Ronald Thwaites | ‘Tekkin step wid we’
Strong, value-laden institutions are crucial for building and maintaining a culture of worth. Alexis de Toqueville, the French journalist who surveyed the strength of democracy in the young republic of the United States, correctly assessed its durability based on the number of interest groups who formed themselves into institutions of all kinds, comprising a critical mass – the communities of scrutiny – which would deter the autocracy and tyranny of any king, president or pope, and thus safeguard democracy and promote integrity.
Jamaica has proven de Toqueville’s point throughout its history. The power of the shackle, the gallows and guns, big money, tribal political prejudice as well as the handcuffs of race and class discrimination have been challenged, with greater or lesser success, by groups who mounted resistance against real and perceived injustice – slave resisters, some churches, unions, the Tax and Ratepayers Association of the past, the Friendly Societies, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, the Jamaica Council for Human Rights, Jamaicans for Justice, and since 2011, National Integrity Action (NIA). And these are just a few.
Positive social and cultural change does not ordinarily flow from the apex of the society but rather, rises from ferment at the base. This is why civil-society groups are so crucial to the country’s well-being and integrity.
With this context, consider the knife-wound which has been inflicted this past week to an important civil-society grouping, the National Integrity Action (NIA). This young institution, only nine years in existence, has tried to raise consciousness about and defence against the scourge of corruption and the valueless, self-obsessed teefing which ‘nyams out‘ hundreds of billions from our pockets and ‘colts’ our future prospects.
You don’t need to have agreed with all that they said or did to value their existence. Their emphasis on governmental corruption ought, in my view, to have been matched with a serious critique about extortion and cronyism in the private sector, particularly the financial institutions.
But I have admired and trusted people like the late Martin Henry, Trevor Munroe, Patrece Charles and many others for their largely impartial effort and courage to provide the data, the analysis and the therapy that can help us to be more honest with ourselves.
Although there was once an effort to encourage Jamaicans to join the NIA, everyone knew that their main funding came from international sources like the United States Agency for International Development, which has done so much good for Jamaica when we were a geo-political prize (or pawn?) and before its resources were gutted by Trumpism.
Now the value and integrity of our NIA has been called into question, declared ineffective, and derided by the head representative of the very country whose agency gave the NIA consistent exemplary evaluations. Please tell me what logic is at work here?
The strong suspicion is that the NIA has not proved itself useful to powerful funders who want them to persuade us that the greatest source of corruption facing the nation is not the state banditry so evident to everyone, not the cynical manipulation of poor people’s lives by the oligopolies of money power, but the presence of Chinese-government-sponsored investment in our country.
Sadly, and ominously, none of our political leaders or other civil-society groups have so far seen it fit to defend or, if they are coward or craven, to even publicly sympathise with the NIA, who, despite their utility to the Jamaican polity, must now fend for themselves (and us) against untrue and unfair bullyism. For to lie about and negatively paint-brush an institution is as wrong as the unfriendly and unexplained withdrawal of visas. At least the British give reasons for deporting you.
But since a so it set, National Integrity Action and other civil-society groupings must now be very careful of what foreign money they access and be realistic as to what strings and baggage are attached. From my little experience, the Canadians, Europeans and the British are far less demanding than others.
Moreso, NIA must not be allowed to wither and should develop into a strong dues-paying membership organisation made up of nationalistic Jamaicans and our friends, here and abroad, with a perspective above and beyond party, religion and class, to promote personal and communal integrity, to defend our dignity and self-worth.
Otherwise, every kind of nouveau backra massa will continue tekkin step wid we.
Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org