Mon | Jul 22, 2019

Editorial | Quality governance better investment than shiny buildings

Published:Monday | May 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

In conflating cause and effect, Prime Minister Andrew Holness sees underinvestment in Jamaica's symbols of sovereignty as being responsible for its failures in ethical values and the rule of law. He says one way to overcome that problem is to construct a new Parliament building and other symbols reflective of the aspirations of the country.

There may be a sliver of truth in the prime minister's observation, but the thesis is conceptually anaemic and could, if it becomes the primary framework for solutions to the island's problems, lead to inattention to things that really matter.

To be clear, we, too, believe in symbols and the celebration of heroes. They can help to instill national pride and shape a sense of what it is to be Jamaican. It is part of the intangible strength of nations.

We also accept that Gordon House, Jamaica's Parliament, is woefully inadequate and that there is need for a purpose-built assembly of which the country can be proud. Like Mr Holness, we do not believe that spending on a Parliament is a waste of taxpayers' money. We are not, however, convinced that the legislature should be at National Heroes Park, one of the city's few remaining large green areas.

Mr Holness, though, is keen to push ahead with the project, the design of which, partly in appeasement of the public unease at its potential cultural and economic dominance by Chinese developers, has been opened to international competition, at whose launch Mr Holness said: "There is a sense that if you are going to invest in making the symbols of Government reflective of the hopes, dreams, ambitions, aspirations of the people, you are wasting money because there is great distrust of the State and indeed a separation of the State from the people.

"Investing in a Parliament is not wasting people's money. It is because we have not as a country made the investment in the symbols of our sovereignty why we have fundamental issues with the rule of law, fairness, and dignity of the State."

The monuments societies create, including the structures that house government, help to signal how they perceive themselves and how they want others to think of them - now and in generations to come. But governments, and the physical structures and symbols that represent them, are not direct synonyms for governance. More critical to governance are the ideas and processes upon which we construct and manage government and the levels to which these concepts are adhered.

 

POLITICAL DYSFUNCTION

 

Or, put another way, it is not primarily the absence of broad boulevards and malls, domed legislatures with ornate halls, or imposing city arches why Jamaica has high levels of crime, faces endemic corruption, or that, as Mr Holness argues, there are "fundamental issues with the rule of law, fairness, and dignity of the State". These, largely, are consequences of political dysfunction - the failure of those who lead, and have led, to adhere to moral and ethical processes of governance.

Leaders have, over time, tolerated corruption in their political institutions and in the organs of government. Corruption, in its widest interpretation and manifestation, has, in turn, evolved into being not an aberration, but a norm.

Mr Holness, we know, understands these things. He has declared them before. While he invests financial resources in a Parliament and other symbols of sovereignty, he will guarantee even better returns if he invested his time and effort in a sustained and robust effort against corruption and building trust in leadership.