Delano Franklyn, Guest Columnist
The Gleaner has, over the last few weeks, been publishing a series of editorials in which it consistently refers to our parliamentary representatives as belonging to two gangs, the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). If our parliamentary representatives are members of gangs, it means, by extension, that they are gangsters. The Oxford Reference Dictionary defines a gang as 'a band of persons associating for some (usually criminal) purpose', and defines a 'gangster' as 'a member of a gang of violent criminals'.
Despite the shortcomings of our parliamentarians, it is totally wrong and unjustified for them to be so labelled by the management of The Gleaner. Of course, no one can single out the editorial writer, as he or she, by tradition, remains a ghost writer.
As the editorials have pointed out, Jamaica has experienced anaemic economic growth over the last 40 years. The country is ranked No. 3 in the world as it relates to homicides. The social deterioration of the country manifests itself in the deepening disrespect we have for each other. The level of illiteracy is unacceptably high and the increased poverty among our people is quite troubling. Our parliamentarians and political parties cannot duck these issues, and a frank assessment will undoubtedly point to those who occupy the seats of Parliament over the years as a major contributor to our current dilemma.
I do agree with The Gleaner's editorials that every effort must be made to remove those representatives who are dishonest and corrupt from the process. I also agree that the political parties must, in a very assertive and forceful manner, dissociate themselves from any criminal gang, be they the Shower Posse, the Clansman, or One Order. It is a serious indictment against our political parties when, in statement after statement in the media, these gangs and others are described as being aligned to one party or the other.
I also do agree with The Gleaner's editorials that our political parties need to redefine themselves in order to regain the confidence and trust of a wide cross section of the society. However, I do not believe that the lumping of all political representatives as gangsters, and by attacking and tearing down our Parliament as a home of gangsters, is the way to go. This slash-and-burn approach is tantamount to the Bushian view that peace can only be achieved by the dropping of bombs.
The editorials in question give the impression that our parliamentarians and political parties have not made a positive contribution to Jamaica's development. In this regard, I will refer to the words of the late Professor Carl Stone whose observations, although made 20 years ago, are still relevant:
Between the 1950s and the 1960s, our politicians used the resources of the State to open up opportunities to the poorer classes.
More schools were built in these two decades under the leadership of the elected parties than under the entire period of colonial rule when the planter class resisted paying taxes which could be used by Government to expand social services,
Educational training and opportunities were expanded by the policies of the elected leaders during that early period, and many of us who are saying that the politicians have contributed nothing are, in fact, beneficiaries of politicians' contribution to expanded educational opportunities.
The same thing applies to the expansion and improvement in health services and public health capacity.
Only after elected leaders took over Government administration in the 1950s were any services established to help small farmers in agriculture.
Most of the low-income housing in Jamaica that was not built by homeowners was constructed by party government. Party politics has played a major role over the years in educating our citizen in public affairs ... . The development of a civic sense and of a cosmopolitan national perspective on public events has been a very positive legacy and influence of party politics on our citizens.
(Finally) in spite of the current criticism of politicians, our people still acknowledge and recognise how far party politics has given a voice to the small man and the poorer and weaker classes in the country.
The above quote is lengthy but on point. It demonstrates another side to the work of our elected representatives and the political parties. It gives the balance which the editorials have failed to do. If I may add, it is the two political parties which have given birth to the National Workers' Union and the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, both of which have been in the forefront of representing the rights and welfare of thousands of workers. If it were not for these unions, and especially the Michael Manley-led government of the 1970s, many of our workers would today still be paid below the established minimum wage and our women would not have the benefit of equal pay and maternity leave.
Many of us in this country are members of either of the two main political parties, and in every national election 50-80 per cent of the electorate vote for the two parties. I am a proud member of the PNP, which, since 1938, has been led by honourable persons who have given their life to the development of Jamaica. At no point in time did I join a gang or have I given support to gangsters. I joined the PNP and continue to be a member because its founders, unlike some others at the time, believed in self-government, universal adult suffrage and responsible government.
The party has allowed Jamaicans to be far more conscious of their role in society and it has contributed to Jamaica having one of the most stable democracies in the world. It has also helped to give institutional and legal protection to freedom of expression, thus allowing our people to say almost anything, including calling political parties gangs, without fear of reprisal, unlike what would happen in Singapore, a country whose economic growth many of us like to boast about.
The Gleaner, by describing the two political parties as gangs and, by extension, their members as gangsters, defeats its otherwise understandable criticism of the work of the parties and parliamentarians. By calling the parties gangs, it undermines some of the otherwise excellent recommendations which it has put forward for consideration by the very same parliamentarians it labels as gang members.
IMPLICATIONS OF 'GANG' LABEL
The Gleaner must consider other possible implications of its descriptions of the political parties as gangs and its member as gangsters:
1. By using such a derogatory term to describe well-intentioned persons, it increases the tension and tribalism which already exist in our society.
2. It unnecessarily sets up a confrontation between members and supporters of the parties and the managers of The Gleaner Company. What The Gleaner must encourage is a debate, and it cannot expect that to happen by assassinating the character and integrity of parliamentarians.
3. It does nothing for decent, law-abiding citizens, especially young people, who would wish to join either of the two parties to bring about some of the reforms of which the editorials speak. After all, who would wish to be labelled a gang member?
4. It weakens Jamaica's ability to compete or do business in the international marketplace, as potential investors and state officials ponder why they should do business with gang members.
5. It brings into question the character and integrity of all those persons who are required to work and interact with our parliamentarians, including members of the private and public sectors, the Church, media and civil society, as they work with the 'gangs' to bring about much-needed change.
The Gleaner, along with the other media houses, must, by all means, continue to be the watchdog on behalf of the wider society by ensuring that our parliamentarians operate within the confines of the law and implement measures which will inure to the benefit of Jamaica. It must continue to ensure that our parties and parliamentarians operate in an open, transparent, and accountable manner. In doing so, however, The Gleaner must try not to offend and be contemptuous of generations of decent, hard-working, honest and intelligent persons whose contributions to the development of Jamaica have been through the party of their choice.
Delano Franklyn is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.