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Stabroek News

Political leadership, spirituality and ethics
published: Sunday | August 12, 2007


Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and Opposition Leader Bruce Golding participate in a symboliccandle-lighting ceremony last Sunday. The two political leaders and other electoral candidates joined in a worship service dubbed 'Heal Our Land' at Faith Cathedral Deliverance Centre, St. Andrew. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer

The following paper, prepared by Rev Dr. Roderick Hewitt, was submitted on behalf of the Public Theology Forum, an ecumenical grouping of local theologians and ministers of religion.

Our nation is in the last month of the countdown to the August 27 General Elections. So far the accompanying violence, the loose and inflammatory speech from various candidates, the indiscipline motorcade to political rallies have reminded the nation that we still have a far way to go to become a politically mature people.

A tentative reading of the political climate suggests that people are finding the long campaign boring and tiresome and cannot wait for it to come to an end. The issue of political leadership is central to the decision that voters will make. It is therefore very important that we approach this subject with maturity and not opt for the simplistic approach of complaining about the failure of political leadership. It is so easy to complain and blame those in political leadership and power when we do not get what we want. Our task is to go much deeper and to ask how, as Christians on the margins, we can make a positive contribution to the many dimensions and locations of political leadership. As we explore this subject, let us also bear in mind the words of H.V.O Gwin: "Those who set themselves up as moral experts are those of whom we need be most suspect." As members of the Church, we are conscious that this institution is a wounded healer and so, we will approach this subject with a sense of deep humility. However, in spite of its flawed morality, the church must not hold back in lifting up the necessity of sound character and a moral life as essential for transformative political leadership.

SELECTIVE MORALITY

Our contemporary cultural development is experiencing change at such a fast rate that we no longer have consensus on what kinds of behaviour are approved and disapproved. What is certain is that there are conflicting opinions and judgements and inconsistent applications of sanctions. The evolving social landscape of Jamaica increasingly allows each individual to pick and choose his or her idea of wrong and right. Morality has become a commodity that is for sale. It is marketed like a supermarket product and advertised according to the taste of the clientele that is targeted. An increasing number of Jamaicans are embracing the new type of morality where they can advocate for rights but not necessarily the responsibilities that accompany such rights. Money has become the currency for morality and people seem willing to do anything if it is worth the right price. Corruption has therefore become a major national currency. Two powerful infectious forces that breed corruption have been unleashed: selfishness and greed. Bribe taking has become part of the fabric of modern living and society everywhere is reaping the sad consequences. Scarce resources that are intended to make the welfare of the poor better are being siphoned off by corrupt officials in the public and private sector. A bribe to the right person will get you a driver's licence, exam papers, visa, contract and bypass customs with illegal goods. Bribery undermines good governance and damages the emergence and development of an efficient economy. Sadly, many Jamaicans have been socialised to accept corruption as a way of life. We have an embedded rogue socialisation that informs and mal-forms us into a deceptive character that thrives on committing what is morally wrong because deep down, we believe that it is not really bad. What really matters is not getting caught.

The national debate over corruption in national life is very myopic. Based on what is happening in Jamaica today, corruption has a larger constituency that goes beyond the use of money. However, at the core, corruption is most active in the world of commerce. The leaders of commerce seem not to realise that they live in glass houses. Indeed, some of the voices that are most articulate in their outburst against corruption know that they, too, are suspected by the public. The words of a Jamaican saying sum up best what the public thinks about the issue: "Tief no love fi see tief wid long bag!"

With the power of the neo-liberal economic order running things in our nation, our political parties that have not yet agreed to ethical campaign financing rules that are binding and enforceable have opened themselves to the corrupting donations from foreign and local companies with vast wealth that can be used to buy political influence and ultimately to undermine our fragile democratic system.

