Peter Espeut | New guard, old guard
Those of us with sensitive consciences cannot bring ourselves to support either of the two major political parties on offer. Support for both has been in steady decline over the last few decades. Neither has made any serious effort to disassociate itself from the squads of armed political thugs and hangers-on who have been the bedrock of the garrison communities which have defined Jamaica’s political landscape since Independence.
Politics, as we do it in Jamaica, seems to attract unsavoury characters not averse to using their political positions to enrich themselves and their friends with jobs, contracts, waivers, land, and outright monetary gifts, and when political corruption comes to light, neither political party has moved with alacrity and transparency to bring persons to book.
Resignation is not accountability, especially when you are allowed to walk away with your ill-gotten gains and a handsome separation package. Neither of our political parties seems to have the stomach to follow up a forced resignation with the sort of evidence gathering that would lead to conviction in a court of law and jail time. Usually, the beneficiary of corruption is an insider who knows a lot about the corruption of others and can take a number of people down with him if he is brought to book. The standard approach is to accept the resignation, give a hefty payout of taxpayers’ money to buy silence, and move on.
Andrew Holness is the first Jamaican prime minister born after Independence, and therefore, he represents a new generation in politics. Many people believe that when the old guard is replaced with a new set of faces, that somehow means there will be a break with the old ways; this is what may be behind the calls for a new, younger leader within the People’s National Party (PNP).
Clearly, new people means there will be some ‘newness’. Andrew Holness of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has brought some newness in environmental matters with the nixing of the destruction of the ecosystems associated with the Goat Islands, with the nixing of plans for coal-fired power plants, and with the banning of single-use plastic bags.
But on the other side has been the strategy to narrowly define the Cockpit Country, which will cause much damage to sensitive ecosystems and people’s livelihoods; the conversion of some of the nation’s best agricultural lands at Innswood and Bernard Lodge into concrete housing; and the conversion of the capital’s last large green space into a complex of government buildings, including a new parliament building.
Along with some newness has been a lot of ‘same old, same old’.
I can see no difference between the corruption scandals of the old JLP governments (missing schools, missing zinc) and the old PNP governments (Trafigura, Rollins land deal) and the corruption scandals of the new-generation JLP (Rooms on the Beach scandal, Petrojam scandal), not to mention the scandals associated with the Caribbean Maritime University.
I challenged Easton Douglas in this column when he misled Cabinet about the construction of upscale housing on Hope Gardens lands; at least the Patterson PNP government forced him to resign.
Fritz Pinnock misled Parliament about the cocktail party he hosted for disgraced former Education Minister Ruel Reid (calling it an “industry function”), yet he is still in place. That is only the tip of the iceberg, but it seems that the Andrew Holness Government has a high threshold for what is considered unacceptable corrupt behaviour.
Many people – myself included – thought that Andrew Holness would bring a new spirit of cleanliness to the political enterprise and a new political ethos which would set us on a new trajectory. But the sociologist in me knows that institutions like political parties reproduce themselves by passing on their (corrupt) norms and values from one political generation to the next. The new guard will always resemble the old guard.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and is dean of studies at St Michael’s Theological College. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.