Looking back looking forward
Chaos in Kingston - Part 2
The Second Period
The sociocultural dimension
THE SECOND contour only partly appreciated by Norman Manley (NW) was the socio-cultural. He contributed importantly to its unfolding in a request, unpopular with the upper classes, that he made to the University of the West Indies vice-chancellor. It was for a study of the Rastafari, which was in fact carried out by M. G. Smith, Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford. He also approved the travel of Rastafari leaders to Ethiopia. But more fundamentally, as expressed in the 'Out of many one people' motto, NW's was the brown middle-class vision of Jamaica, not as a black nation but as a racially neutral unity of many ethnic groups, with a power edge given in effect, however, to the white (Nettleford 1998, Paul 2009).
The significance of the imposition of this vision on Jamaica must not be missed: it was profound. Yes, political independence in terms of flag, parliament and nationhood was achieved and of that NW could rightly be proud. But even in a political sense, cultural as well of course, the achievement was limited. It would lead many Jamaicans to underestimate their capability in the world of business. NW, his colour and class had kept firmly in place the mentality inherited from slave and colonial days that raised white above black. Emancipation from that mind-set and practice had not been won.
It was only under the prime ministership of Norman?s son that the old hierarchy of white dominance began to open up to black entry. Michael took his father's double charge seriously. It is true that his ventures onto "commanding heights" and into IMF agreements were not exactly success stories. He did significantly better, however, in targeting social inequality. With equal pay for women, free education, adult literacy, National Housing Trust, legal status for children of the unmarried among many other measures, black people felt for the first time that they had a place in Jamaica. Coupled with effective electioneering symbols and Beverley's African dress and hairstyle, a way was paved for recognition of blackness that Rasta had so long been fighting for. The door opened also for the invigorating musical creativity that had been building on its own and that burst refreshingly on the 1970s scene in the greatness of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Peter Tosh and so many others. From this explosion there could be and there has been no turning back. Reggae is today a world-music, while still given Jamaican impetus, and for all its waywardness, dancehall has made its mark. The socio-cultural struggle is still far from won, though. Think of the widespread bleaching, both of skin, whether legitimised for attention from the other sex or to get a job, and of culture, e.g. Emancipation Park monument (a white woman's creation severely criticised by many as not reflecting how black people depict themselves). Think of the deterioration in family life, single parent households without grandparent balance the norm. Think of the two-tier education system that only now is being confronted. Think of the hold that Kartel had on the emotions of the young and the celebration of guns and murder of so many of his and others' songs. Think of the inequalities in income, housing (so many 'squatters') and future prospects ? our youth want to migrate. The generation that followed NW's cannot claim to have effectively carried out not only the cultural responsibility that Norman had largely missed but its basic social mandate. Too many young lives have been wasted by unemployment in a malfunctioning economy, to which this narrative must now turn.
Political economy and governance
On the economic front, the prospect is now actually better. Set back by Michael's failures - some caused by himself but made worse by Cold War adversaries, home-grown as well as CIA - it has taken the country half a century to begin to cleanse itself of its addiction to debt and living high on other people's money. But at least a beginning has been made under previous and current administrations, ironically (given our and its history) with IMF assistance. Yes, previous administration deserves some credit because Seaga made a start in the '80s and Manley in the '90s, though going too free-market far, reversed his earlier stance. Golding, after his Tivoli blunder and Shaw's financial ineptitude, had the integrity to resign. Facing an election, Holness truthfully offered "bitter medicine". The present Government is the most deserving, though, because Phillips, Simpson-Miller presiding, has bravely steered through test after IMF test into sober fiscal waters. This Government is yet to meet, however, the growth challenge, because it is linked to a different test faced by every administration, where successes have been a mixed with too many failures. I am speaking of administrations imposing checks on themselves, in effect limiting their practice of putting election victory and partisan power (Omar Davies "run wid it") over solid national policy, with harsh economic and social consequences.
Civil society involvement
The success side is to be found in (A) the involvement of civil society and private sector in important governance bodies such as the:
- Electoral Advisory Committee, later the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, which has removed fraud and thereby violence from the voting process and is currently seeking to remove corruptive funding from party campaign financing;- Peace Management Initiative, which has contributed significantly to the reduction of community violence;
- Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) and before that, to deal with 380 MW decision, the Energy Monitoring Committee; and potentially most importantly, the
- Partnership for Jamaica, which brings together Government, Opposition, private sector, trade unions and civil society.(B) The establishment of state institutions such as the:
-Office of Utilities Regulation, which moved many decision areasfrom political into technical hands, though these must still be opened to public gaze;
- Office of Contractor General, which brought procurementpractices, including those by ministers of government, under independent non-partisan scrutiny;
- The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), which has put the Jamaica Constabulary Force and its partisan-directed paramilitary conduct also under independent scrutiny. The failure side is revealed in the Richard Azan affair in Clarendon, the Energy World International bungle by Phillip Paulwell and most visibly the Outameni episode. Party loyalty is made to override the voices of civil society and private sector and trump economic good sense. Equally power seeking has been the persistent effort to short-leash the Office of the Contractor General; it is still pursued in limits on investigation in the Integrity Commission Act as presently framed. Development also of Goat Islands and the Portland Bight Protected Area the state refuses even to discuss. All these have severely undermined the partnership for Jamaica.Over and over in recent months the business sector has been forced to complain of government actions taken with little or no consultation with those most affected. These are tax measures designed to increase the tax intake required to meet the IMF's 7.5 per cent surplus target but having a negative impact on growth. Manufacture is the sector most hurt. But every business, including notably the Jamaica Public Service, and every government ministry, especially health, is hurting from central Government not paying its debts. And generally, concrete proposals have netted not even a responsive invitation to dialogue that would signify a starting step in a positive direction.That kind of Central Government behaviour will have only one result - no or extremely slow growth, to the utter frustration, alienation and other nationally harmful reactions of many of Jamaica's people.
See Part 3 tomorrow