OVERCOMING CORRUPTION

Our leaders need to understand that democracy is a very fragile system. It takes hard work to construct but careless talk can severely weaken its foundation we have remained steadfast in our allegiance since we became an independent nation, it does not require much negative energy to railroad the democratic process because democracy is a fragile system that must be handled with great care. The price of remaining a free nation is eternal vigilance. Politicians, talk show hosts and ordinary citizens engage in irresponsible behaviour that is undermining the democratic gains.

If we are to curb corruption in Jamaica, tough and enforceable laws are needed as a first step. Ordinary people must begin to see more corrupt officials being held accountable and fully punished by the judiciary. No exception must be accommodated. The rich and politically powerful especially must not be allowed to buy their way out of being accountable!

Second, we need to treat the drive against corruption as a major campaign on the same scale as if we are fighting a deadly, infectious disease. We need an intense campaign over a long period that seeks to educate the general population in recognising and accepting corruption as a destructive force thatis destroying the moral foundations of our nation. King Solomon states "By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down" (Proverbs 29:4, NIV).

ROLE OF THE MEDIA

We are now in the season when serious and independent journalism is taking a back seat and muck raking agenda clothed in the guise of journalism is daily feeding our people. The media constitute a very powerful and necessary instrument in the anti-corruption fight. We must therefore salute those journalists who have sought to maintain their integrity against great odds in the midst of this confusing environment.

Although the key players in this business love to advertise themselves as offering news that is trustworthy and credible, the evidence seems to go contrary to their claim. What is often presented as fact is, upon close examination, politically-motivated propaganda. There is serious manipulation of the truth and many Jamaicans are becoming increasingly sceptical about so-called news being presented as facts that they can trust.

A healthy democracy requires citizens that are critical and suspicious of institutions that claim to be offering them truth. We urgently need journalists who are not allies of the Government or the Opposition because our leaders are too cocky to apologise for their arrogance use of power that harm the interest of the Jamaican people. In order to overcome corruption there must be truth telling and we need the media to remain vigilant in fighting corruption in every sector of society. It is for that reason that the media must invest more into serious investigative journalism.

QUEST FOR POWER

The quest for power is intoxicating and those who are addicted to this drug will sell their soul, through any means possible to achieve or maintain power. Instead of giving indepth attention to correcting and putting in place systems of mutual accountability to control one another, with competent persons to manage, we put one of our own flawed characters who can offer the best promises for change knowing deep down that they will fulfil the Damian Marley Welcome to JamRock claim: To win election dem trick we and then dem do nothing at all! The most urgent political need in our society is that of having leaders we can look up with an ethical calling in public office.

The greatest challenge today in Jamaica political environment is an ethical challenge. The scandals and corruptions are not mere individual problems but systemic. Our political leaders have become 'friends of money'. In this upcoming election we must put the issue of character central to our choice of candidates. The political parties want us to vote for party. We must not succumb to their propaganda. It is a matter of the character of candidates. "You don't get wormy apples off a healthy tree or good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It's who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds." Luke 6: 43-45.

During this election, voters should hold their candidate accountable to ethical standards regardless of how wealthy, educated or popular they are. If we desire a future with hope, then we must raise the bar of our political ethical standards - not lower them! The bottom line must be non-negotiable: all persons to be elected to positions of trust and power must be persons of sound character and good morals because without them, such persons will not be upright and faithful in discharge of their public functions.

Members of the Public Theology Forum are Ernle Gordon, Roderick Hewitt, Stotrell Lowe, Marjorie Lewis, Richmond Nelson, Garnet Roper, Anna Perkins, Ashley Smith, Burchell Taylor, Karl Johnson, Wayneford McFarlane and Byron Chambers, coordinator.

Here then are some minimum ethical standards that we should require from all candidates:

1. Truth telling. Their speech and action should be consistent and eschew all forms of deception.

2. Be not lovers of money nor involved in any corrupt financial dealings.

3. Be not enslaved to the corrupting influencing of bid business that is seeking to buy political influence.

4. Support family values, protectors of children and give zero tolerance to domestic violence.

5. Defend the human rights of all citizens especially the most vulnerable ones in our community.

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