Looking back, Looking forward
Chaos in Kingston – Part 3
Coda II: learning
VIOLENCE WAS bleeding the country, traumatising woman and child, wounding community people ever more deeply.
In spite of a range of laudable countering efforts and the heartening demise of partisanship in community conflicts, crime and murder spread and climbed relentlessly, and found a new method in the lottery scam in the west. Miraculously, tourism was spared damage but not the overall economy. Fear kept investors away, while security needs and hospital victim care created costs that drained revenues.
The chief disaster area, however, was Tivoli Gardens. It epitomised the link between politicians and criminality. For what sharp observers saw with dismay was not only a state within a state but, given the relation of its ‘president’ to highly placed ministers within the ruling party, the imminence even of a capture of the state by criminal elements. This was frightening.
Pressure for delinking mounted and reached climax in the security operation of May 2010. Golding has been rightly criticised for delaying and bungling the Dudus extradition. In effect, though, he made a truly momentous decision in ending the decades-long failure to assert State central authority that had in the first place created the Tivoli ‘state within a state’ and the threat of criminal control.
Paradoxically (given its anti-violence thrust), this act was coupled with police violence that massacred scores of innocent Tivoli residents. And the follow-up maintained both the authority and the extrajudicial killing. Overnight, even as hatred of the police grew, the impunity previously enjoyed by every illegal gun-holder, criminal and defence, evaporated: homicidal violence receded by a third.
tivoli death blow?
It was a blow to the garrison: “Tivoli shake up all garrison. Garrison dying after Tivoli” was the verdict of one crew leader. Was his estimate on target, though? “Shake up”, yes, but was it decisive, a death blow? That would depend on its sequel.
Did anyone in 1938 recognise what it would lead to? It became a turning point because of what it was taken to mean and, consequently, the formation of trade unions and political parties that came after.
The year 1980, in spite of its climactic character, did not become a turning point because, its meaning not perceived, the forces that emerged on top offered no formative political or social change of course. They tackled only the economy. What of May 2010? Could that be, or have been, a turning point?
The signs are not great that a turn is actually happening. There were certainly, however, suggestions of a ‘could have been’ and since four and a half years is not a long time, the possibility is not closed off. It all depends on how the history before and after is read.
My reading is of huge potential, beginning with two other happenings that came quickly in the wake of May 24, and one that preceded it – PM Golding’s “apology” of May 17. Afterwards came the formation of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC), and the Independent Commission of Enquiry (INDECOM) into police conduct.
The first meeting of the groups that were to become the JCSC took place on June 2, nine days after May 24. As Carol Narcisse, who issued the invitation, saw it, this was a natural coalescence for the civil, Church and business entities that had been demanding of Golding an end to the delay of the extradition.
She was prompted, she says, by the perception that – calling for resignation, threatening impeachment – they all wanted the same thing and, therefore, business as usual was out of the question. A new and different governance was needed. GraceKennedy captain Douglas Orane spoke to the Rotary Club of St Andrew later in June of a “defining moment for the transformation of Jamaica”. These leaders saw a potential turning point and the coalition as a critical, indeed a start to the critical, ingredient.
This was no bolt from the blue but the culmination of a decade and a half, and longer, of civil-society demand. The National Committee on Political Tribalism appointed in 1997 by Prime Minister Patterson included, strikingly, representatives of seven major sectors of civil society and business – the Bar Association, Church, Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, trade unions, Association of Women’s Organisations of Jamaica, NGOs and youth. Along with the National Committee on Crime and Violence of 2002 with similar membership, it strongly condemned the association of politicians with garrisons, criminals and violence.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the JCSC has had some impact on its aim of influencing governance. This has not meant taking on every issue that a government manages, but tackling those requiring decision-making jointly between government, business and civil society.
The Coalition never claimed, however, to speak for the whole of civil society, which is too diverse and fragmented for that. The important fact is that today civil society is a voice recognised by all as necessarily to be included in every discussion.
In regard to the second major 2010 event, the arrival of INDECOM on the policing scene, it is the credit for this that is due, but little known, to the Jamaica Labour Party and to Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) that must be recalled here. Minister of Justice and Attorney General Dorothy Lightbourne steered the legislation in the Senate; it had been urged in the JLP’s manifesto for the year.
