Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | The future of Jamaican politics

Published:Monday | February 27, 2017 | 2:00 AM

One year after a change of political administration, what are the tangible improvements in the lives of inner-city residents and the rural poor?

Promised prosperity, they have been lashed with increased taxes. Hoping for employment, they have observed jobs being reserved for party hacks. Assured of personal safety, they live with uncontrolled murderous crime. Told the lie that quality education could be free, they have been called upon to pay more, and absenteeism has increased among those it hurts most.

The budget for this financial year offers no respite and worse, we are still two weeks away from yet more taxes, no doubt to be borne disproportionately by those who have least.

It would be easy and legitimate to blame the present administration for their share of this escalating predicament. They inherited a steady ship and have used fuel stored before February 25, 2016 to keep certain fundamental directions going. Anything else has been public relations, silly promises of the type itemised above, and tinkering at the edges of previous initiatives.

The deeper truth is that for the majority of our people, the present order of political economy offers limited prospects for affordable food, decent housing, steady work and the really high-calibre education and training which the world requires.

This is so despite the prospect that there will be significant economic growth in the medium term. There is justifiable fear that most benefits of growth will enure to a somewhat expanded group of the same people who have always prospered - the holders of capital, skilled workers and political favourites.

Despite my obvious political preference, last year this time, I hoped sincerely that any new government would have begun to chart by now, new and sustainable measures on behalf of those chronically excluded from anybody's definition of prosperity.

That this has not, and likely will not happen, exposes the further dimension of the same deep truth. Frighteningly difficult to confront is the unserviceable character of our congenitally divisive political culture to take us where we want to go as a nation. Successive administrations will do more or less well, but at best, this will not be enough.

The political party which will merit the favour and loyalty of the Jamaican people must first of all rid itself of the smell of corruption. There will have to be acknowledgement of past wrongs and unmistakable signs, deeds - not words - that new standards apply.

Building on the resultant trust, which is a much higher public virtue than confidence, political advocacy and power must be used to accord registered titles to every parcel of land, to transform the Housing Trust and local savings held elsewhere, to the mass construction of modest-priced sites-and-services-type housing.

Such measures, only sketched here and to be dilated upon later, along with thoroughly reformed education and training and radically expanded capacities to start and grow small business, will, in large part, contract the informal economy, as well as alleviate the idleness and forcibly broken homes which are the root causes of much indiscipline and criminality.

It is very difficult to even get a discussion of such systemic issues in Parliament or at party conferences. As we enter upon the Budget exercise, are there any signs of the new political culture which will lead to inclusive growth and a stronger society?

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com