Sun | Dec 16, 2018

Ronald Thwaites | Systemic injustice

Published:Monday | August 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Dirk Harrison, Jamaica's former contractor general. According to politician and columnist Ronald Thwaites, "We have weakened the punch of the contractor general just at a time when recent corrupt events scream out for his traditional, if uncomfortable, activism."

Miss 'P' is in her late 50s but she looks like someone around 80. I believed her when she told me last Wednesday that she had not eaten a half-decent meal since the previous Sunday. She lives in a leaking room in a Southside yard, where the sanitary conveniences have long been destroyed by age and overuse.

She is the mother of six sons. She has already buried three of them - dead to gunshots, one from the police. Another son who used to help her has been on a charge of murder, remanded now for multiple years - latterly offered bail because no accuser has turned up on multiple court dates.

But since she has no property to pledge as surety for bail, and neither her pastor nor the MP can help her with that money. 'Son-Son' remains in custody, idling, and at a cost to the taxpayer of about one million depreciating dollars per year. Anyway, it may be just as well, because a policeman has said that the day that 'bwoy' is released, the next day he will be dead.

There have been so many such incidents to my personal knowledge over 25 years of public life in the inner city, I have no doubt that threat is real.

The story made me think about the texture of justice - all kinds of justice: economic and social justice, criminal justice, criminal justice for ordinary Jamaicans. Think also about the role of Parliament in bringing about a just and, therefore, equitable and peaceful society. After all, isn't our main purpose 'to pass just laws'?

One of the most stubborn problems in trying to do that is the chronic choke in the preparation of bills for enactment. Every administration, including this one, is crippled and frustrated that it takes about as long to move from policy to law as Son-Son has been waiting for trial.

The record is not impressive. Over the last five years or so, we have managed, creditably, to pass those laws relating to fiscal reform upon which IMF tests were contingent. And, of course, the recessive anti-crime laws. But social legislation, which is the prerequisite for the systemic institutional change that will reconstruct Jamaican society, has been given low priority.

Take an easy example. We want to pass a tobacco-control law to bring up our health standards and achieve full compliance with the international convention to which we have subscribed. Trinidad has already passed a very good prototype law which, with little alteration, would do for us. But where is it? Even the minister of health is chagrined. Roadblock!




Then in education, the minister's earnest hope to have the grey-bearded Teaching Services Bill taken this year is likely to be dashed. So, too, the important review of the outdated 1980 Education Code, not to mention the tertiary education and training draft bill, without which reform all we can do is talk, promise and make people more cynical.

The same story will apply to every other portfolios. Legislative action must always be carefully done, but that does not excuse constipation. We are keeping ourselves back.

Meanwhile, we have weakened the punch of the contractor general just at a time when recent corrupt events scream out for his traditional, if uncomfortable, activism.

Tripling the number of parliamentary draftsmen is, on reflection, even more of a priority than having a more comfortable Parliament.

Last on this issue, it is past scandalous to frustrate the appointment and work of the parliamentary committee any longer. It is obvious that the Government is afraid of scrutiny. Think of it: If the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee had not been doing its work, the antics at the entities under the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology would probably be continuing undiscovered. The prime minister, whose credit, sadly, is not what it used to be, needs to give his public commitment that they will be reconstituted at the first sitting in September.

Also, there are 21 items of unfinished government business on the Order Paper and about 50 private member's motions and reports to be debated and auctioned. Karl Samuda has undertaken to start making space for them in September. I hope he will keep his promise.

As a postscript, Andrea Chisholm and Television Jamaica are to be commended, not excoriated, for the expose regarding the grant of firearm licences. Rather than impeding national security, they have enhanced real security by publicising the skulduggery connected to the proliferation of deadly weapons.

Hands off, Horace! What kind of sophistry tries to justify reversing the refusal of a firearm licence to someone who, according to the police, is a wanted man?

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