Thu | Jun 1, 2023

Peter Espeut | ‘Dem ketch dem ‘fraid’

Published:Friday | March 3, 2023 | 12:18 AM
In this November 2016 photo Jamaica Labour Party supporters are seen at Molynes Road on voting day for local government elections.
In this November 2016 photo Jamaica Labour Party supporters are seen at Molynes Road on voting day for local government elections.

Let’s be straight up: always willing to exploit a political advantage, if they thought they would win, they would have called it! Money or no money! Pandemic or no pandemic! Portmore parish or not!

My colleague Lloyd B. Smith is absolutely correct; the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is “Running Scared”, “Dem ketch dem ‘fraid!”

In my recent column, “Contingent Democracy”, published exactly one month ago (February 3) I stated “it would be political suicide for a prime minister to call any election, local government or general, in the current Jamaican political and economic environment”. My reason for saying that was “the reputation of the government has been sullied by its handling, or mishandling, of information in its possession about challenges facing a private firm with whom billions of private investment dollars has been lodged by unsuspecting Jamaicans”.

Based on that, I played the prophet: “This is no time to approach party donors, some of whom may be victims of financial fraud, others skittish and uncertainty, or the funds needed to lubricate the country’s electioneering machinery, and so it is not difficult to predict that local government elections due this month will be deferred again”.


Since then there have been at least three other political turn-offs. The New Road Traffic Act passed in the House and the Senate five years ago came into effect last month to widespread criticisms concerning a number of the provisions. It was clearly not well thought out by legislators who have more important things on their minds than legislating. The prime minister publicly promised that both the act and regulations would be amended that very week! I have heard nothing since, and the JLP-friendly media have “forgotten”.

Another broken promise! And there is a sour taste in the mouth!

Definitely no time to call an election!

Then there was the kerfuffle over whether clear conflicts of interest amount to criminal offences. “Everybody does it” was the main defence. “You would have to charge all 63 members of parliament.” Well, if conflict of interest is corruption, then make it a criminal offence and arrest them all!

But no. Conflict of interest is SOP “standard operating procedure” in Jamaican politics, as is breach of procurement guidelines and nepotism/cronyism. Government contracts are now national secrets, along with political campaign donations. It is clear that neither the government nor the Opposition is serious about fighting corruption.

People are turned off, and voter turnout would be demoralisingly low!

Definitely no time to call an election!

The irony of Jamaica sending security forces to Haiti to help them escape the thrall of criminal gangs has not been lost on the astute Jamaican public. We can’t even deal with our own criminal gangs (many with political connections) who help us to be world-beaters in murder per capita. What help can we give to Haiti, where we don’t even understand the language?

And if we can solve the gang problem in Haiti, why can’t we solve it here? In whose interest do the gangs operate?

We don’t have the money to run a parish council election (says the government), but we have money to send troops to Haiti?

Whose business interests would we be serving?

The very event of announcing the postponement of local government elections brought discredit to the party in power, and The Gleaner cartoonist Las May was brilliant on February 25 last in exposing the duplicity. In one panel the finance minister declares: “The economy is on the right track! We’re back to pre-pandemic levels! We’re seeing real growth!” And in the other the local government minister announces: “We’re postponing local government elections due to economic reasons.”. An angry Lady Public astutely observes: “Clearly one a unnu a tell lie!”

Indeed! Maybe both!

The local government minister told Parliament that elections at this time might distract the government from its present focus on building national resilience against future economic shocks, and increasing economic growth.

Really? And sending troops to Haiti won’t be a distraction? Each Jamaican killed on foreign soil by Haitian gangs will be big news! Not to mention the costs which will be incurred thereby.


No! The real reason the JLP does not wish to hold local government elections is that they are afraid that they will not fare well. A month ago I wrote: “The likely large anti-government protest vote in the context of a low turnout would demoralise the incumbent party, and would bring their legitimacy openly into question. No: I don’t think we will have any kind of election any time soon.”

General elections are due in two years (in 2025), and I am not sure the political (corruption) climate will improve between now and then. The JLP might “ketch dem fraid” again! It is not so easy to postpone a general election. I guess we will just have to wait and see how they finesse that one. The price of democracy is eternal vigilance!

Some are proposing that, to save money, we should hold general and local government elections at the same time. Under current laws it is impossible to regularly do that because general elections should be held every five years and local government elections every four years. Do it once, and then – all things working out – you can’t do it again for 20 years. The interval between both will have to be the same if we want to regularly have combined elections.

My suggestion to Andrew Holness is this: for a legacy don’t seek to put your name on a building or a road. Try for a huge and lasting legacy by passing effective anti-corruption legislation requiring transparency with government contracts, income and asset declarations, and political donations. Hundreds of years from now, Jamaicans (nay the world) will remember Andrew Holness as the prime minister who led Jamaica out of the darkness of corruption into the light. That is national hero stuff!

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Send feedback to