JaRistotle’s Jottings | Public Trust and Heroes Circle
Dear Prime Minister,
Your recent pronouncements regarding the Heroes Circle development project may be construed as either more of the same old political rhetoric, veiled in arrogance and fraught with hidden agendas, or an impassioned plea to the people of Jamaica to trust you because you have our interests at heart. An abstruse issue, but I will embrace the latter perspective, albeit with some food for thought.
You are asking people to trust you and allow you to proceed with this project on their behalf based largely on what you and your technocrats tell them. But trust is going to be hard to garner. There are too many unanswered questions regarding housing security and the future of Heroes Park as a common space to be accessed and enjoyed by everyone.
Jamaican politicians have a reputation for promises never kept, of speaking in forked tongues. Their conduct invariably falls below the ethical benchmark, compounded by a perception of constant cover-ups even in the face of overwhelming facts. Let's face it, corruption is a collective stigma that rides the back of all politicians.
As a result, there is a strong view that while government-sponsored projects are intended to whet the public's appetite and provide some level of benefit to them, the lining of political pockets is what determines the birth and passage of such schemes. In the case of the Heroes Circle project the perception is generally no different.
Given the countless scandals that have plagued successive governments, including yours, the view that politicians are not to be trusted is aptly reflected in the July 2017 Bill Johnson poll which speaks to '88 per cent of respondents saying they cannot trust [Jamaican] politicians'.
This across-the-board perception did not materialise overnight, but goes back decades: it just happens to be your cross to bear at this juncture.
Politics is perhaps the most divisive issue throughout Jamaican society, constantly fuelled by the vitriolic messages embedded in our political dialogue. For instance, your suggestion that individuals have 'hijacked for political reasons' the televised town hall meeting regarding the Heroes' Circle project did nothing more than rile up your detractors. You are not going to win hearts and minds with such antagonistic statements: remember that 'di same knife dat stick goat stick sheep'.
Over the years, successive governments have chosen to bastardise various landmark traditions and arrangements, and I am concerned that this trend of the moving goalpost is far from being curtailed. Jamaica House used to be the official home and office of the prime minister and a showpiece for Jamaica; now it houses offices of seeming irrelevance.
We used to have formal systems that required people to conduct themselves according to acceptable standards, particularly when holding public office, failing which sanctions were sure and swift. Similarly, landowners had to maintain their properties in accordance with prescribed sanitary and aesthetic standards at a time when public health inspectors had clout. Not so anymore.
Politicians threw all those through the window, disposing of the baby with the bathwater simply to lay a foundation for further usurping of standards and trails of accountability. So what guarantees do we have that we will not be seeing more of the same?
Without transparency, only the [party] faithful remain hopeful. As our chief servant you should exemplify transparency, articulating an unambiguous vision and ideas for achieving that vision so that we don't have to second-guess what you have in mind. Give us an opportunity to digest it and revert with ideas of our own as a precursor to finalising your plans. Inclusiveness is empowerment: empowerment fosters trust. Let that be your legacy.