Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Gordon Robinson: George, Pepe and John

Published:Tuesday | February 9, 2016 | 2:01 AM

Jamaica is trapped in a vicious cycle of corruption and entitlement caused by people's expectation, based on historical reality, that politics is the path to personal profit, power and profligacy.

Which Jamaican leader will be first to break that cycle? Who'll be sufficiently ashamed that, in 53 years of Independence, only the IMF has been able to curb governments' waste of national assets to insist on fundamental change and set a personal example? Who'll insist that taxpayers' meagre resources (after debt payments) must only be used for the national good?

Jamaica needs a George Price, twice Belizean prime minister and Father of the Nation, who lived a simple, humble life, NEVER using Belize's scarce benefits and spoils for personal advancement or comfort. As prime minister, Price often took the bus to work and his offices were austere. While fighting for Belizean independence from 1954 to 1981, Price travelled all across Belize in his legendary blue and white Land Rover preaching self-government and self-reliance to all Belizeans.

A former seminarian, his commitments were to the Roman Catholic Church, Belizean independence and Belizean development. He was a born leader; a man of extraordinary vision, high morals and ideals who had absolutely no attachment to material wealth.

George Price's example allowed him to lead Belize from a backward colony to a vibrant independent nation state. Corruption was his enemy and he ensured that the movement he led was never tainted by a whiff of corruption. Thus Price's legacy shines as brightly today as the day he died. Which of our national leaders will set this sort of personal example?

Jamaica needs a JosÈ 'Pepe' Mujica, Uruguayan president, who eschewed a presidential palace and whose post carried no frills. He lived on his farm, drove an old VW bug; always flew economy; and donated 90 per cent of his salary to charity. Pepe was often called "the world's poorest president" but denies the charge: "I'm not the poorest president. The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live," he said. "My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I'm the son of my history. There have been years when I'd have been happy just to have a mattress."

You see, Pepe is a former member of the Tupamaros guerrilla group, notorious in the early 1970s for bank robberies, kidnappings and distributing stolen food and money among the poor. He was shot by police six times and spent 14 years in military prison, much of it in dungeon-like conditions.

 

SECOND LEAST NATION

Since becoming president (2010), he's won worldwide praise for living within his means, decrying excessive consumption, and pushing ahead with policies on same-sex marriage, abortion and ganja legalisation - making Uruguay the most socially liberal country in Latin America. In addition, Uruguay is now the world's second least corrupt nation. Example does it every time. Which of Jamaica's leaders seem like Pepe?

Finally, Jamaica needs leaders like Tanzania's new president, John Magufuli (another Roman Catholic and former seminarian), who took office in November 2015. Robert Rotberg of Canada's The Globe and Mail recently wrote (December 29; 'Africa's new brooms clean house') of Magufuli's attempts to impose higher standards on surprised and resentful colleagues:

"When he unexpectedly arrived at the main state hospital to find slovenly conditions and administrators absent, he sacked the [facility's] head. When he held a meeting and six administrators arrived hours late, thinking that 'African time' still ruled, they were jailed. After being released, they showed up for work two hours early. Ever since, civil servants ... have been rushing to work at 6 a.m ... just in case the president ... chooses to check on [them].

"Mr Magufuli ... has banned all non-essential foreign travel and restricted first-class and business-class air ticketing to himself, his vice-president and the prime minister ... .

"Mr Magufuli ... cancelled Tanzania's Independence Day celebrations in early December, telling his officials to spend the saved money on cleaning up Dar es Salaam's littered streets. 'It's so shameful we're spending huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of independence when our people are dying of cholera,' he said."

We CAN do it. We CAN cancel Grand Galas and instead clean up our gullies and mosquito-infested residential areas. Ministers CAN travel economy, no matter who they're meeting. MPs CAN spend CDF resources on developmental projects instead of bullo work. Jamaica CAN survive on a maximum of 10 ministries and a reduced public sector.

It CAN be done. Jamaican ends with 'I can'. But, will we? Do we want to? Who cares enough to force the change?

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.