The fact that the Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli incursion overlaps with the Christian Season of Lent can feed the thinking person.
The Season of Lent is a time of self-examination, self-incrimination, catharsis and renewal. In these days of individualism, we treat Lent only as an opportunity for personal repentance of wrongdoing. It certainly is that, for as we go about our daily lives we fall into bad habits (some would say sin): of not doing our best, of underperforming; of neglecting our duties as parents or children; of prejudice based on race or class; of systematic bias, of not being objective because of politics or religion; of supporting what we know to be wrong using the excuse of expediency; of chatting other people's business; of leading others astray; of not being all that we can be, and of leading others to be less than they could be.
But there is such a thing as social sin, of which we must also repent, and the Tivoli Enquiry is skirting around the huge elephant in the room that is impatient of repentance. To borrow from a former commissioner of police and chief of defence staff, Tivoli Gardens is the 'Mother of all Garrisons'. Its creator has been showered with high national honours and it has become a model for political governance implemented by other politicians of all political stripes.
I began my career as an opinion writer for this newspaper 24 years ago, writing about the phenomenon of political garrisons. Since then, the number of garrison communities has increased, and if anything, the phenomenon has become more entrenched.
These communities constitute the root of much of the blight on our country: they are centres of drug dealing and gun-running; most residents live rent-free, and pay no electricity or water bills (we pay for their utilities in our bills); they are centres of extortion and protection rackets, with tentacles stretching into downtown Kingston, Spanish Town, May Pen and beyond; and young girls are required to be handed over to the dons and their henchmen for their sexual pleasure.
Voter turnout during national elections in these political garrisons is high, against the national trend, and voting is notoriously monolithic. In return for delivering electoral victories, the dons receive valuable contracts, and politicians go to great lengths to 'protect the constitutional rights' of accused drug dealers and gun-runners and their funerals are well attended by parliamentarians and party activists. I remember well the gun salute (not from the police) at the funeral of PNP enforcer 'Burry Boy' in the presence of the prime minister; and the 'Orange Funeral' at the National Arena of PNP strongman Willy 'Hog-Heart', with three Cabinet ministers sitting in the front row.
Calls for the 'dismantling of the garrisons' have gone unheeded by both parties. Calls for a 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' to allow exposure of who gave out the guns and who funded their purchase have been ignored; the political class and the private sector have too much to lose.
There is opportunity for the Tivoli Commission of Enquiry during this Season of Lent to dig deep into some aspects of the garrison phenomenon, to expose the close connections between politicians and criminals. Maybe some consciences will be pricked? I know that all politicians have consciences, although many keep them well buried under layers of greed and venality.
Maybe some in the private sector will regret funding political criminals? Surely the calls from Church and civil society to end corrupt linkages between the private sector and politicians will eventually find a sympathetic ear? One day soon, maybe?
During Lent, each individual is encouraged to conduct an in-depth examination of their conscience, to judge themselves on whether their conduct passes the integrity test. The country should do the same.
It is my hope that, during Lent, - when the days lengthen as light continues to conquer darkness - we will see more clearly the way forward to genuine development and progress.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org