Wed | Nov 20, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | The minister and the archbishop point the way

Published:Monday | October 21, 2019 | 12:06 AM
Horace Chang

Extending the states of emergency has become the preoccupying business of Parliament. This is the occasion that everybody has to turn up for or to be purposely absent when the vote is to be taken. The normal order of business is interrupted, everything else is put off until the extension is agreed, at which point, most people leave anyway. That’s what happened last Tuesday again.

The narrative of repression of disorder rather than the refashioning of the social order is as much front and centre as it was in 1831, 1865, 1938 or 1974.

It is all an impious ritual, really – now that most members of the Opposition have decided that it is politically perilous to oppose the measure, despite having been thoroughly persuaded as to the unconstitutionality of this dribbling, semi-permanent, stand-alone recourse to violent crime.

So we end up with ‘SOE lite’. Andrew Holness tells us that “shock and awe” is not the objective anymore, while Peter Phillips points out that this was exactly what the emergency legislation was meant to instil.

They might as well admit that the security forces are undermanned and, ‘under-intelligenced’, because they are not trusted; who use the emergency powers largely for desultory spot checks and the kind of net-fishing raids and preventive detention which they were accustomed to and empowered to carry out long before any state of emergency (SOE) was imposed.

The next line of argument is that business is being disrupted by the arbitrary and restrictive closing hours imposed on the nocturnal economy. So the big concession is that these will be diluted, especially at Christmas, although the objective of keeping people off the streets is exactly what the SOE was designed to accomplish.

“We are being very restrained,” says our prime minister.

And so, although both sides repeat the rhetoric that the suspension of constitutional rights ought not to be the sum total of a crime plan, it really turns out to be just that. There is no other crime plan forthcoming from either side. You vote for it because something needs to be done and there is nothing else on the Order Paper.

And since, sadly, the murder rate, even within the curtilage of the SOEs, show no sign of sustained reduction (witness St James and South St Andrew last weekend), absent more, Parliament will likely continue with the spiritless argument and the continued extensions, quarter after quarter, for the five, or was it seven, years predicted by our leader.

“Imagine what the murder rate would be without the state of emergency,” was the wisdom offered by the very learned attorney general, chief defender of the Jamaican Constitution. Exactly. That is followed, within a breath, by Andrew Holness intoning that “the present legislative structure is not adequate to respond to the epidemic of crime”.

As if it ever could.

The causes and therefore the cure for the escalating and relentless scourge of violent crime do not lie within the scope of anti-crime laws, no matter how we try to normalise that false logic by our votes in Parliament, and to repeat the fallacy of condoning repression, absent radical, never-affordable individual and societal reconstruction; just as our predecessors, the witless, frenzied assemblymen and their class, shed tears for the brutal Eyre and sacrificed their autonomy to Whitehall.

And all the while, Bogle and Gordon and all the freedom fighter heroes who we celebrate today, lay murdered, unrequited and purposely forgotten, until history would vindicate their memories, even as we still forget or downplay the causes they died for – freedom from arbitrary arrest and the stifling regulations that prevented their class from earning an honest bread; and the opportunity for effective education, ease of owning land, decent work, and respect for family and personal relationships.

So since the murder rate remains frighteningly high, the dreaded prospect of the ‘stakeholder talks’ may well be a ‘consensus’ which legitimises preventive detention and restricts the right to bail. And as things are going, begin to think about the likelihood of Jamaica conducting its second general election under a state of emergency. Remember 1976!

ALTERNATIVES TO THIS BLEAK SCENARIO

There are alternatives to this bleak scenario. Witness Dr Horace Chang’s piece in the press last week. Yes, the same minister of national security. He reminds us that half of imprisoned youth (it’s actually much more than that) were school failures or dropouts, and that some 70 per cent of teenage boys in Montego Bay drop out of school by grade nine.

I support a state of emergency that deals with that issue and provides training, work, discipline and hope for them before the gangs get them.

Hear more from Dr. Chang: “There must be greater focus on transforming the institutions that serve identified (read, ‘inner-city, deprived’) communities. The mandate of ministries, departments and agencies of government should be to provide quality services and ensure citizens have access to opportunities for personal improvement.”

Make sure you read Chang’s views, titled ‘A litmus test on social intervention programmes in Jamaica’.

These are issues we should be talking about in Parliament, but Karl Samuda concedes that he can’t persuade members to attend more than one weekly sitting. These are the issues (But are they?) Why meeting in secret which should have the stakeholders burning the midnight oil.

The tragic thing about this Heroes Day is that we know what to do to stanch runaway violence and we have the required resources, but because of our fear of creative disturbance of the status quo, once again, we recoil.

This is how Archbishop Howard Gregory, in the tradition of Jeremiah, the prophet, put it to a nominally Christian nation as a kind of prelude to Heroes Day: “Those who believe that the Judeo-Christian tradition has nothing to do with matters of state, including politics, economics, social justice and freedom, do not know the tradition”.

He quotes the prophet, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Both the minister and the archbishop point to “a countertruth and narrative” to replace the surreal, backward antics of Parliament. It needs to advance now.

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.