Ronald Thwaites | Our toxic politics was at its worst last week
The House of Representatives had been called to order the now-usual 45 minutes late, having discourteously wasted the time of a packed gallery of students and other persons interested in environmental matters. This happens because enough of us do not value the virtue of punctuality, while others are so suffused by their own importance that they feel everyone else must just wait on them.
Despite Phillip Paulwell's protestation, there was no apology, no resolve to do better.
A copy of the National Identification Bill was on my desk. No one could tell me whether this was the final version. Then at 3.20 p.m. a 24-page list of amendments from the Senate was distributed, minutes before the prime minister rose to ask if these amendments could be taken at a future date. Delroy Chuck affirmed the same intent to delay their consideration when he spoke.
I took them at their word, which seemed only sensible since no one would have been able to read, let alone cross-reference that volume of complex amendments against the original text. I was to find out that the aroma of reasonableness and trust are easily overcome by the stink of toxic politics.
For, less than two hours later, the JLP parliamentarians, with rabid zeal, passed into law, binding every Jamaican here and abroad for generations to come, taking away important elements of their constitutional right to privacy and imposing criminal sanctions, the very amendments which they could not have read and about which their leaders had, minutes before, promised time to consider.
So what has this incident of irresponsible political sneak achieved for the good of the Jamaican people? Ask yourself, how it will have improved their perception of the political process?
For while the government members nearly wetted themselves at their triumph of overcoming a numbers deficit when the bumbling Speaker earlier put a motion to accept the amendments, by pulling a fast one on the Opposition and the people of Jamaica, what have they really achieved?
Collectively, we have managed, once again, to set our teeth on edge against each other over a measure which, if handled and explained maturely, ought to have had near universal support and good national effect.
As it is, state propaganda notwith-standing, the national identification system will not work. It has been condemned to needless scepticism and resistance by the very interests proposing it. In scholastic philosophy, as in politics, there is a huge difference between the id quod (the purpose itself) and the modum quo (the way in which that purpose is effected). The latter will often negate the good of the former.
The day after, a group of big women, most without party affiliation, came to complain that Section 21 of this law is fulfillment of the prediction in Revelation 13V17 "and no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark of the beast or the number of his name." There are hundreds of thousands in Jamaica who believe or fear this. Many will not register, never mind the penalties.
Beyond the religious shibboleth, large numbers resent the intrusion into their private life of a state apparatus which they have good reason not to trust as being honest or confidential.
My agitation was caused by irritation that someone as intelligent and strategic as Andrew Holness could not see all this. Sir, your distinction between anonymity and privacy is a non sequitur. Is it the need for the quick-to-borrow foreign money (and even the use of that not itemised and thus another subject of suspicion) which would prevent him acceding to the request for a further look at the law and the broader issue of intrusion by the State into private lives by a joint select committee; the opportunity to tidy up a hopelessly compromised bill, sanitize its offensive elements and emphasise its good purposes with accommodating regulations, and then coming back with a winner for the administration and the country?
By so doing, in this instance of sensitive national identification, the prime minister could have sent a potent signal of good earnest, one capable of curing the very serious gap of poor communication leading to mistrust, which he himself had identified but a few hours earlier to Ms Christene Lagarde as the cause of our poverty and mirasmic growth.
It is the self-imposed weakness of toxic politics which is holding back public-sector reform, financial-sector reform as well as social and cultural regeneration. And it is not only the professional politicians who are responsible. The sycophants and special interests who play us off against each other are equally to blame.
Politics is supposed to unite a people towards goals of shared advancement. Last week, we fooled ourselves into doing the opposite of that while some clapped and others jeered. It need not have been that way. Parliamentarians must stop 'colting' our own game by acting as if one-upmanship signals success.
Lest we forget the devastating statistic which should puncture hubris and arrogance: 50 per cent of the people don't business with politics and think we are the source of everyone's problem of national malaise. The remainder more or less divide between us. Does any serious leader think that he or she can move Jamaica forward on the strength and support of a quarter of our people, no matter how much money they have or we give them?
A change of heart, the formation of a new national conscience is required.
- Ronald Thwaites is Central Kingston member of parliament and opposition spokesperson on education and training. Email feedback to email@example.com.