Editorial: New order for Jamaica
If Jamaica learnt nothing else from the political campaign, it is that there is unfinished business to be attended to with regard to electoral reform and our general approach to governance.
Much time has been spent in recent decades attempting to perfect the system of voting, so it is hardly surprising that yesterday’s casting of ballots was completed with few hitches and that the government that emerged very closely reflects the will of the people. But a judgement based solely on what happens on election day and the integrity of the voting process mask deeper, lingering problems, the addressing of which ought to be among the priorities of the new administration.
We no longer have the carnage associated with ideologically polarised elections of the 1970s and ’80s. Yet, in this campaign, at least four people died and several were injured in incidents that if not directly linked to inter-party rivalry, were fuelled, at least in part, by the charged atmosphere flowing from them. For the end of the Cold War and the closing of the ideological chasm between Jamaican political parties haven’t meant the collapse of Jamaica’s so-called garrisons, those communities of political exclusion in which strong-arm types hold residents under psychological siege in support for one party or the other, and from which raids of intimidation are often launched against opponents.
Prime Minister-designate Andrew Holness must commit, during the life of the next Parliament, to end any residual, garrison-type political arrangements, starting with a solemn pledge to end the inflammatory rhetoric without relinquishing their right to vigorously debate genuine matters of concern or difference that often emerge from the campaign platforms. It would, perhaps, make sense to reprise a task force to review the Kerr Report on garrison politics to determine what has been accomplished, what should be updated, and to drive its full implementation.
A new tone of public discourse that must carry the imprimatur of the country’s leader should include a deeper and wider engagement of civil society, an eschewing of short-term populism for what is right and pragmatic, and a complete rejection of the notion that the resources of the State are spoils for distribution, first, among the politically faithful. The fiscal discipline that the country has recently displayed must not be abandoned.
The new Labour Party Government should also immediately implement the political party/campaign-finance legislation that was passed by the last Parliament, even as the Electoral Commission of Jamaica is encouraged to begin work on its update to enhance transparency over who puts money in politics, and how.
There has been improvement on the margins, but the Government, with the prime minister as the champion, must now launch a major assault on public corruption, including accelerating the passage of legislation covering the behaviour of public officials, with transparent mechanisms to enhance compliance. At the same time, political parties should put in place robust fit-and-proper tests for their candidates, officers, and other senior officials.
Today ought not merely to be the start of the life of a new government for Jamaica, but of a new order.