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College for politicians not a bad idea

Published:Friday | December 4, 2015 | 12:00 AMHorace Levy, Contributor
Horace Levy

In his article of November 30, Andre Poyser makes a proposal that deserves serious consideration: Establish a National College of Political Leadership to give political mentorship and training to aspiring politicians. A programme along that line already exists in Africa, Poyser, points out.

The Ministry of Education now has a similar entity for serving, as well as aspiring, school principals and other senior personnel. It is a fact also that some professions these days make a periodic certification, with accompanying updating of knowledge and skills, obligatory on their members. Should any less be asked of politicians?

There is no reason such a college, established by one of our universities, could not also offer courses for serving politicians, not just young aspirants. As a major source of input into the college, the university's Department of Government would stand to benefit, for this role would link it with field practice, which would confront it as a result with the experiential problems of real-life politics.

This is not to argue that politics should be treated as a lifetime profession. It is a debatable issue whether having political posts occupied by the same persons for longer than 10 or 15 years is desirable. Unlike professions such as medicine, engineering, computer technology, law or farming, which have more or less well-defined work areas, politics is about the broader task of managing a parish or a country, with all their multiple, divergent issues and problems.

In addition, the politician has to manage by collaborating with his electors, being a channel for their voices and views. The challenge for a good politician is to acquire a mindset capable of escaping the twin dangers of authoritarianism and arrogance. Populations, often the victims of such failings, calling for more voice in governance would, from experience and, logically, be more inclined to see a rotation of the occupants of political posts.

The reason for the acute relevance of Poyser's proposal lies, of course, in the clarity now coming to more and more people that the fundamental problem facing this country is neither crime nor unemployment, but the power pursuit of the two main political parties. This pursuit has eclipsed from the very beginning their principal function, which is to deepen and exercise democracy. Electioneering, previously through violence, now pushed by money and personality, still displaces reasoning around policy.

Yes, positive achievements can be listed, some highlighted by civil society and the business sector in their recent press conference - collaboration of government with them in the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, Economic Programme Oversight Committee, Energy Sector Enterprise Team. To these I would add the Constitutional Commissions (1992-3) that led to the Charter of Rights, and such vital institutions as the Office of the Contractor General and Office of Utilities Regulation and the Peace Management Initiative, among others. And these examples all point in the direction of governance, that is, the participation of civil society and business sector with government in running the country.

Some fundamental initiatives remain, however, undone, namely reform of the Constitution and of local government. Reform of the Constitution was first raised in 1974, and, except for the rights charter, has not been tackled. It would address such basic issues as the respective powers of Parliament and Cabinet, republican status, entrenchment of local government, fixed election date, Caribbean Court of Appeal. Bills on local government have just been passed but depth and implementation are still to be seen.

Above all, there is the unacceptable power-over-policy, party-over-nation tradition of the two main political parties. How can they be persuaded to totally abandon this behaviour? An institution of the kind suggested by Poyser, while not solving the problem, would complement the pressures exerted by civil society and business. Such pressure, relentlessly applied, appears to be the only medicine capable of the cleansing that is needed.

- Horace Levy is a human-rights campaigner. Email feedback to and