Earlier, Jamaicans for Justice had raised the need for an independent body to oversight policing in their presentations to the Inter-American Council on Human Rights, which, in turn, pressed the Jamaican Government for action in that regard. JFJ then made four separate submissions to the joint committee of Parliament examining the legislation. And when Lightbourne stalled on a critical point, JFJ appealed to PM Golding, who made the crucial change in the House and pushed the law through. All this in 2010 following on May.
We are now seeing INDECOM’s impact in the more than 50 per cent reduction in killings by police, no small matter, and the outcome of a piece of state-civil society cooperation.
Third, there was Bruce Golding’s eight-point commitment, made in a national broadcast on May 17, to institute measures to dismantle garrisons, achieve greater accountability of public officials and ensure integrity and transparency in public life and Government. The JCSC held him over 2010-11 to every point of his apology, including bringing it to the Parliament, and he was to honour his word before resigning from office in October 2011.
The charge to the next generation
So a ‘could have been’ was there in 2010, the potential, I have been arguing, for a transformation in governance. That implies that the challenge or the charge facing what I am calling the ‘next generation’ is none other than governance. And it would be governance focused directly on the garrison and the crime-politics-and-violence connection but taking in as well Jamaica’s economy and its social and cultural life.
Now those are serious assertions. They can have present import only if the opportunity presented by 2010 has not since then been frittered away, which would have to be shown to not be the case. Then there are their implications, which can here then be only suggested in brief outline if one is not to be presumptuous in predicting what the ‘next generation’ will do with the country’s future.
On the pivotal issue of murder violence, my judgement on ‘frittering’ (largely based on insights of the PMI’s CEO, Damian Hutchinson), is that momentum has been lost but not the case itself. West Kingston’s criminal gang ‘system’ and western Jamaica scamming activity have not been dismantled, but they have been disrupted, and there remains the possibility for progress towards dismantling. Much more is known now about participants. The weaknesses in police methods are clearer, as also the alternative options.
Recapturing momentum and making significant forward movement will hinge, in part, on the ‘closure’ that the West Kingston commission of enquiry brings to the Tivoli Gardens operation, which remains to be seen.
More crucial, however, will be implementation of the Community Renewal Programme that former PM Golding had the Planning Institute of Jamaica put together since 2010 and that now mostly gathers dust on a shelf. This would incorporate the kind of ‘mainstreaming’ of at-risk youth that the PMI is presently carrying out (on which a small book is shortly to emerge) and more that it could do if Unite for Change were to fund the substantial expansion that is needed. This would be combined with a comprehensive programme of community policing and complete exclusion of paramilitary behaviour.
Built into those programmes is the collaboration between State, civil society and the private sector that is meant by governance. A wider exercise of that collaboration would be through the Partnership for Jamaica and the committees of Parliament. There, in addition to crime prevention and Jamaica Constabulary Force reform, a full range of issues would arise and be hammered out jointly – energy, economic growth, environment, child care, at-risk youth, legislation on campaign financing and the Integrity Act, larger funding for the health and justice sectors, logistics hub, the Caribbean Court of Appeal and CARICOM itself.
The fundamental bedrock issue that I wish to flag here, however, is democracy. It cries out for deepening. With the negative-side dismantling of garrisons must go the positive establishment of the role of the community in governance. Communities are drawn into that process through parish development committees, which can and ought to firmly hold an advisory position in relation to parish councils. These councils themselves, regrettably left out of the 1962 Independence Constitution, must be entrenched now in its revision, and a mechanism created for bringing their activity and decisions before the national Parliament.
There is serious work to be done here. Democracy in 1944, at the time of our first universal suffrage election, was purely representational. Today, through education and technology, democracy worldwide is participatory. This change is hopefully incorporated in the legislation coming now to Parliament for entrenching local government in the Constitution and reforming it. Along with putting community voices into local government should go bringing parish council voices into our National Parliament.
The chasm that rules between these two levels should be eliminated. This surely is central to the challenge facing the next generation. It would make a huge dent in the present class-race division of our society.