Fri | May 29, 2020

Orville Taylor | Jamaica: winner of Copa Democratica

Published:Friday | June 29, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Except for England's Jamaican Raheem Sterling, my World Cup hopes have been dashed. Nonetheless, the Petrojam stench has made me prouder to be Jamaican amid allegations of nepotism, misuse of public funds, poor managerial oversight, proving to be a major embarrassment for the government.

Three members of the board of directors resigned two weeks ago for doing nothing, whether right or wrong. The board has not met for such a long period that they could have conceived children and to full term and be nursing them. On top of that, the chairman doesn't seem to live in Jamaica. Thus, unless there are overwhelming arrangements to facilitate him reaching here, he will have to take red-eye flights to attend board meetings. One is, therefore, tempted to suggest that the management of Petrojam is literally a fly-by-night arrangement.

Doubtless, it is annoying that we haven't heard decisive public responses from Minister Wheatley. However, to the credit of our national system of governance, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) has already launched investigations, seizing documents and computers. Moreover, the new National Integrity Commission (NIC) has also begun its own probe and the Government can do nothing to halt these processes.

Similarly, the NIC, which combines a number of anti-corruption agencies, reports to Parliament and is, therefore, not subject to the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of any individual politician, including the prime minister himself. The existence of MOCA, NIC, the auditor general, children advocate, INDECOM and public defender, along with our director of public prosecutions, among others, is a big indicator of how democratic and free we are in the Americas.

And here is the silver lining in the ongoing Petrojam scandal. We live in a society where we have institutions in place to keep our government sober and circumspect. When I look at all - and I mean all countries in the Americas who play in the World Cup, and especially all who have made the finals being played now - I can boast that not one single country in CONCACAF or CONMEBOL has the democratic profile of Jamaica. Not one single North, Central or South American country can boast of the deep and entrenched democracy that we have here, and we can teach lessons to all who visit here.

Democracy, generally defined as rule by the people for the people, is no chicken, although it is a big deal and it comprises three main planks. First, every adult must have the right to participate in choosing who governs; that is, universal adult suffrage, and with legal penalties for anyone who tried to abridge this right by fraud or intimidation.

Second there should be constitutionally and consensually held elections at agreed intervals, and all parties accept the results as final without trying to unseat the winner by violence or military force.

Third is freedom of expression, which includes press freedom. Here the only restriction is that the speaker, writer or media house communicates the truth, whether inconvenient to any person or entity. Jamaica is ahead of everybody here.

Simple as it might sound, Jamaica has had 74 years of uninterrupted elections of governments without any military or dons taking power and suspending elections. The USA and Canada might think that they have a say here. However, black Americans did not get the unrestricted right to vote until 1965 with the Voting Rights Act, and even then, it took a year of final litigation. Universal suffrage in Canada was four years after us. Yet, indigenous Canadians only got that right in 1960. If we add the multiple assassinations and coups d'etat from Cape Columbia in Canada to Cabo Froward in Chile, no American country can compare to us.

Finally, we have the number six rank in global press freedom, with Costa Rica second in the Americas in 10th place. Coupled with that is academic freedom. In our major universities, and in particular, the former plantation, the University of the West Indies, the only restriction is that academics back up their assertions with data or historical documentary sources. Similarly, that is the only basis for any academic or journalist to withdraw any story.

 

Rare Freedom

 

As a proud black Jamaican, I treasure this rare freedom while taking responsibility to quickly correct any misinformation errors or lies, which I might have inadvertently passed on. However, I never back down when telling the truth, and this democracy protects me, even when the prime minister is seething.

Indeed, the Jamaican governments have learnt hard lessons since Independence, when every single administration that has chosen to subvert press and academic freedom has lost the next election. In the 1960s when it looked as if it intended to eliminate Rastafari, expunge black consciousness, and suppress UWI academics, it eventually lost popularity and was voted out in 1972.

Later, the 1972-80 regime marched into the offices of this newspaper and the prime minister threatened, "Next time." Lessons also abound from 2007 and 2011. We value our democracy because nothing in the Americas compares to it, inasmuch as we take it for granted.

I love this country. Justice, truth be ours forever. Jamaica, land we love.

n Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.