Cedric Stephens | Supreme Court judges bemoan trust deficit in society
The Jamaica Information Service issued a statement from the Minister of Finance & the Public Service on June 3. It was about court proceedings brought against the Ministry of Finance and Public Service, Ministry of National Security, commissioner of police, and the attorney general. The Jamaica Police Federation initiated the lawsuit against those organs of the state.
Lack of trust was at the heart of the 11-page Supreme Court judgment delivered by three judges. Paragraph one read: “In this claim, the Jamaica Police Federation and an individual member have had to sue the state and its agents because of ‘frustration,’ to adopt counsel’s words, caused by the state’s failure to keep promises made. Also, unchallenged evidence reveals that the existing manual system for recording overtime in the police force is unreliable due to ‘integrity’ issues. These facts speak to, and may in part explain, existing deficits of trust within our society. It is something this Court has commented on in another context, see Robinson v Attorney General of Jamaica  JMFC Full 4 (unreported judgment delivered 12th April 2019) at paragraph 373.”
When I sat down to write last week’s article, ‘The Inherent Risk Posed by Mistrust’, I knew nothing about this case. The judges’ statement about the importance of trust in society captured the essence of Inter-American Development Bank President Mauricio Claver-Carone’s definition of trust that I quoted: “The belief that others will not act opportunistically. It is faith in others – in their honesty, dependability, and goodwill. Trustworthy people (and institutions) make promises they can keep and keep them; they respect social norms.”
The finance minister’s response was quick. His message was carefully crafted to convey to members of the police union and the wider public that the government was quietly admitting that its inaction contributed to the impasse. This is what led, inevitably, to the trust deficit and court action about subjects that were agreed upon in September 2008. The response also implied that the erosion of trust between the parties was harmful to the continuing relations between the government, the federation, and its members and society.
The statement that the government was finally taking action to honour its written undertaking to the police was also intended to put its words into action, 14 years later. I have a few questions:
• Wasn’t the government aware of the consequences of its inaction before the matter went before the Supreme Court?
• What measures have the four agencies named in the lawsuit – especially the Ministry of National Security and the commissioner of police – taken to rebuild the trust of the federation and its members?
• What lessons has the government learned from this experience?
• Does it plan, and work in conjunction with other stakeholders to develop and implement strategies to reduce the level of mistrust in the society or, will it remain business as usual?
The comments of the co-editors of IDB’s publication on trust bear repeating: “The economic and political consequences of mistrust ripple through society. It suppresses growth and innovation; investment, entrepreneurship, and employment; all flourish when firms and government, workers and employers, banks, and borrowers, and consumers and producers trust one another. Trust inside private and public sector organisations is essential for collaboration and innovation.”