Editorial | Lessons from the JDF
A week ago, at its headquarters at Up Park Camp in Kingston, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) formally transferred the army's leadership from Major General Antony Anderson to Major General Rocky Meade. Overhead, the JDF's half a dozen or so small fixed-wing aircraft, as well as a handful of helicopters, flew in formation. On the ground, the passing-of-the-baton parade was of precision and pageantry.
Up Park Camp's many colonial-era wooden buildings are obviously well-worn, but well-kept. The sense of order and discipline of the place was palpable. That, perhaps, is what you expect of a military base: organisation and order.
But it need not be so. In many postcolonial Commonwealth countries, which gained independence around the same time as Jamaica, their militaries disintegrated, or have come close to doing so. They have engaged in putsches, overthrown democratically elected governments and systematically abused human rights, and have grown corrupt. In most of those countries, public confidence in the military is low.
Yet, in circumstances in which confidence in many Jamaican institutions has substantially weakened, if not collapsed, the JDF has, at least better than most, withstood the strains and stresses that have buffeted Jamaica. Its leadership, as was implicit in last week's ceremony for the change of defence staff, has remained committed to civilian-led, democratic government.
So, while public trust has declined in most Jamaican institutions, the erosion has been slowest in the JDF. It remains, by a substantial margin, the most respected of Jamaica's state/governance institutions. A 2014 hemispheric survey on attitudes to democracy in the Americas showed that Jamaica was ninth among 22 countries in respect for their militaries.
While on an index of 1-100, support for the JDF has slipped from 68 to 63.6, respect for it was far stronger than the 38.3 for the police, 44 for the justice system. But worst, trust for Parliament slipped between the previous survey in 2012 to the one in 2014, from 45.9 to 31.9, while that for political parties crashed to 28.1, from the already weak 40.1.
WORK TO DO
Obviously, the JDF is not immune to a deepening lack of confidence among Jamaican institutions of state and governance, driven largely by a belief that they are corrupt and incompetent. Indeed, perception of corruption in that survey was above 90 per cent. So, the military, too, has work to do to halt a downward slide in perceptions about it, exacerbated by its nearly four decades of almost continuous internal security work in support of a largely ineffective constabulary.
But clearly, the JDF has not only a head-start, but, perhaps, lessons in how they might begin to fix themselves. A number of these are apparent, starting with the public's view that the military is not corrupt and it is willing to hold its members accountable, if not always as transparently as the public would like.
Crucial to this perception is the quality of the leadership of the JDF; it has been historically well-managed. Except, maybe, at the University of the West Indies, Mona, there isn't a corps of leaders in Jamaica who are, on a per-capita basis, as highly educated as at the JDF. Moreover, the JDF's succession planning is unmatched in any institution.
What if some of these systems could be replicated in the constabulary?