EDITORIAL - Economic independence: mission unaccomplished
Mr P.J. Patterson, Jamaica's longest-serving prime minister, used Tuesday's parliamentary forum, designed to shower him with encomiums, for a more thoughtful reflection on the country's past, its present predicament, and an uncertain future.
As Mr Patterson correctly pointed out, Jamaica has, in its 50 years of Independence, maintained a stable parliamentary democracy which has facilitated a peaceful exchange of power by the ballot. Though our politics has been tarnished by violence in campaigns leading up to elections, we have never suffered the ignominy of a coup. This is no small achievement.
Jamaica has developed a highly regarded Electoral Commission, which has transformed a voting culture that was marred by ballot-stuffing cheats and politically aligned militias that ensured victory through intimidation. This "seismic shift", as Mr Patterson calls it, has led to the island's electoral framework being studied and replicated by other nations.
The country has also "punched above its weight" by asserting principled opposition to morally repugnant policies such as South Africa's former apartheid regime.
Notwithstanding these positive notes, the ex-prime minister was brutally frank about the self-destructive nature of Jamaican politics. His rebuke indicted Parliament for a culture of divisiveness that promoted partisan advantage over the good of the country. The result: talented patriots have been driven away from representational politics.
New blood, new ideas and a new culture are critical to a legislative reawakening. Parliamentarians must abandon character assassination and self-indulgent partisanship, behaviour which has muddied governance. Many competent Jamaicans refuse to suffer the taint of political affiliation.
Said Mr Patterson on Tuesday: "Sadly, we have helped to set the tone and create, or at least reinforce, the negative image of politics and politicians. The inevitable result? There is a widely held public perception that politics is dirty; [that] all politicians are corrupt, seeking to acquire power only for his own sake and for self-aggrandisement."
This is a damning diagnosis, indeed, of the party-first politics practised by the Gangs of Gordon House that this newspaper has lamented, and which, we believe, has sapped the optimism which sprang from the Independence project.
Rising disenchantment was evident in the voter turnout of December 2011, where nearly half the electorate didn't even bother to cast ballots. Counting the many thousands of Jamaicans who, though eligible, have spurned the opportunity to even be registered to vote and the apathy is more palpable.
P.J. not blameless
Mr Patterson, though, cannot escape his own rebuke, as his own premiership covered nearly a third of the Independence years. Though he has been credited with a de-escalation of political tensions which had plummeted to ugly depths in the 1970s and '80s, the Patterson years, and administrations since then, have not restored dignity to, and faith in, Gordon House. Instead, Parliament has wasted too much time in trifle bickering, muckraking, and hollow grandstanding.
And while the Gangs of Gordon House have gambolled in mud and engorged themselves and their supporters on the trough of the Treasury, the 1962 dream has morphed into a nightmare.
Added Mr Patterson: "There has been a marked deceleration in the pace of economic growth. Our average per capita income has fallen; job creation has not matched even a slowdown in the rate of population increase; the national debt has soared. We are yet to attain the economic independence of which Norman Manley spoke."
Parliament should reflect on Mr Patterson's speech and repent.
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