Betty-Ann Blaine | It’s more than the mansions gentlemen - it’s the message!
It appears as if the discourse surrounding the expensive homes built, and being built by certain named Jamaican politicians will not go away easily - and it shouldn't. The conversation ought not to be dismissed or diverted because it raises deeper social and moral issues that should engage the hearts and heads of well-thinking Jamaicans.
I'm not sure how many Jamaicans begrudge the country's leaders for their homes, and frankly, I don't care since to my mind that point is irrelevant. The real question that Jamaicans should be asking is, "How many of our people can, or will ever be able to own a house of whatever type or size?
I don't think that the masses expect to live in homes that resemble those of certain named politicians, much as we are known to be a people with champagne taste. I believe what our people aspire to, is the opportunity to live in a decent home, however modest, and however small.
The Jamaican people are under no illusions about the two Jamaica's in which we live. They just don't know how to fix it. We are accustomed to those whom we elect to live several levels above us, and we have come to accept it as a natural way of life.
That deep, psychological conditioning with its legacy in slavery and colonialism, explains why the people vote time and time again for leaders despite revelations about mansions and allegations of corruption. Jamaicans accept, and perhaps even expect our politicians to live that way, even while the supporters live behind zinc fences and understand the realities of generational poverty and the prospect of never owning a home. To better understand that type of individual and collective mindset we see operating in the society, one has to refer to the highly acclaimed book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed", written by the Brazilian scholar, Paolo Freire.
Given the current socio-economic dispensation, and the staggering levels of youth unemployment, it is difficult to see how young persons, even those fortunate enough to gain employment and earn a decent, living wage, can work towards owning a home and building a family any time soon.
What I see happening is that more and more of our young people are having to live with their parents after graduating high school and college. They simply can't afford to pay rent, let alone carry a mortgage. Young people tell me constantly that they have little hope of becoming homeowners. They say that owning a home appears to be a distant dream for them and only seems possible when they look outside of Jamaica. It is little wonder therefore that 80 per cent of the country's youth in a recent survey say that their ambition is to leave Jamaica and go abroad.
The prospect of owning a home is one of the biggest "push" factors for Jamaicans wanting to migrate to other countries, particularly the United States and Canada, and many, if not most, achieve that objective within a short period of time, oftentimes working two or three jobs in the process.
A good friend of mine who is a high school graduate and worked for years as a household helper here at home, was able to secure permanent residency in the United States only four years ago, and is already working towards purchasing a home so that her children can have a "legacy" as she puts it.
Bound up with the issue of political privilege, entitlement, and the excesses of home ownership, is the persistent problem of squatting. Not only are most Jamaicans unable to own a home, increasing numbers of them are among the growing class of homeless persons.
Within that context, squatting can no longer be simply seen as a socially deviant behaviour. Quite frankly, I don't know of any human being in their right mind who would choose a gully bank or river bed over a wooden or concrete structure with a roof on top as a place of residence. It is obvious that people who have a house to live in, do not squat.
I consider squatting to be one of the most dehumanising experiences for anyone, and I have seen the despair and trauma with mine own eyes. During what was dubbed the "Hundred Lane Massacre" on Red Hills Road a few years ago, I stood and watched a mother and her small children pack their meagre belongings on to an open back vehicle as they sought to flee from the terror unleashed on the community. When I enquired where they were going, the woman, with pain written all over her face, replied, "Mi no know Miss, but mi nah stay ya fi dem kill me and me pickney dem".
Those politicians building mansions should be reminded repeatedly of the large numbers of Jamaicans who have been made homeless by their respective gangs armed with the power and the tools to issue on the spot eviction notices. Add to those the countless number of our people who are living on the streets as a result of fires that have left them completely dislocated and dispossessed.
It is disappointing, if not vulgar, to see the so-called progressive, younger political leaders of the country flaunt their significant material possessions at a time when ordinary Jamaicans are being asked and corralled to make quality of life sacrifices and to support the tough conditions of the International Monetary Fund.
Instead of presenting themselves as the examples of frugality and moderation in a period of national austerity, they have chosen to be the best examples of barefaced and unbridled excesses.
It's more than the mansions, gentlemen - it's the message!
Betty-Ann Blaine is a Children's Advocate and Founder of two of Jamaica's leading children's organisations - Hear The Children's Cry, and Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU).