Douglas Orane: Offering Ourselves for Public Service
Address to St Ann Chamber of Commerce, April 1993
During my tenure as Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica President from 1992 to 1994, I proselytised about the importance of citizens becoming actively involved in the political process to help enhance and protect our democracy.
It is a myth to think that a democracy can operate without politics or politicians or without those who are willing to make sacrifices to give public service. There was a TV programme many years ago which began by pointing out that democracy was imperfect, but that it was still the best system that man had devised for public governance to date. I believe that it is up to us to make it work.
Those of us who have had the benefit of higher training and education must see it as a clear duty and responsibility to improve the quality of our public affairs. We cannot continue to rail against the low level of public debate, about the inefficiency or ineffectiveness or corruption of our public institutions and, at the same time, maintain a hands-off attitude towards getting involved.
The political hustings may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we must understand the process and do what we can to begin to make this activity more relevant to Jamaica’s needs.
Let us begin, in much larger numbers than we do at present, to offer ourselves for public service — to serve in community organisations, on school boards, as justices of the peace, wherever suitable opportunities present themselves. Public service includes activities such as jury duty and, yes, serving, for example, as presiding officers in elections, and it is the responsibility of the individual citizen in a democracy to play his or her role in the preservation of our institutions and democratic processes.
The latter may not seem at all appealing, as our elections have now come to be associated with outbreaks of politically motivated violence. However, the law-abiding majority of Jamaicans are calling for an end to this association. It would greatly assist the maintenance of law and order if political motorcades were abandoned. The human cost of the violence associated with them must surely exceed the minimal political mileage which is derived from them. On election day, the security forces, the media, the clergy and all concerned citizens must focus attention on the marginal constituencies. It is essential that the integrity of the electoral system be protected, if the result is to reflect the genuine will of the people.
Our politicians need to ensure that their supporters who break the law are turned over to the police for the law to take its course. This is a concrete way in which they can demonstrate to the public their abhorrence of political violence.
“Nature abhors a vacuum.” If those of us who hold integrity as our highest standard don’t step forward to give public service, then inevitably others with a different philosophy will fill the void. It’s been 23 years since I made this speech, and as much as I may have observed some examples to the contrary, I can’t say that, in general, those who have benefited the most from our society, have seen it as their duty to offer themselves for public service.
History has demonstrated that countries with a leadership class that has an entrenched sense of obligation to their societies, have advanced the most. How do we shift the needle on this one? That shift can only come from developing a deep feeling of belonging to our society, coupled with a belief that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. This is not just an altruism — it’s enlightened common sense. Let’s start demonstrating, by personal example, what is ultimately a satisfying way of life.