Sun | Jul 22, 2018

Martin Henry | Moral leadership for the moral revolution

Published:Sunday | January 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM

When Astor Carlyle's sermon call to a moral revolution fades into silence (the nine days of wonder have passed) and the prayers are forgotten, it remains true that the state of the nation depends more on the moral rectitude of the leaders of the state than we generally care to admit.

And it's a relatively small group of moral agenda-setters. But accomplished deflectors that we are, we may want to hire Rev Carlyle, having been the keynote speaker at the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast, full time to be mediator and negotiate with God and man on our behalf. With God for the divine let-offs that will remove the burdensome responsibility of taking tough action to deal with our problems. And with men for voluntary compliance.

Come on now, be nice, people, and behave yourselves when using the road. And you shottas, just hold your fire so that the murder rate can go down. And if you really have to shoot, just don't shoot women and children, old people and the disabled. Fathers, just be nice and own your children and take care of them.

Fewer than 250 leaders of the State can turn this country around in a moral revolution.

Before I identify them, let me explain what this moral revolution means. It is not primarily a call to religiosity, although its core principles are most rooted in religion. It is a commitment that everybody will know and feel coming from the leader to the universal principles of integrity, honesty, justice, fair play, openness in transactions, faithfulness to duty, and accountability to God and man for the use of authority.

A four-step process would drive a serious moral revolution.

The revolution would begin with the frank and painful acknowledgement that "we have sinned". Beyond technical faults and failures, governance has been riddled with moral faults and failures. It may not be a moral failure of government to not provide electricity to a village of 500 up in the mountains or not to hand out subsidies to farmers or hoteliers. But it most certainly is a moral failure of the worst order for the State to have abandoned entire communities to the lawless rule of the don.

Then the leaders must each order their public life and leadership responsibilities by these clear moral principles as a personal commitment. The pressure will be great to do otherwise. The cost will be high. An apocryphal story has been told about Hugh Shearer as prime minister, which I hope is true. A man came to his office to wangle a favour out of the prime minister. When Hugh Lawson wouldn't play ball, the petitioner resorted to reminding the leader that he had voted for him and how much he had done to support the party. An angry Hugh Shearer grabbed a piece of paper, marked a big X on it, shoved it in the wangler's face and told him, "Tek back you vote, and come out a mi office!"

We all know on the smaller institutional scale that corporate leadership sets the tone, and provides the reference point against which followers measure their own actions. The moral revolution for which Rev Carlyle called absolutely requires, after the praying for divine intervention, that corporate leadership sets the example and demands compliance to the supporting principles down the line.

When a police commissioner fails to rebuke his officer corps for breach of protocols in supporting him against his minister by improper public utterances, we have not just a technical problem but a moral problem that goes to the very heart of indiscipline in the police force. The constables, quick learners, are watching.

Finally, these leaders must make laws, draft policies and develop programmes that pass the test of moral legitimacy.

Church, business and civic organisations cannot really lead this moral revolution in governance unless the levers of state power are to be surrendered to them.

 

Identifying the leaders

 

And who are these state leaders at the front of this critical responsibility of leading this four-step moral revolution?

I would have loved to publish a full list of their names, offices, telephone numbers and email addresses, but both space and lack of information will not allow. Perhaps the newspaper will do so on its own account. It's time to cut the hypocritical deflective nonsense that we are all responsible. Responsible to be good citizens, yes.To lead the state out of its moral turpitude, no.

Starting at the top and working through the Constitution, the supreme law of the land crafted on moral principles, the key leaders for the moral revolution will include: the governor-general, the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition, ministers of Cabinet, members of the Shadow Cabinet, members of the House of Representatives, senators and their leaders constituting the legislature, the chief justice and the president of the Court of Appeal.

On the public-service side, every permanent secretary and the financial secretary. The police are so important in the order of the society that they have their separate section in the public-service chapter of the Constitution. So too commissioner, deputy commissioners, acting commissioners, divisional commanders, and the commanders of non-geographic formations.

That powerful and autonomous Office of Director of Public Prosecutions. Those independent commissions of Parliament such as the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) soon to be part of an integrated Integrity Commission, the Independent Commission of Enquiry (INDECOM). And those special agencies created specifically for the protection of human rights such as the Office of the Public Defender. To an extraordinary degree, the protection of our rights and freedoms depend upon the police, the courts and these rights agencies. Their moral failure is palpable.

When you add up these state leadership positions, they are considerably fewer than the generous 250 I had earlier postulated. Suppose each of these centres of state power led a moral revolution in their sphere of authority? Or put another way, suppose they carried out as a moral duty their pledge to uphold the Constitution?

Governance in Jamaica is riddled with moral lapses. It's easy to write a list dozens of cases long. But suppose we start with the number one problem, crime and violence, and law and order, and public safety? Which is the number one duty of government. The immoral negligence of the state has led to an escalation and entrenchment of crime and violence and a breakdown of law and order. And now in the face of a national crime crisis, the police are short of 800 vehicles and 3,500 enlisted members of the force just to satisfy the old establishment. The Government is offering only 400 vehicles in the next financial year.

Only grossly immoral neglect over many years could have led to this overhang demand of 800 vehicles.

At the same time, when the courts are flooded with criminal cases and civil litigation, the stock of courthouses is dominated by derelict 19th-century buildings, and there is a crisis lack of space and of staff. The number of judges in the Court of Appeal remained the same seven as at Independence until very recently when the minister of justice promised that five more would be added.

We're not talking about a mere scarcity of money, but nothing short of moral dereliction by the State and Government in the delivery of justice. It is wicked and immoral to have accused persons languishing in jail in defiance of habeas corpus to which we commit with our mouth.

And talking about money, to take another case, back in 1976, the Manley Government created the National Housing Trust to allow greatly increased access to housing, particularly by the poor, through a system of mandatory contributions.

The Trust wasted no time in creating the standard mortgage system of a building society or bank (which Mr Manley warned would be detrimental to purpose) and which ended up denying up to 80 per cent of contributors access to housing benefits while the Trust sat on a mountain of money. Up to last Thursday, a contributor was on the letters pages of the Observer asking, "When will the NHT help people like me?"

If any private business had behaved in similar fashion, collecting clients' money without any hope of them qualifying for a benefit, it could not escape fraud charges under the laws of the land. Even the betting, gaming and lotteries law sees to it that all players have an equal chance of winning.

That moral revolution is going to require a little more than an annual prayer for the nation and a reliance upon 'moral' churchmen and women to lead it. The leaders of the State and Government have moral responsibilities for good governance. They've been coming up short, and the results are killing us.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.