Martin Henry | Delroy Chuck and thinking first class
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck has been appealing for Jamaicans to start thinking first class. Dawn Ritch used to call him 'Chuckles'. Chuck, you make me laugh, you make me cry.
In fairness, Honourable Chuckles has been leading a bold programme of justice reform, roiling up the shame-inducing justice system and rankling judges who believe they are above being criticised by anyone and being directed by the political directorate, a programme of reform that could end up helping Jamaicans to think first class.
The reform-minded Chief Justice Bryan Sykes has taken up residence on the front pages of the papers, pushing his justice, reform agenda across the country. But the courthouses in which the justices sit 'on the bench' to deliver justice, and over which Minister Chuck administratively presides, are anything but inducements to thinking first class.
Minister Chuck told justices of the peace at a training session earlier this month that "Jamaica will never achieve First-World status unless our people start thinking first class". The think-big minister said that people should desist from looking at all the problems the country faces and casting blame, and, instead, use their imagination to see the country for what it could be and ask, "Why not?"
Minister Chuck is of the view that if the people lack ambition and vision, the country will never succeed. Chuck commended Chief Justice Bryan Sykes for his vision and dedication to making the country's justice system first-rate.
Jamaicans are not exactly short on ambition and vision. Proof positive is what people do with building houses and fixing up dem place when dem can afford to do so and their star performance a farrin. But someting ben wi miin fi sute wi kondishon.
Government men and women like to preach at us about what we should be doing for country. But the Government has the lead role in making Jamaica great, for the first time at last, through not only thinking first class but acting first class. Jamaicans thirst for greatness and are wringing it out of sports and music to the max because so little else exists of which to be truly proud.
Overwhelmingly, the places at which we meet and interact with our Government do not inspire thinking first class or thoughts of greatness. And it's not just a money thing. With various 'reforms', money is being found to improve things. We started with Chuck's domain, the courthouses. With few exceptions, they are in states of decrepitude. Jamaicans forced to use them - judges and lawyers, accused, complainants, and witnesses - are punished by the conditions in these houses of justice.
And this is nothing to chuckle about. Lock-ups and prisons are dehumanising. The last-class conditions under which detainees are held in the zones of special operations and the states of emergency have burst out into the news and are causes of shame. But that's nothing new.
Mr Chuck's colleague minister, Horace Chang, has more proudly than shamefacedly recently announced that 200 police stations are to be repaired and refurbished. We have to ask, are there any stations not on the list, and how did we come to this place of shame?
The police themselves are battling for a living wage and to get the Government to obey its own labour laws in their employment, not to mention for sleeping quarters with minimum standards of decency at the stations.
The hospitals and clinics, indeed most government departments that serve the mass public, have waiting rooms which can inspire no thinking first class and thinking great but are zones of punishment and long endurance.
And we are hearing that umbrellas are necessary on some JUTC buses when it's raining! Hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans make their way about daily on a public-transport system made up of thousands of run-jostle, law-breaking, stress-inducing route taxis and have no transport reason to start thinking first class. We have not begun to study deeply and seriously the negative social impact of the chakka-chakka and poor public transport systems that Government has unleashed upon this country.
There has been a major blowout over the $17 million 'Welcome to Montego Bay' sign that has recently gone up. Anything for the tourist. We have two pretty decent international airports, thanks to foreign investments. But the entry into the city from them, certainly from Norman Manley into Kingston, is hardly pride-inducing and inspiring of thinking great and first class. The Palisadoes Road, recently upgraded, is not bad; but passage through east Kingston is a cause of shame. And it wasn't always that way. Middle-class east Kingston, like much of the rest of the city, has been allowed to degrade into its present condition.
Few things inspire national pride and aspirations of greatness like the public facilities of governance. Before we even get to the Parliament, the offices of the municipal corporations across the country are very far from pride-inspiring. Some of them are downright ramshackle.
Government has finally found the nerve to buck small-minded public sentiment and develop a plan for a grand, awe-inspiring Parliament building in a Government Circle that will encompass National Heroes Park, parts of which are now a disgraceful dust bowl and nearly all of which is poorly kept. The very place of the heroes does not inspire thinking first class.
Mr Chuck was more recently over in Spanish Town on justice business but found the time to tell JIS that the history-laden Old Capital can potentially evolve into a tourism centre for Jamaica. But there is the need for extensive redevelopment of the town, one of the oldest in the colonial New World, he said. And Port Royal? Museums in both towns have been shamefully closed and the town's rich heritage sites, which could inspire greatness, have been abandoned to go to pot.
Prime Minister Holness was over in Montego Bay telling the people that Dump Up Beach was going to be transformed into the "Emancipation Park" of Montego Bay. Just a gentle reminder: Emancipation Park, Kingston, was an off-Consolidated Fund project of the National Housing Trust holding a big bagful of contributors' money.
Other existing parks in the capital city, and across the entire country, have been shamefully neglected, and the expansion of quality green spaces has been cramped by Government, which doesn't think first class. High-quality public spaces may have something to do with the quality of people's lives and thoughts and actions.
The NSWMA has announced an islandwide clean-up of 105 town centres just in time for Christmas. Chrismus work a run! Part of the feel-good strategy of a Government laying foundations of benefits for re-election. But that's all right if we get value for money. The towns are choked and filthy. Clean, orderly, regulated urban space just might have something to do with good thinking and behaviour.
But Government notoriously misses golden opportunities for inter-agency cooperation and collaboration to unleash transformation and development synergies. The police have recently launched a Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch. For a while now, I have been flogging the point that the police need to occupy town squares, and, by sheer presence with rigorous enforcement, reimpose law and order and improve public safety. That exemplary action will spread from town square across the country.
It would be a real pity if the NSWMA cleans up the garbage but law enforcement does not seize the opportunity to clean the bigger mess of lawlessness and public disorder.
The Government should work not only harder but a lot smarter to give the people more reasons to think first class and to think great.