Wed | Jun 19, 2019

Daniel Thwaites | Jamaica’s Jussie?

Published:Sunday | February 24, 2019 | 12:25 AM

Since I’m tyyyerrrrd of the Jamaican politics, I was looking forward to writing something about the Jussie Smollett case on the basis that it’s just too funny and serious at the same time.

The case just perfectly encapsulates the sad and sorry pass we’ve arrived at when being a victim is taken to automatically confer moral authority and social status, so much so that the powerful and elite are prepared to pose as victims.

But then a friend forwarded to me a paper captioned ‘Concept Paper – Code of Regulations’, and titled ‘Code of Conduct and Regulations for politically active Public Sector Teachers and School Boards’.

This can’t go unnoticed.

It states:

“Teachers or principals who are politically active are restricted from criticising the programmes and policies of the ministry of education in any media, including social media, unless it is in the context of a public meeting of the teachers’ union or any other such non-political forum.”

What does that phrase ‘politically active’ mean? If the teacher is a member of a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) branch or People’s National Party (PNP) group, does that mean they are barred from standing in front of their fellow branch or group members and saying “The fee-policy of the Government is incoherent”?

And what does “criticising the programmes and policies of the ministry of education” amount to?

So, a teacher having a Friday evening drink would be disallowed from announcing to a fellow ‘rumhead’ that “the disciplinary directives from the ministry ah gimme grief and drive mi to drink white rum!”?

EVEN MORE CRAY CRAY

I’m trying to imagine what this policy would have done to Jamaica if it had been applied throughout our history. The personages who populated our politics, and made this place a better spot to live in, would have been consigned to mumbling in the corners of their classrooms.

So, no Edwin Allen. No Clifford Campbell. No Howard Cooke. No Tacius Golding. No Aubrey Phillips. No Edith Dalton-James. No Arthur Williams. No Burchell Whiteman. No Violet Nielson.

You would be forced to say “Jamaica nah bodda keep” if you removed all that talent and prodigious work from our history.

Anyway, it’s regarding the school boards of public educational institutions that the remarkable “concept paper” gets even more cray cray.

It states:

“School board members are not allowed to criticise the minister of education or ministry of education personnel in any public fora, including social media.”

So, right now, you’re thinking your eyes aren’t working.

Read it again.

Let that likkle piece – “not allowed to criticise the minister of education” – just siddung wid yuh for a while.

Stay with it.

Imagine you accept an appointment to a public school board because you are someone possessing some skill set that can be useful, and you have enough public spiritedness to dedicate the time. You do not get paid for your service.

Well, according to this little piece of nascent Stalinism, by accepting the appointment you have forfeited your right as a citizen to criticise the minister.

It’s outrageous!

Nobody is above criticism, and certainly not the education minister. In fact, the Ministry of Education is normally a route to national popularity, because people are interested in their children, and the ministry touches their lives quite directly.

Also, education ministers generally have lots of nice announcements to make and a hefty budget to spend.

It’s nobody’s fault, but Ruel’s, that his popularity is in the pits.

Plus, imagine for a moment that the minister is also your political representative, as can easily happen. Is the education ministry in the business of creating kings and aristocrats now?

“His Majesty Ruel” does have a nice ring to it, naw guh lie.

But, c’mon! Dis bredda nuh easy!

Please note that the directive doesn’t even limit itself to just barring criticism of the minister about education policy. You are also disallowed, at least according to that language, to mention that Ruel wears ill-fitting suits, speaks like he has balls in his mouth, or is an arrogant you-know-what.

Not that any of the foregoing is true, but if any were, there ought to be no bar on mentioning it.

What is certainly true is that Ruel was no stunning success at Jamaica College, certainly not in the realm of academic performance. Is a board member of a public institution now disallowed from mentioning that? Or only while he’s minister?

VERRRRY SENSITIVE

At least part of the background to this effort to muzzle people in education is that Ruel isn’t doing such a good job. He has come in for withering criticisms from many quarters, many of them directly in the education sector.

There’s even a vicious rumour that Ruel is verrrry sensitive to criticism and is willing to silence it if he feels he has the power.

That same vicious rumour says Ruel questioned a fellow columnist:

“… how you as a public officer are publicly criticising government policy. The said ministry that is responsible for UWI. What staff orders permit this? I shall have to speak to Principal Webber.”

I personally don’t believe it. That the minister would threaten an academic for speaking publicly. Nutten coulda ever guh suh!

Were it true, I would have to conclude that we have a little tinpot dictator on our hands.

There’s a point to be made about when government’s start to get too comfortable with restricting rights and abrogating freedoms.

First, it’s a never-ending state of emergency out in Montego Bay, then it’s a state of emergency in the public schools.

I had offered very specific advice to PM Holness before his recent mini Cabinet “fluffle”.

Floyd Green, the junior minister in education, was to get elevated to the chair, and Ruel could either be made Green’s junior, or get transferred to OPM to “kip qwiet” and cause no further damage.

Sadly, once again, the PM has bucked my advice, and sadly, he will once again regret it.

The Jamaica Teachers’ Association, every school board, the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica, and anyone else in the education field need to have a very close look at this one.

It’s not good when the powerful start to feel as if they’re persecuted. We could end up with a Jamaican Jussie Smollett on our hands.

Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.