Flirting with the quixotic youth Parliament
Youth are not represented adequately in formal political institutions and processes such as parliaments, political parties, elections, and public administrations in Jamaica, and indeed, in many parts of the world. Quite pleasing, however, is the deliberate effort being made by the new administration to rejuvenate and revitalise the youth through the beleaguered youth ministry.
In an apparent effort to re-engage the youth, there was an announcement last week that the youth Parliament would be reconvened later this year. The announcement sparked some amount of buzz and ignited the discussion once again about the need for further youth engagement.
The natural excitement that comes with the thought of sitting in the sacred chambers of Parliament where so much of our history has been made, and incidentally, where the reputed Gangs of Gordon House trade off is understandable, but is that all there is to it?
In a lead story in Saturday's Gleaner, Floyd Green was quoted as saying, "There was a time that there used to be a youth Parliament. We believe it is critical to reinforcing ideas of democracy, rights and responsibilities, so we are going to bring back the youth Parliament. We want to bring it back this year."
That statement left me a bit queasy, as the youths - for the most part - have divorced themselves from the electoral process (democracy) and governance and politics in general. It is, therefore, puzzling, and I dare say hypocritical for the sudden interest.
Leading up to the recent election, The Sunday Gleaner gave a clear indication as to how neglectful the youth population has been to democracy and politics. '#NoToPolitics - PNP, JLP youth leaders accept that peers see nothing to vote for' was the headline of the story that presented facts by Bill Johnson which showed that 55 per cent of Jamaicans between the ages of 18 and 34 would not vote if a general election were to be called.
To be frank, the prospect of youth lining their bodies with cloth to go pontificate on the floors of Gordon House seems to be the only thing fuelling the excitement, because, as we have seen, there is no real zeal to really participate in governance and politics from that demographic.
Certainly, the previous arrangement of the youth Parliament did not achieve anything except, maybe, provide a conduit for those who participated to be exposed. In my mind, the youth Parliament has to be more than that. It has to be more than an ad hoc institution where suited people take turns to amplify their voices in the chambers only for them to disappear in thin air seconds later.
Not to be underestimated, the youth can be a creative force. The challenge is in finding the right synergy to tap into the reservoir of intellect that they can provide.
Both formal and informal engagement can be understood as political participation, and both are beneficial for a vivid and resilient democracy, which is why the idea of the youth Parliament must be embraced.
For the youth Parliament to be effective, three fundamental changes (ideological not excluded) that have to be made, supported and monitored.
In order to move forward and to establish an effective youth Parliament, a legislative or policy mechanism has to be in place to compel, for example, the youth ministry to action motions that have passed through the youth Parliament. But would that be another layer of bureaucracy? Perhaps so, which means that an efficient way of transforming those motions into legislation and policy must be found through some hard rumination.
Our policymakers have to understand that young people must not merely be given a voice as is often done at forums, but there must be an active effort on their part to include youth in further policy development and at the different levels.
The youth Parliament is a very worthy consideration, but how about fixing the National Secondary Students' Council first, which is a low-hanging fruit?