Ewart Walters, Guest Columnist
Time come. In our 51st year of Independence, time come.
It was The Gleaner's
legendary editor, Theodore Sealy, who, in a moment of discernment,
prophesied accurately the behaviour of Jamaicans after Independence.
Likening the country to a chicken farm and the people to chickens, he
said that when the fowl coop door was thrown open, the chickens would at
first restrain themselves before eventually all rushing out to see the
great big yard outside.
Right now, there is nobody in the fowl
coop. All the chickens are busy out in the yard and it looks like they
will never go back.
Poppycock? Just take a look at any
intersection in Kingston and you will quickly see that it is every
chicken for himself. In fact, intersections are no place to be
'chicken', as it is only the stout of heart with nerves of steel that
get by in what has really become a dog-eat-dog theatre. Stop signs mean
nothing. The notion of 'right of way' has completely disappeared, and
disorder knows no bounds. It is as if today's drivers have never seen a
Road Code, or if they have, they have long forgotten its contents or its
But the problem at the intersections is really
symptomatic of a far more pervasive issue that is at the root of much
that needs repair in national life. That can be summed up in one word:
Bound in law and order, discipline is not a word you
hear much these days. The father of the nation, Norman Manley, often
spoke about discipline and the benefits of discipline. Alexander
Bustamante was the other of our leaders to speak about the need for
discipline. He cast it in terms of law and order. "Law and order must be
maintained," he would say, often. And, for the most part, it was.
speaking, we were an orderly people. Yes, we bombed the 'Chi-Chi' buses
when they took over the franchise from individual bus operators in the
early 1950s, and our trade unions would clash physically and bloodily
with each other every year until the '70s when Michael Manley changed
the scenario by "putting labour into Labour Day".
And in the
elections of 1976 and 1980, we took to bullets to persuade our
balloting. But we took our driving tests. For the most part, we got our
driving licences legitimately. And we stopped at stop signs and waited
until the road was clear before continuing.
Bustamante would also
speak often about the need for women and girls to be protected. "They
must be able to walk freely on the streets," he would say. Today we look
back at four decades or more of young girls being snatched from the
streets and from their parents' homes by hoodlums who have no fear of
reprisal, and of places of safety that are not safe.
have entered the national picture. It has become commonplace for files
to 'disappear' from government and tribunal offices. And the prevailing
environment suggests that you complain at your peril. Commercial
buildings go up without sight or sanction by the local authorities. Some
go up and up and up - in locations where height should be restricted.
Some go up with sand from a stolen beach, catapulting us into Ripley's
Believe It Or Not for the wrong reasons.
And our response? "A no nutten."
of this pattern of undisciplined behaviour seems to have developed and
taken off in the '80s when we began an almost wholesale sucking up to
imported values and attitudes that couldn't care less about us as a
people or about the history of our endemic struggle to build our
While the jubilant expression "Man free!" adorned
and permeated our newly independent existence in 1962, and while we
still had memories of the community development ideas of Norman Manley,
Thom Girvan, and Eddie Burke, along with the industrial development
ideas of a Robert Lightbourne, we were constrained to abandon those
thoughts in the 1980s in favour of an externally dictated process that
was helpful only to the external dictators.
Our people, for the
first time, were faced with having to rely only on themselves as our new
paradigm was one that, based on the Reagan Republican notion of
'smaller government', saw their government beat a major retreat from
their lives. They could no longer rely on a government that saw its
hands bound by more and more international obligations and World Trade
Organisation rules that, as an example, saw dairy farmers having to dash
'way their natural milk supplies because it was cheaper to buy milk
powder from the US.
And then there were the gas riots of the late
'90s, which reflected a total disregard of the governors for the
governed, for they increased the price of gas by 50 per cent, overnight
as it were, having not thought it necessary to say to the people, "Dawg,
time tough; we have to put up the gas price because so and so." It was
tantamount to saying "Let them eat cake," famous last words before the
In the wake of that age of smaller government,
structural adjustment and privatisation, we abandoned the
long-established Aedes Aegypti mosquito-eradication programme and the
good work of Raymond the Sprayman - and invited cholera, dengue and
malaria to revisit us. Of course, we then had to buy more vaccine and
medications from the external dictators. (But isn't that what the whole
privatisation thing is about?)
In the meantime, our police had to
contend with a three-headed monster. The first was plain political
interference which began raising its head in the very first years of
Independence. The second was political coddling of gunmen. The third was
the inescapable corruption within their own ranks. A 300 per cent
salary increase from the Government of the day helped, but only for a
time, as the political coddling continued and the monster kept growing.
It was the revolt of civil society - assisted by some excellent reporting and trenchant editorialising from The Gleaner -
between 2009 and 2010 that lanced the boil and led to the eventual
break-up of 'the mother of all garrisons', the reputed nest of an
extended crime web that no administration had been willing to destroy.
But in the afterglow of that celebrated event, the country was treated
to a most dismal display of how far the justice system had fallen as we
all watched the commission of enquiry and its unbelievably appalling
Lack of leadership
Up to the end of our 50th year of
Independence, no administration has taken up the cudgel. (Yes, I know
we are all transfixed by the economy and the notion that we have to
secure an IMF deal). But it was Norman Manley who sounded the right note
when he said, "All efforts will be wasted unless the masses of the
people are steadily taken along a path in which they will feel more and
more that this place is their home, that it is their destiny. They will
then do more for it, work more, more effort, more thinking, more
sacrifice, more discipline, and more honesty, than by any other measure
you can bring to this country."
Not a word about the economy. And
the reason for this was that when those other things are in place, when
the people can feel that they are indeed part of the programme ("me inna
de struggle, too"), it will be much easier to grapple with the economy.
that is not what our external dictators have prescribed! And we no
longer see our heroes as our models. No, blinkered we ignore our own
internal solutions and gaze transfixed at imposed external ones.
task in this 51st year must be to rededicate ourselves to the goal of
building the Jamaican nation and building it with Jamaican resources. We
elect people to represent us, to lead us. We have seen in the
Dudus-Manatt affair that we the people sometimes have to 'jook' them
into leadership. Weeks into 2013, we have to jook them again.
There was a time in the life of this country when our people knew
discipline, if nowhere else, certainly within the borders of the parish
of St Catherine, courtesy of the resident magistrate there. His Honour
Mr V.K.G. McCarthy made sure that on pain of stifling fines, everybody
kept within the speed limits in his parish. You just knew that as soon
as you approached Ferry, you took your foot off the gas.
return to discipline, especially in these times when crime is eminently
mobile, can begin on the roads. Senior Superintendent Radcliffe Lewis is
making a start. He needs help. Enforce discipline on the roads and we
will have set a foundation on which we can build a disciplined society.
Ewart Walters, CD, is a journalist and author. His autobiography, 'To
Follow Right - A Journalist's Journey', will be in book stores soon.
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