Democracy and the Emperor's new clothes

Published: Sunday | October 30, 2011 Comments 0

Damion Blake, GUEST COLUMNIST

Jamaica now has a new prime minister, the youngest since its Independence in 1962. We should commend the work of both our political parties for upholding one of the key pillars of democracy: the smooth and peaceful transfer of power.

In 1992 and 2006, the People's National Party (PNP) had its internal transfer of leadership; now in 2011, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has similarly fostered the process of peaceful transfer of political leadership.

As I sat and listened to Prime Minister Andrew Holness' swearing-in ceremony, I thought of the story about the emperor and his new clothes. In that story, we are told of a little boy who saw the emperor for what he truly was: "The emperor is naked!" the little boy shouted to the crowd of adults who deluded themselves into believing that he was dressed in a special type of precious linen. The emperor, in fact, was naked!

Our political leaders on both sides have led the way in nurturing a violent and divisive garrison style of politics and governance. It is deeply ingrained in the body politic of our independent democracy.

Many of our politicians have deluded themselves, and many Jamaicans with them, for years into thinking that the garrison and tribal element of our political culture is acceptable. As we say in the local vernacular, "A suh di ting set." Well, 'di ting' has to be 'set' differently, and right now!

We need to continue to expose the 'nakedness' of this divisive and destructive character of our democracy. Civil-society groups have been leading the charge of demanding that our political leaders be more accountable, responsible, people-centred in their politics and to shatter the structural and psychological chains of the garrison political culture we have all helped to produce for decades.

Let us be like that child and expose the naked truth about our politics and national leaders. We now demand that they be better guards of the state. As the prime minister said in his speech, we need "better politics, better policy and better people".

Democratic auditing:

As a child growing up, my father always encouraged his four sons to "speak the truth and speak it ever, cost it what it will, he who hides the wrong he does, does the wrong thing still."

I believe that in the same way that we audit companies and firms, we can and should audit our democratically elected representatives. By auditing democracy, we can keep our leaders responsible and truthful. Under the Westminster parliamentary model of democracy, politics at the local constituency level is paramount. I am recommending that whichever party forms the Government of Jamaica after the next general election, which is due constitutionally by December 2012, should move to implement democratic auditing machinery at the constituency level.

In Australia and parts of the United Kingdom this is already in practice. From a democratic audit, we could assess the performance of our members of parliament and local government councillors on a yearly basis. These audits can take the form of community questionnaires about the MP and councillor for any electoral division across the country. Along with this can be financial audits of the expenditure of the Constituency Development Fund within a specified community.

publish for all to see

The results of these audits should be made available and published in our electronic and print media twice a year. This, I think, will help us to keep our leaders accountable, force them to perform and expose impropriety wherever it lingers. A similar performance audit can be done of the police in our neighbourhoods, evaluating how they conduct themselves in maintaining law, order and the preservation of justice.

Let us all, as Jamaicans, begin to invest in our democracy and hold our leaders to account. No longer can we sit by and be like the 'emperor' and those hypocrites around him who believe their own lies and incompetence. The new prime minister has invited us, like many before him, to join hands in co-governing this land called Jamaica.

Let us stay the course and keep them accountable. If we are serious about removing the 'garrison' label from many inner-city communities, as the leader of the Opposition, Portia Simpson Miller, suggests we do, purging our political culture of its tribal and 'enforcer' nature is the first step.

Let us go back to the local community base and start the process of renewal. The renewal of our democracy is possible if we are like the little boy who shouted, "The emperor is naked!"

Damion Blake is an instructor/PhD student at Virginia Tech State University. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.





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