Below are excerpts of an address from former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson during last Tuesday's special parliamentary sitting in his honour.
I must confess to my reflection in private moments on what seems to be a frequently expressed view: that those of us who serve in the political arena do so by choice, and that since public service was not forced on us, there is, therefore, no need on the part of those we seek to represent to ever say, "Thank you".
It seems as if it's always open hunting season on politicians, and we must happily expect abuse for the things we have failed to complete, while also accepting that whatever our successes may be - great or small - neither recognition nor praise is due.
I feel impelled to admit publicly that we who sit in Parliament have contributed to this sad state of affairs by our utterings, both here and on political platforms.
Personal friendships do exist between us - regardless of party - but how often do we express in our debates or in the public media something good or make a positive comment about an idea or initiative of a member of the opposite party? 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 its own sake and for self-aggrandisement.
I do not allude to this from any feeling of bitterness or a desire to exempt our conduct and performance from exacting scrutiny or criticism. I readily and wholeheartedly accept and, indeed on my watch, insisted on the necessity for accountability by politicians and public servants alike. It is an essential component of good governance.
For me, the greatest honour and privilege is that of serving my country and people. If this negative image and characterisation of what I have offered to the people of Jamaica, the regional and international community is the price I have to pay, so be it.
TURNING AWAY TALENT
I underline this problem purely to warn of the dangers ahead: if we fail to foster a political environment which encourages, rather than discourages, our brightest minds and proficient citizens to participate in the political process, we place our precious democracy at risk. Let us ensure the perpetuation of our democracy by also strengthening its roots and extending the branches of civic participation.
Our commemoration, this year, of our nation's 50th year of Independence, presents us with a timely interval during which we take stock of what we have already achieved while we set bold, new targets for the next 50 years.
We should be displaying the highest standards of demeanour, discourse and dedication in our work as legislators that would encourage aspiring, committed young people to want to follow in our footsteps for the national cause.
In taking stock after 50 years of Independence, let us recount with pride that we boast one of the most stable parliamentary democracies in the world. Since the start of 1962, and even despite the most bitter 1980 election campaign, there have been 12 national elections which resulted in six distinct changes of political administration. The transitions have all been orderly and devoid of military intervention. For this, no one should deny the credit due to our two major political parties, and those who have been defeated at the polls for so readily accepting the verdict of the electorate.
Although, from time to time, groups or individuals wrongfully attempt to take the law into their own hands, there has been no attempt to usurp the independence of the judiciary. The rule of law has prevailed even when our courts have made adverse findings against both administrations while holding office.
It must be admitted that, since the first decade of our Independence, 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.
Whatever the problems may have been, we are obliged to admit that economic performance has neither matched the expectations nor satisfied the needs of all our people.
We must resolve to do much better.
As we celebrate the extent of our nation's progress, the economic out-turn weighs heavily against us, but it is not the only factor to be taken into the overall calculations.
Our social reforms and strides in improving the quality of life must form part of the total equation in any proper assessment.
At every level, from basic school to university, there has been a vast increase of access to educational opportunity.
The transformation of our educational system, approved by a previous Parliament, sets out the emphasis we must place on early-childhood education and the strategic interventions which are necessary at every tier, to improve teacher training and a greater application of technology.
Infant mortality has plummeted, while life expectancy now matches that in the developed world.
But there can be no room for division in the efforts "to strengthen the health promotion and primary health-care approaches as the most effective way of safeguarding the health of our people." (Vision 2030)
The ownership of houses and land has spread, while more of our people now enjoy running water and electricity.
What remains incontrovertible is that there are distinguishable periods when Parliament has enacted laws which shattered the colonial mould and removed forever the plantation caste. Bucky Master's days are finally over.
By legislation, we have established the entitlement to the dignity of the human persona:
Abolition of the master-and-servant relationship.
The equal status of children.
The provision of equal pay for equal work.
Maternity leave pay.
Termination and redundancy payments.
Property rights for common-law spouses.
Equal rights for access to citizenship, irrespective of gender.
The repeal of the Vagrancy Act.
Let us also acknowledge the tremendous advance which our country has made in the development of its infrastructure.
Our two international airports are of the highest calibre.
Our port in Kingston has earned such an enviable reputation that it is well poised for substantial expansion.
Our telecommunications network is among the most efficient and competitive in the arena of global technology.
The modern highways we have already constructed spawn an islandwide highway network which must be expanded for Jamaica's future.
Our hotel plant is first-class, offering high-quality accommodation and proficient service.
In the fields of sport and culture, the Jamaican brand is world renowned - the musician of the millennium, Bob Marley, and the fastest man on planet Earth, Usain Bolt.
Let us not perpetuate the claim that nothing good has happened in Jamaica during the period since Independence.
In the international arena, we have punched well above our weight:
The fight against apartheid.
The support for decolonisation and liberation movements.
As a nation which has come of age, we must abandon the adversarial political approach of the past and replace it with a new system of competitive politics - one in which the contention for office is designed to promote the most exacting consideration of policies and prompt acceptance of the best ideas, regardless of the political side or civic quarter from which they originate.
A sober reflection will reveal that we have been most successful whenever consensus and collaboration exist. The creation of the Electoral Commission is a telling example. This Third-World country could teach at least one First-World country how to establish and operate a smooth, fair and early responsive electoral system.
Even as we focus on how to repair a stagnant economy and highlight the early completion of an International Monetary Fund agreement, we need to recognise that there are deep societal problems which also require your urgent national attention as parliamentarians.
Candour compels us to reveal the disturbing signs which point to a deep erosion of values and attitudes at every level of our society. The decline acts across income groups and levels of educational attainment; it is spread across classes and communities of every description; it is evident in elements of our politics, religion and culture.
We witness the horrible rash of mob assaults and vigilante executions; the callous treatment and heinous crimes against our innocent young children; the violence which rages on our roadways, and in the simplest of disputes; contempt towards our women and growing disrespect for each other; the frightening escalation of external penetration in our culture which dictates what we glorify and how we portray ourselves.
To continue in this direction will be a mockery of our pursuit to make "Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business". We will never realise Vision 2030 without the underpinning of honourable conduct by every citizen, every social, political religious group, by the private sector, the media and our artistes. Everyone has to come on board.
With the conviction of age and the unwavering belief in the creative potential of the Jamaican people, I urge you as parliamentarians to exercise your legislative powers to drive, superintend and ensure the timely execution of Vision 2030, as to the method and pathway to achieve the status of a developed country within two decades from now.
It represents a milestone reached by Jamaica, as well as a sound foundation for national unity in building our common future.
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