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Better must come, or else

Published:Monday | April 23, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Garth A. Rattray

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) got a shellacking in the December 29, 2011 general election. It only managed to secure 21 of the 63 available seats in Parliament, with the remaining 42 seats going to the People's National Party (PNP).

However, the cloud of elation on which the PNP has been lifted and is still floating is not as thick or supportive as it appears. Except for the 1983 (snap) general election that was boycotted by the PNP, the turnout of 53.17 per cent was the lowest ever. And, regarding the popular vote - 405,920 went to the JLP and 464,064 went to the PNP. Fortunately for the PNP, the margin of 'only' 58,144 voters translated into a 2-1 win.

Although the PNP repeated its winning ways in the 2012 parish council elections, interest in that event was even more dismal (as evidenced by a mere 34.5 per cent voter turnout). These realisations should be politically sobering for both parties, especially the ruling one.

And now we have breached the 'first 100 days in office' for the PNP. This arbitrary measure of performance apparently came about when American President Franklin D. Roosevelt managed to capitalise on ideal socio-politico-economic conditions to quickly push through a large number of bills during the Great Depression. Although accepted as an impossible feat to reproduce, since then, presidents have been judged by their first 100 days in office.

Useless 100-day evaluation

We have adopted this benchmark and, naturally, although the PNP has expressed "satisfaction" with its first 100 days in office, the JLP has given the Government a failing grade. However, there's no evidence to legitimise the usefulness of assessing any politician's first 100 days in office. It often provides political fodder and leads to attempts at achieving unrealistic and short-term goals.

This administration appears to be serious about fulfilling its mandate to perform and earn the trust handed to it. It is being inadvertently assisted by the JLP, which has arguably already begun campaigning for the next general election. This has made the PNP dig deeper and hyper-vigilant - which is good for us, the citizenry.

However, just as it is in the popular aphorism about justice (that it must not only be done but manifestly be seen to be done); not only must good governance be done, it must manifestly be seen to be done.

Obviously, we expect that the Government will put its energies into macroeconomic issues (inflation, unemployment, international fiscal matters, consumption, foreign exchange, debt ratios, trade, banking policies, and so on) but the liveability, discipline and everyday 'important things' like community issues and the roads are extremely important.

We need improvement

The people voted for better - better health care, better economy, better services, better social and national security, better affordability, better transport, better roads, better political maturity, better respect from politicians, better representation, better accountability, better transparency, better control of corruption and better governance at every level. The people have shown that they will change allegiance and support someone or some principle that they chose to put their faith in. Therefore, better must come - or else.

From all indications, since winning the general election, the various government ministers and their staff have hit the ground running and have been diligently doing the nation's work. Although it's early days yet, the people want to see overt positive changes in everyday things that directly affect them.

This administration must quickly validate the trust placed in it by starting with the obvious. People encounter, inter alia, macerated/potholed roads, dilapidated/commandeered sidewalks, piles of garbage in gullies and blatant disregard for the law - numerous markers of a society in dire need of proper/hands-on management. The Government needs to start there so we can feel its presence.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and