Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | A transforming politics

Published:Monday | October 23, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The crowds attending the nomination exercises for next week's by-elections were large and enthusiastic - on a weekday morning. The mostly women, where I was, clearly had decided that the most productive task of that day was to 'follow backa' their favourite candidate. But to what end?

Most were there for the excitement, others longing for the validation that goes with backing a winner; many looking a food money to carry home, almost all either unemployed and dependent or, at best, doing a little hustling, probably at less than minimum wage return.

On the roads to the nomination centre, we passed the others - jaws set with cynicism, opting out of the political process, many sneering at what they consider the futility of the hoop-la.

Who is going to feed these people? Can the system of government, of economy, which we practise, ever meet their expectations for good education and training, work, a house to live in and reasonable physical and social security? I wondered, trying to catch up with the dizzy, earnest, surging crowd following their leaders.

The reality is that whoever wins the three seats which are in contest, whatever the balance in Gordon House, life is going to be substantially unchanged for those crowds. Disappointment for them is inevitable. The victors will try to do good things for their constituents, but with limited effect.

Unless we change our entire approach to political economy, growth will be fitful and good new jobs slow in coming. The divisive and personalist politics, evident again in this minor contest, is so toxic and corrosive of trust that the revival of national spirit, so essential for the foundation of prosperity, will continue to elude us.

By contrast, what would it be like if the energy of Nomination Day and the diligent purposefulness of campaigning, ongoing at least in St Mary, were to be applied in that constituency and nationwide, to ensure, for example, full attendance in school, complete public sanitation and, dare we even to think it, massive agricultural production and work for all?

 

FIGHTING THE WRONG BATTLES

 

We are fighting the wrong political battles. Instead of swallowing our largely contrived partisan spit and struggling together against idleness, corruption and moral lowlife, we are contending mightily and expensively (check the ongoing second iteration of the bushing scandal and Warmington's truthful disclosure of current political philosophy) about who will be first in Jah's wasting kingdom.

With the country teetering once again on the edge of recession, the major discourse should be about the national effort needed to get back on track towards the seven to 10 per cent annual growth to which we should be aspiring. Since we can run faster than anyone else in the world, we should be able to outproduce them in at least some areas of goods and services.

Are we any less bright than the Chinese? Ambassador Nu tells us the obvious - that the Chinese workers are disciplined - with the unspoken but obvious adverse comparison to our work ethic. What are we going to do about this embarrassing fact of life? All this while we ignore the above and spend the week arguing about Dunn's military record and Alexis' citizenship sans any real debate as to how either intends to lead the constituency forward.

Jamaica is not short of money to transform the economy. We are short of political will to trouble the waters of gross inequality and productive cramp. Just contrast what we are spending on allowances for public servants with what we allocate for capital improvements. Another instance, look at what we continue to do with the liberalised foreign exchange market which we have used to fuel and elevate consumerism over productivity. Until now, the binge of motor vehicle purchases have rendered the very convenience and luxury we sought, ambushed by congestion, road rage and rising gas prices.

Public service in any of many forms continues to be an allurement for the best of our citizens. The more you prize your own humanity, you will strive for the opportunity of quality life for all others. This objective is so noble that disappointment is acute when the endeavour is trivialised by chronic divisiveness. The cry then is for transformational leaders who define their true purpose, not in terms of their own popularity, but by their ability to revive and strengthen the national spirit.

Isn't that the cause to which the celebration of the national heroes should lead us?

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