EDITORIAL - Civil society and the gangs of Gordon House

Published: Sunday | May 15, 2011 Comments 0

A year ago, when the Golding administration was still busy with the yarn for resisting the extradition of Christopher Coke, it was the muscle of civil society that galvanised it into action.

Later, when there was the sense the Government was being parsimonious with the facts that informed its decisions, civil society again demanded the truth.

Organisations such as the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, human-rights groups and churches demanded a commission of enquiry into the affair. The private sector and trade unions withdrew from talks with the Government on a social partnership to press the point. They prevailed.

One clear lesson from the Coke scandal is the effective countervailing force that an active and conscious civil society can be against a recalcitrant government, especially in an environment where there is still adherence, broadly, to the norms of democracy.

Indeed, it may be new mustering of these civil-society forces - the press, Church, private sector, trade unions, human-rights organisations, and trade associations - that is required to insist upon the reform of the gangs of Gordon House, the political parties that have traded state power in Jamaica for more than a half a century.

There are, of course, some people who are uneasy with this newspaper's characterisation of Jamaica's leading political parties, these supposedly venerable institutions that began life with such promise, as gangs. We challenge their assumptions about a democracy, now calcined and brittle, but to which they hold dearly. It is a bit like the former well-to-do person living in diminished circumstances, but finding it difficult to admit to their now shabby environment.

Colour-coded crowds

But there is no escaping the characteristics of these organisations: closed institutions that operate primarily in the interest of their adherents - usually colour-coded crowds that mark turf from which the other side is excluded. Jamaicans call these zones garrison communities, presided over by dons, whose legitimacy is enhanced by their 'security' compacts, undeclared or otherwise, with the parties.

The majority of Jamaicans are repelled and disillusioned by the behaviour of the gangs of Gordon House. It is reflected by half of the potential voters who opt out of the political process and the local trust levels in most institutions of the State, except the army, and significantly, the media.

Or, put baldly, the gangs of Gordon House have gravely diminished legitimacy, except among their hard-core crowd. Unfortunately, the parties and their leadership have not admitted to being on skid row. This failure poses grave dangers.

Indeed, in the context of a liberal democracy, they can still leverage the brand among their minority of adherents and trade control of the State. The prospect: another long period of wasted national resources and Jamaica's continued underdevelopment.

It is against this backdrop that civil society, perhaps, should step in and insist that the gangs of Gordon House accept what they have become and set a clear route to recovery, which we have previously set out. Among the leverage that civil society can exert is the withholding of financial support, continued public declarations about their behaviour, and a lack of cooperation with the parties until they return to civilised conduct.

The society will tolerate necessary delirium tremens while they shed the characteristics of gangs.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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