Monday, September 22, 2008
'Let's all calm down'
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Jamaica Observer - Monday, September 22, 2008
The PNP race is over now, and it is a cold-cold Monday morning for the loser. This column went to press before the results were known. I will not hazard a guess since, while the Don Anderson polls were heavily favouring the incumbent Portia Simpson Miller, Mark Wignall's intelligence on the ground was giving the victory to Peter Phillips. The theft of $3 million cash from the vehicle of Mrs Simpson Miller's campaigner Alston Stewart on Thursday was described as "a blow" to her campaign and caused some interesting speculation.
For Bruce Golding, however, the surprisingly strident campaign gave him a bit of a breather and we heard positive feedback about his tackling of various issues. There were glowing reviews of his update to a real estate audience on his plans to reduce the bureaucracy for building approvals, as well as for his speech to police officers last Thursday on his proposed anti-crime legislation. What was refreshing was his candour about the human rights groups that had been objecting to some of the measures. He said in effect that we should expect such objections and that while he was resolute that the current crime situation warranted a tough response, human rights groups were important to an orderly, law-abiding society.
We have to face the fact, that since the beginning of the year over 1,100 people have been murdered, 147 in August alone. It is a national cruelty that even as our athletes were taking Jamaica higher, criminals stayed low and lethal. Clearly, there has to be tougher legislation to deal with these hardened thugs.
We were on hand to hear the prime minister give an update on post-Gustav reconstruction: "We have major challenges - with all the battering from the global recession, oil prices and food shortages, we could have done without this." But he said he was not losing faith. "I believe Jamaica is special in God's mind and heart," said PM Golding as he thanked corporate donors, "and indeed, He is already providing a way out."
His is a dignified voice, contrasting with the aggressive campaigning on the airwaves. Whether one is a JLP sympathiser or not, we should agree that Jamaica has too many challenges to be distracted, and lucky for us, we have a prime minister who is diligently going about the nation's business - his colleagues wonder if he ever sleeps!
It would be ludicrous to blame the current (that's a pun) hardships on the Golding government after one short year in office. Encountering the silt that just a couple of hours of rain had brought down on our street a few days ago, I can only imagine the destruction in our eastern parishes. Add to that the challenges of every single ministry and we get a good idea of what this government faces.
The Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill came together last week to shore up US banks after the disappearance of two venerable giants, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, and a multi-billion bailout of AIG, the biggest provider of commercial insurance and life assurance in the US. In spite of the heated retorts on the campaign platforms, the two political parties were of one mind that their country's economy had to be pulled back from the brink. As CNN's John King commented, "They are saying, 'Let's all calm down, quiet down and figure what we have to do.'"
Can we depend on the Opposition PNP to realise that this is the only way out of our problems? In the past four decades, Jamaica has been stretched between our two parties like a frayed rope in an unending tug of war. We have been subjected to ridiculous grandstanding in our House of Parliament while the nation's business gets dragged out and unnecessarily politicised.
Let us admit that in the one short year since it has taken office, the Bruce Golding-led government has made some significant initiatives: free tuition for high school students and free health care, the reduction of red tape and the fast-tracking of education, transportation, agricultural and tourism projects. There has not been the level of dislocation of lead persons in government agencies that usually happens when there is a change of administration. Just as Huntley Medley, former press secretary for Prime Minister PJ Patterson, has been performing admirably as executive director of JIS, Marcia Forbes is a solid professional who will not allow politics to interfere with her responsibilities as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Mining and Telecommunications.
We should also never forget that it was a PNP government which established the important offices of the contractor general and the public defender, and facilitated wide-ranging amendments to the Representation of the People Act, giving us a gold-standard electoral system. Unfortunately, politicians continuously devalue the achievements of opposing sides, creating dangerous extremists in their camps.
We the people must now tell our politicians, "No more!" Stop the bickering over your little two-by-two square of power and get to work on what the taxpayer expects you to do: find and implement solutions for food, energy and our environment. Stop trucking your supporters to squat on dangerous gully banks and squalid areas to swell your votes. We are looking to you, government and Opposition, to lead us forward, not backward.
So on whatever side the coin fell for the PNP leadership, let that leadership be reminded that they are being paid to see to the needs of their constituents, not to be seen on television every night. The taxpayers who can barely find the means for energy, water, shelter and food are paying you very handsomely to find ways to improve their standard of living. They are suffering while you are profiling.
The visit of Usain Bolt last Thursday to his Digicel "family" was like a sweet respite from the strife around us. It was great to see grown professional men and women transformed into frenetic autograph-seeking "nuh-lingering" fans. This is the pure joy that comes from our drug-free hard-working athletes. We are capable of so much when we come together with clear minds and clean hands.