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Stabroek News

Symptoms of a failed state
published: Sunday | September 4, 2005

Policemen and attendants from Madden's Funeral Home remove the bodies from a double-murder scene on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston, while family members grieve the death of their loved ones, recently.

Margaret Morris, Contributor

AS MURDER piles upon unsolved murder and scandal succeeds unpunished scandal, it has become increasingly clear that we are living in a 'failed state'. The first prominent person to articulate the 'failed state' hypothesis was PNP stalwart Kingsley Thomas, 'steward of a sterling era' at NHT and mastermind of development projects. Mr. Thomas has recently relocated to the U.K.

It is a fact that every day more evidence surfaces to reinforce a widely held perception of civil society's demise. Examples of government's impotence and duplicity are legion. Go research them. The decision not to proceed with the criminal prosecution against Delroy Lindsay's corporate group is just one of the most recent.

How does one define a failed state? Is it a country where, to quote Education Minister Maxine Henry-Wilson, "politics is about who gets what, when and where"? Or when, to quote the Honourable Prime Minister, politics is "a struggle for scarce benefits carried on between hostile tribes perpetually at war"? Has a state failed when Cabinet ministers feel obligated to attend the funerals of drug dons? When the Prime Minister declares that "the law is not a shackle"? Or, when the Minister of National Security acknowledges that "the man who plays by the rules gets shafted" and the Minister of Finance has the sangfroid to admit creating work by spending money he did not have because it was an election year?

Mutty Perkins, that nattering nabob of negativity, who enjoys the largest talk show audience on the island, has a poetic definition for our failing state. His oft repeated quote, "things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world", is certain to resonate with anybody who reads the newspapers or watches local news. Meanwhile, residents of inner-city war zones and recipients of summary justice are actually living the nightmare. What has brought us to this terminal condition of failing state with skyrocketing crime rate, shrinking economy, mushrooming debt burden, escalating cost of living with no light at the end of the tunnel?

Is it crime, corruption, cronyism, political tribalism, political violence? Or the maligned octopus of the drug trade stretching its tentacles into the highest echelons of politics and commerce? Crippling taxes, suffocating red tape, fiscal lunacy and economic vandalism? Neglect and decay of the judicial system? Attrition of the education system? Unemployment, capital flight and the brain drain? Take your pick. All the above and more can be cited as contributory factors but they are merely symptoms, not causes of the 'failed state' disease.

Unless the real cause of Jamaica's malady is identified and addressed, there is no chance of a cure, no hope of digging ourselves out of the quicksand, of turning back 'the blood dimmed tide' or overcoming the prevailing apathy wherein 'the best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity'.


The fundamental cause is obvious and has been repeatedly identified and debated and then forgotten: our Constitution is in urgent need of reform. Without this, the rehabilitation of the body politic is impossible. Because of a deeply flawed Constitution, we are living in a dictatorship masquerading as democracy. Mother England bequeathed to Jamaica a constitution with a distinct bias towards maintaining the status quo of the leaders of society and concentrating all power in government as opposed to sharing it with the people governed. To that end, the document contains a number of 'safeguards' which have the potential for transforming a virtual parliamentary democracy into an autocracy.

When a Prime Minister in Cabinet has de facto power to appoint or influence the appointments of the chief justice, the commissioner of police, chief of staff of the army, the director of elections, governor of the Bank of Jamaica, etc., what else is he but a dictator in disguise? When a minister of finance can overnight, impose new taxes by fiat, borrow and spend huge sums of money without reference to Parliament, what do you call that system?

In different times, with different politicians, the flaws in the Constitution might not have been so dangerous. For instance, Norman Manley did not have to hold a referendum about joining the West Indian Federation but, he felt morally obligated to let the people decide. They voted 'no'. Manley lost, but democracy won. Contrast this with the current government's handling of the proposed Caribbean Court of Appeal: ignoring valid objections to the CCJ and requests for a referendum, Patterson and Nicholson have already made the decision for us. Mr. Patterson flatly told the country that there will be no referendum so we best "faget it".


If all our heads of state had been of Norman Manley's calibre, Lord Acton's rule - 'All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely' - might not have taken over and led us inexorably to the terminal condition we now endure.

However, few human beings and even fewer politicians will voluntarily surrender power to anyone else. For this reason, parliamentarians of both parties have always resisted the notion of constitutional reform and still do.

There was a time when it was the major plank of Mr. Golding's ill-begotten National Democratic Movement. It is tragic that now he is back as leader of the Opposition, we hear no more about the necessity for it. The bottom line is that our Constitution allows far too much power to be concentrated in the hands of the winning political party and its leader.

Currently, the longstanding, widespread and cumulative abuse of gratuitous power can be plainly observed underpinning Jamaica's present condition as a 'failed state'.

Today, we are not witnessing just the disintegration of an ex-colonial parliamentary democracy. Over the past 13 years we have been experiencing Jamaica's gradual mutation into a one-party autocracy ­ a morbid metamorphosis, which has been greatly facilitated and accelerated by the apathy of the Jamaican electorate and their habitual choice of the People's National Party (PNP) as being the lesser of two evils.

At present, heads in the sand as always, we are watching the PNP leadership race with little interest, listlessly pondering which candidate is most likely to do least harm. Take a tip from PJ and "faget it". All three are offering 'more of the same'. Citizens of a failed democracy, we are in desperate need of a new beginning in governance. Logic dictates that we have only two alternatives to a full-blown banana republic. One is constitutional reform. The other is revolution. Which of the two do you think is most likely? And will the price of oil be the straw that breaks the camel's back?

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