Mon | Aug 10, 2020

Make institutions accountable

Published:Friday | June 5, 2020 | 12:18 AM


MEN SUCH as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi have put forward the axiom that the defining characteristics of a society’s personality are observed where its institutions and its most vulnerable members interact.

Among Jamaica’s most vulnerable citizens are the poor and the incarcerated. Regardless of the reason for the detention, the guilt or innocence, unless the circumstances surrounding your detention involve some celebrity or infamy, you are at risk of being forgotten and lost in ‘the system’, or as the INDECOM Quarterly January to March 2020 report says, “detained at pleasure”.

The case of Noel Chambers – discarded for 40 years – is one case too many. Yet, Chambers’ case is not unique; some may recall the case of Robert Robinson, a mentally ill man detained for simple larceny in 2002, suddenly rediscovered in 2019. To me, it is obvious that an audit of all centres of detention and incarceration must be conducted so that justifiable account can be given for every last inmate, and justice served to each and all. The current system simply does not inspire faith.

There is a greater point – we are all vulnerable. Jamaicans interact with organisations both public and private and are often met with disregard, disrespect, or else subjected to normalised inefficiency and poor service quality as a matter of course. Most Jamaicans dread doing any sort of business, especially when there is an issue to be resolved. How can people have national and individual pride when organisations which are mandated to serve them inversely treat them as expendable, often in a dehumanising fashion? This sets the foundation for further dehumanising treatment abroad.

Jamaica is a society of capable, passionate and creative people, but we have been hardened by plagues of crime, poverty and income inequality, among others. Any gains we make in sustainable development and human rights will need to be nurtured by proud Jamaicans who are, in turn, nurtured and taught to demand the best at home, and hold themselves accountable to delivering the best as well. Let us not only be mindful of these things, but also engage in their practice.