Commentary - Protection from the unscrupulous

Published: Friday | August 14, 2009

Wilberne Persaud, Financial Gleaner Columnist

I wanted to bring this matter to your attention last week, but could not for lack of space. The issue is so important though, I decided I had to consider and share its implications. A reader, apparently in utter frustration sends me an email with a plea for help I cannot provide.

Although Wikipedia, the free web encyclopedia defines an op-ed columnist as "a journalist who writes for publication in a series, creating copy that can sometimes be strongly opinionated", I hold to the purist view that journalism refers to a profession with specific qualifications - including sometimes ambiguous rights, protections, duties and responsibilities that go beyond the generalised notion of protection of free speech.

Whereas an op-ed columnist might simultaneously be a journalist, merely writing an op-ed column does not automatically permit one to claim the professional title 'journalist'. Not being, therefore, an 'investigative journalist', not being for that matter really any kind of journalist, I can't provide the assistance my reader requires.

Here's her question: "My attorney who represented me in the sale of real estate is giving me a 'six for a nine' every time I try to get the money that she has collected on my behalf. I know of someone who had to wait a whole year to get her money from her attorney. A lot of us Jamaicans abroad are suffering at the hands of these unscrupulous attorneys. My question is whether any journalist in Jamaica reports on these issues. If so, how could I find such a journalist? God bless you."

Before I go into this, there's an issue from last week's column that disturbs. A picture and its caption run with the column described Jamaica House as 'seat of government'.

Well, this is indeed Jamaica House, but it is not the seat of our government. It was, of course, as a matter of historical fact, meant to be our prime minister's home. As it turns out by practice, it has become the office of the prime minister.

Our seat of government is Gordon House - mind you that building has so little or rather no character that it could not have been constructed with the idea of being a permanent domicile for our Parliament and tribute to National Hero George William Gordon.

So is this The Gleaner's chosen picture and caption an editorial, or Freudian slip as true reflection of our reality?

Are parliamentary debates merely politically-propelled jets of hot air whereas true governmental decision and policy are determined in the confines of Jamaica House - seat of government?

The official residence

And while we're at it, why does our prime minister not live in his official residence, Vale Royal?

We know that neither the US president nor British prime minister could routinely opt not to live in the White House or 10 Downing Street, choosing instead to remain in his own personal residence.

The change of residence, though not in modern Jamaican practice, comes with the job. An official residence is an important symbol of continuity, permanence, among other things, of our government. It is the peoples' house occupied pro tem by our chief representative.

This practice of ours should be nipped now so that it does not become settled as ancient tradition.

Indeed, given our almost continuous traffic congestion, efficiency and more importantly routine security considerations suggest that our prime minister should live in Jamaica House.

If current conditions do not allow space in the building for a proper, functional and comfortable abode fitting the office and weighty responsibilities of our prime minister - often a lonely, difficult pursuit - there is sufficient land for construction of a residential wing.

This should be based on a design chosen from competition open to all our abundantly creative Jamaican architects. Surely they can design an abode fitting a prime minister's manifold needs in a living space.

Now to our question: should our government protect us from unscrupulous attorneys if indeed they do exist? The unqualified answer is yes. Complaints such as the one my reader details are too frequently heard.

Generating cynicism

If members of the noble profession behave in the way described, denying clients just and timely settlement of their business dealings, this is surely a perfect mechanism for generating cynicism and disrespect for the laws of our land.

While we're at it, we should also be protected from unscrupulous traffic police who stop ordinary citizens merely to say they have not as yet had 'a breakfass', who stop taxi drivers, both legal and robotic, enquiring if 'yuh can bail yuself?'

This is a serious threat as seizure of one's vehicle is costly and tantamount to denial of means of livelihood.

Tackling the crime problem is not merely one of apprehending young 'shottas'! Tackling the crime problem requires a return to civility, trust, decency, empathy, true justice for all.

To the extent that ordinary folk believe there is one rule for the powerful and another for the meek, to that extent combating crime shall be a futile effort.

As my wise old farmer friend told me: "If de top a' de stream dutty, wha yuh believe a happen a de bottom?"

Criminals are like nut grass, he also said, but his analogy to the top of the stream is oh so perfect.

I should like to tell you too that my wise old farmer friend, this philosopher from and in the field, is no fiction - he hails from what my friend, political scientist Louis Lindsay called the 'yam belt'.

I hope he's still alive, still cooking that good stuff in the kerosene pan complete with some 'salt ting'!