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Carlton C. Francis | Time for national dialogue

Published:Wednesday | December 8, 2021 | 12:07 AMCarlton C. Francis/Guest Columnist
We the citizens need to bring pressure to bear on our government to take the action required to bring about a positive change in our education system.
We the citizens need to bring pressure to bear on our government to take the action required to bring about a positive change in our education system.

The November 30 declaration of republic status by Barbados has suddenly reawakened the Jamaican consciousness that we also need to become a republic.

The fact that ‘Little England’ has decided to sever constitutional and other ties with the mother country has drawn reaction from several quarters, including from two former prime ministers in the persons of Mr Bruce Golding and Mr P. J Patterson. Both men have come out in support of Jamaica becoming a republic.

In fact, Mr. Patterson has been reported as saying, “It is repulsive to contemplate a Diamond Jubilee where our Constitution rests on an Order in Council dated 23rd July 1962 … .” The question that needs to be asked is this: given the prevailing conditions in our country, would this be the right time to rush headlong in declaring republican status?

One may ask what are these prevailing conditions. I wish to put forward the following:

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Jamaica is in the midst of a pandemic which has affected and upended all facets of our lives. We have had to made significant adjustments to our normal routine, and the full cost of the impact of this pandemic is still being calculated. Even as the pandemic persists, news continues to emerge of new variants of the virus. To make matters worse, a large segment of our population is vaccine-hesitant, refusing to be vaccinated and thereby protect themselves from serious illness and hospitalisation. All this while our nation has had to destroy well over 100,000 expired vaccines at significant financial and social costs to our country. All the above have only helped to cripple an already- overburdened health sector.

CRIME AND VIOLENCE

The Social and Economic Survey published by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) indicates that between 2005 and 2018, 19,249 of our citizens were murdered in our beloved country. Figures published by the Jamaica Constabulary Force indicate that for the period January to November 2021, another 1,350 persons have been murdered. Let us remember that Jamaica is not at war with any external force. Even countries at war have much less fatalities than Jamaica.

To put these figures in context, it is as if you fill the bleachers at the National Stadium and gunmen open fire, killing everyone. Our country cannot continue to shed innocent blood at this alarming rate and believe we will be considered ‘the place to raise families and do business’. This is abnormal in the extreme. We cannot continue in this manner, and so our country needs to begin a national dialogue as to how we are going to stop this distressing feature of national life.

Let us pause for a moment and think of all the families of murder victims. Consider the trauma that has been unleashed on them. Many of these families are still hurting, as they have not had closure, given the country’s low conviction rate in murder cases. Think of all the skilled personnel who have migrated from our beloved country because of the fear of being murdered.

Declaring ourselves a republic now would see us having the dubious distinction of being the newest republic with the highest murder rate in the world. Not much would have changed. We have kicked this can far enough down the road; it is time to take stock and address it. Time come.

LAW AND ORDER

There is no shortage of law in this country. What we lack, in the main, is the will to apply law and enforce order. The level of indiscipline by drivers is a classic example. Drivers run the red light, cut off other motorists and stop and turn without proper signal.

When our police officers try to bring order to the chaos on our roads and public spaces, we the citizens curse, criticise, fight and abuse them. If you doubt me, check the videos online. We cannot continue like this and hope to have a country with a growing economy, and one that is appealing to investors.

We the citizens need to start a national dialogue to change and improve our social order. As individuals and communities, we have to recognise that a change in attitude and behaviour is required to make a positive change in this blessed country. As crime and violence runs rampant in our country, we all have to come to terms with the fact that each citizen has a role to play in making the place better. The Government and police alone cannot fight crime. One hand cannot clap. Time come.

EDUCATION SYSTEM

Our education system has had periods of sparkle and brilliance over the years, but overall, its performance has been average. Let us look at the figures. Each year at least 40,000 students are placed in high schools. Five years later, only about half of those are deemed eligible to sit CXC-administered exams. When results are published, less than 6,000 pass both math and English. This has a significant financial cost attached to it. We are definitely not getting value for money.

A critical analysis of this situation will reveal that the level below primary school needs urgent attention. Over the years, policymakers have tinkered with the middle and top of the education system. The foundation, early-childhood education institutions, is where emphasis needs to be placed. Unless and until the Government assumes responsibility for all the early-childhood institutions, and set basic standards, we will continue to repeat the results outlined above.

If the foundation is not properly laid, the superstructure will continue to wobble. You cannot build a structure on a foundation that is not well secured. We have been doing this with education for decades and the results speak for themselves.

We the citizens need to bring pressure to bear on our government to take the action required to bring about a positive change in our education system. Time come.

JUSTICE SYSTEM

Our citizens have consistently complained that they have not been dealt fairly by the justice system. Persons have been detained for long periods of time without trial. In addition, there is a backlog of cases in our court system, numbering in the thousands, going back decades.

Many years ago I was called for jury duty, and while waiting to be empanelled, I listened as a man charged with accessory to murder explain to the judge that he has been held for five years without trial up to that point.

While there have been some positive changes in recent times, much more work needs to be done. The average citizen still does not believe that he/she will get a fair deal. We still have a significant backlog of cases; persons are held in deplorable conditions; there is a shortage of court reporters; and judgments are still taking a long time to be delivered.

Recently, we have seen instances where some of those charged with serious offences are given bail, and they use the opportunity to commit other crimes. They treat the law with impunity. We also need to take another look at sentencing guidelines.

Our nation needs to recognise that the ‘Eternal Father’ to whom our National Anthem pleads for blessing is a God of Justice. His Word tells us that He requires us to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly before our God”. We Jamaicans need to begin this national dialogue to bring about changes in our justice system to enable our citizens to benefit from, and not be unjustifiably penalised by, the system. Time come.

VISION 2030 GOALS

We are nine years away from 2030, and we need to ask ourselves whether the goals under this laudable programme are still attainable in the set time frame. In my view, even if we did not have the pandemic, I think not.

CORRUPTION

Our citizens still complain about corruption at all levels of the society. The instances are there in plain sight. It is a real issue and one that our nation needs to address. The corruption is not carried on by foreigners against other foreigners. It is all done by Jamaicans at all levels of society. We need to ask ourselves: is this the legacy we would like to leave for future generations? Time come. We need to act.

Given the foregoing, I don’t think it would be best for our nation to declare Jamaica a republic at this time. Jamaica is not ‘No problem’; this nation has serious problems which we need to start addressing in meaningful ways, if we are to make progress and leave a legacy for generations yet unborn. We need to begin the national dialogue with a view to finding solutions to these glaring and long-standing problems?

With God’s help and our innate ingenuity and resilience, we shall overcome. But we need to start.

Let the dialogue begin. Time come.

Carlton C. Francis, until recently, was the executive director of the Barita Education Foundation. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.