Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Looking through tinted glasses

Published:Sunday | January 18, 2015 | 12:00 AMGordon Robinson

Tribalists and other defenders of political faith, draw near and take heed.

You'll learn what you should be demanding of your political executive, especially pivotal members like the two Peters and Ronnie, rather than gushing commendations for minor fluctuations in fortune. One online reaction ('kjair') to my January 10 exposÈ of political and religious backwardness ('Scribes and Pharisees') emphasised the underwhelming nature of general expectations:

"Cynicism is one thing, what Gordon spouts is nonsense. When you improve something you deserve praise and when you do nothing you deserve criticism. Gordon wants to change the goalpost after every race while he is the only steward; which he thinks is objective! Too funny."

Let's address the views expressed frontally rather than whine about imagined personal abuse as is the wont of one veteran Gleaner columnist whose overinflated ego appears proportional to his insecurity. I don't discern personal abuse here, just a strong, opposing view expressed in an attention-grabbing style.

I challenge kjair to expose one specific instance of my changing any of my proposed goalposts. I've consistently called for new paradigms in fundamental areas of public life (governance, education, national security; health; infrastructure and, consequently, finance and planning) and repeatedly criticised any of the responsible ministers content to incrementally improve statistics within obsolete paradigms.

Kjair's comment exposes how comfortable we've become as dyed-in-the-wool sufferers of trauma-bonding asking captors only to produce better stats (which kjair calls "improve something" but is, in reality, "do nothing") and frightened by any threat of change. This is why Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon are national heroes. They took positive steps to change international paradigms. None was content with any form of slavery, even if illusory benefits were promised to trickle down to them.

 

ENTITLED TO BE BIASED

 

Last Sunday, Booklist Boyne, in an impassioned defence of his glorification of Peter, Peter and Ronnie that could've been headlined 'I'm entitled to be biased', wrote:

"Questioning my motives is a lazy cop-out. Remember, I could be completely partisan and corrupt in my motives and still be completely right in my position. As they say, the fact that you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not really out to get you. I could have a bias but be right."

Good for you, Booklist. Are you sitting down? I agree. However, any such convergence (corrupt motive and correct position) would be purely coincidental. In the same paragraph, Booklist blissfully continued:

"A lawyer is clearly carrying a brief for his client. He's not neutral or unbiased. He's paid for it. He goes to court to defend a particular position. The judge and jury know that ... . Do they discount what he says because he's bought, hired, if you prefer? Does (sic) his evidentiary arguments amount to nothing because he's bound to defend his client's interests? No. His arguments and evidence have to be assessed rationally on their own terms."

Oh, dear. Booklist writes like an intellectually challenged aspiring stowaway who not only misses the boat, but the entire ocean. He can't follow his own argument. He might fail an art exam even if allowed to trace.

1. A lawyer's evidentiary arguments are EXACTLY what he's paid to present; nothing more, nothing less. Lawyers are no more 'biased' in favour of a client who pays them as is any employee 'biased' in favour of his employer, including a government employer. Many employees detest their employers. Some lawyers detest some clients. Both perform their jobs regardless because of contractual and/or ethical obligation. But a lawyer who goes further and deliberately writes a newspaper article supporting a particular client without disclosing he's paid to simultaneously represent that client in court is a different kettle of hot water. Unlike the court audience, newspaper readers are prevented from assessing the effect of possible motivation on his argument. Motivation (usually externally triggered) isn't the same as 'bias' (usually internal) but is equally destructive of reasoning. Disclosure is essential to equip readers to decide whether both, or either, have determined the argument's thrust. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.

2. "The judge and jury know that" is EXACTLY the point. The issue isn't whether or not you're 'biased'. The issue is disclosure. Last week, I wrote: "Above an ender that didn't disclose his JIS connection, last Sunday, Booklist Boyne published his first column on local politics for weeks. It wasn't about Outameni ... nor Huntley Medley's perceived assault on press freedom, but in praise of Peter Bunting, Ronnie Thwaites and Peter Phillips." Get it, Booklist? It's obvious from your stout defence of bias that when it comes to grasping fundamental principles of disclosure, you're slower than Earl Witter at a spelling bee. Maybe if I wrote them down in an august tome full of big words and abstract philosophical doctrine, you might understand.

 

PERFORMANCE REVIEW

 

Regarding Peter, Peter and Ronnie, let's review their performance in the context of kjair's principle: "When you improve something you deserve praise and when you do nothing you deserve criticism." My only disagreement is in interpretation. Did they "improve something"?

Peter Bunting: His task is to modernise the police force, facilitate better-trained recruits, and ensure the force has all necessary tools to bring crime down to tolerable levels. Until he lobbies Cabinet successfully to fund the full computerisation of the force, proper remuneration for police, and proper training to ensure

(a) the ability to utilise modern detection methods/equipment; and

(b) a 'shoot-last' policy is entrenched,

he won't be congratulated by me.

From where would funds come? For starters, there's over $50 million available by scrapping that perpetual political pork barrel euphemistically named "Grand Gala". It's called prioritising.

In the meantime, incremental improvements in crime rates will always be temporary, and, as Booklist argues, tribalists will be calling for his head or praising him, depending on the current body count.

Ronnie Thwaites: No better fish. No better barrel. The education system inherited by Ronnie is irrelevant, obsolete and useless. His task is to revolutionise education. This begins with:

(a) Policy making teachers the most important, highest-paid public servants in Jamaica. Why? Unlike police, doctors, etc, teachers interface with Jamaica's children years before all others and have a critical early role in moulding hearts, minds and bodies. If teachers are truly successful, everybody else's job becomes easier.

(b) Only applicants educated to the highest level in specialised skills, including teacher training, should be hired. Schools must be properly equipped and 'exams' restructured to correlate with the reality of curriculum subjects.

I insist (no disrespect) that no 70-year-old can visualise what's required. I would appoint Lisa because based on our irrelevant, obsolete, useless system of governance, choice is limited to government MPs. Among them, she's my pick, but I'd send her on six months 'sabbatical' to Finland, all expenses paid, to experience a modern education system first-hand.

Peter Phillips: This is the toughest one because he has been handed a basket to carry water. But, carry it he must. Again, what's required is a new paradigm. 'Old-school' systems should've been dismantled in 2000. His immediate tasks:

(a) A significant shift in public spending from civil service salaries to capital improvements;

(b) Businesses, especially small businesses, should be encouraged with lower up-front taxes. The simple idea: A flourishing business sector more than pays for itself with back-end taxes and spin-offs;

(c) Renegotiation of the IMF deal to allow for some debt restructuring.

In Jamaica's current crisis, I don't believe any minister satisfied with business as usual qualifies for praise. I'll applaud any minister who insists on trying new paradigms, even if his/her numbers suffer.

Peace and love.

n Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.