Editorial | Undignified, Mr Moore
Bertel Moore, the chairman of the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation (WMC) and mayor of Savanna-la-mar, either possesses an outsized ego or a great sense of entitlement – or both – to have presided over the naming of the authority’s headquarters in honour of himself, and to have harrumphed at the fact that people find his action shameless. But we should not be surprised. Mr Moore is, after all, a politician, a species that often has strange ideas about decorum and decency.
But while the current issue is specific to Mr Moore and his People’s National Party (PNP) majority in the WMC, the issues involved, and the principles to be addressed, are not unique to them. The controversy further highlights the need for a convention for the naming of public buildings and other facilities that are paid for by taxpayers. This tendency for names of politicians, current and past, being slapped across public institutions, needs reasoned review.
The quarrel over Mr Moore’s name being atop the WMC’s headquarters (HQ) is of public notice because officials of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) – who are in the minority in Westmoreland local government – boycotted the building’s formal opening last week. It was built out of the public’s purse, with some of the money coming from the Westmoreland Municipal Corporation and the rest from central government.
In a different circumstance, we might have endorsed this building, or some other suitable landmark in Westmoreland being named for Mr Moore. He has been a local government councillor for nearly three decades and the municipal council’s chairman for several years. Mr Moore’s PNP colleagues say he was instrumental in having the new HQ built. A year ago they moved and passed a motion, to the disaffection of their JLP colleagues, to have it named after Mr Moore. When the central government, via the local government ministry, was informed of the plan it objected.
ABSENCE OF CONSENSUS
The absence of consensus over his honour, and that the idea was endorsed only on his side, appeared not to have phased Mr Moore. No one was going to deprive him of what was rightfully his. He told this newspaper last week: “... The local government ministry does not have the right, nor do they have the power to decide how or what the municipal building is to be named. This building is for the people. We are selected by the people, and the people have spoken.”
So, Mayor Moore, believing himself to be duly acclaimed, was peeved that JLP councillors and members of parliament (MP) – but for the ostensibly independent and the to-be-avoided George Wright – spurned his function.
Bertel Moore may be right on three points. He is, however, dead wrong on the fourth and most important one.
He is probably on good legal ground on the Government’s lack of authority to dictate the municipal corporation what to name buildings. It is a fact that municipal councillors are elected. What Mr Moore is wrong about is that the majoritarian decision to slap his name on a council’s headquarters represents the voice of the people.
It was no more so than when the JLP, which governs at the national level, in May 2020 decided, over the objection of Mr Moore's party, to name the new Ferris Cross to Mackfield road, in Mr Moore’s parish, in honour of the long-dead Sir Clifford Campbell, the island’s first Jamaica-born, and black, governor general. The PNP wanted the honour to go to the late Roger Clarke, an affable Westmoreland MP and agriculture minister, who, before his death, lobbied for the road. Prior to this, the JLP administration had controversially named the new highway linking Jamaica’s commercial north and tourism south, for one of the party’s former leaders and prime minister, Edward Seaga. The PNP argued in favour of its last prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, who, it said, was instrumental in having the highway built.
The Gleaner, as we have made plain before, has no a priori position against public buildings or infrastructure being named in honour of politicians. We, however, believe that such decisions should transcend partisan bickering and be done in a way to protect the dignity of, and respect for, the institutions or legacies being honoured. People being so honoured, if they are alive, also owe it to themselves to preserve their dignity rather than, like Mr Moore, snarl and scratch, figuratively that is, for the offered tribute or esteem. It rings hollow, otherwise.
That is why we again call for a settled, non-party process, with clear and transparent policies, for the naming of national buildings, monuments and treasures. Before people’s names are slapped on marquees, the public should probably be invited to make recommendations. When names are chosen, the announcement should be accompanied by a fulsome disclosure of the reasons for the decisions.