asked for prison reform in plank 15 and would have been miffed over the gaps in the labour laws that allow for bona fide workers to be called contractors and denied their benefits.
Hopefully, Garvey will be pleased by my new little black book.
n Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.