Monday, May 4, 2009
HELP THEM TO LOVE BOOKS! Kenisha Hughs reads for children at the Stella Maris Foundation in Grants Pen (Omar Frith photo)
(click on title for link to Jamaica Observer website)
JEAN LOWRIE-CHIN | Jamaica Observer | Monday, May 04, 2009
The scene is being played and replayed in workplaces, bars, and various gatherings across Jamaica. PNP supporters are pointing their fingers at JLP followers and saying, "Look at how your government making poor people suffer." In turn, JLP followers are saying, "All because your government was so bad for 18 years." Some of these discussions are as heated as if we were a week away from a general election.
As both sides continue to bicker, there are those who chuckle, "Been there, seen that" and continue to work as hard as they can, having been strongly reminded by the UFO fallout that indeed, there will never be any such thing as a free lunch.
The series on the family businesses nominated for the 2008 Jamaica Observer Business Leader Awards reminds us that this country still remains the land of opportunity. The big issue now, is how we are going to convince some of our members of parliament that their role should be not to divide, but to build harmonious communities. On the 100th day of her husband's presidency, Michelle Obama rallied the spouses of 150 members of the United States Congress, to volunteer to pack and distribute food for hundreds of hungry children in Washington DC. Say what? Hungry children in the capital of the USA? Trust me, I have driven through those depressed neighbourhoods, virtually cheek-by-jowl with the ritzy DC district.
The New York Times reported Mrs Obama as saying to the group: "It's important for America to see you all here doing this, not as Republicans or Democrats or independents - there's no ideology. It's just all of us people who care about our country and want to make service a core part of the work we do.''
Here in Jamaica, Lorna Golding, wife of our prime minister has created The Jamaica Early Childhood Foundation (JECF) to enhance existing programmes for young children, and recently launched an ambitious environmental project at the School of Hope. (We hope you'll support Mrs Golding's JECF fund-raising concert on Labour Day weekend). It seems that we may have to count on the spouses from both sides of the House to come together and show Jamaica that we are one country, not two tribes plastered in orange and green, constantly warring with each other.
This is not to say that we should not encourage free speech and peaceful protest. I was one of those who sent an email to the PM and minister of finance, petitioning that no GCT be charged on books. I have to believe that there was some slip, somewhere, that would allow a tax to be put on books and no additional tax on liquor or cigarettes.
One of my shining childhood memories of Christmas is of being taken up the escalator in Times Store downtown, and being told by my parents to "choose any book". Joy! No tax should stand between a reader and his books. Nothing can develop the mind as well as the distillation of those lines, into a kaleidoscope of images, a new perspective, and stirring "aha" moments.
Well do I remember Ralph Thompson's call for a better appreciation of poetry in Jamaica. He said it would develop our imagination and attributed our terrible driving habits to our inability to imagine the dire consequences of speeding. (More books and fewer Quad nights for our beloved Usain?)
The tribalisation of Jamaica has happened because we have not educated our people to think for themselves, to read for themselves about their boundless possibilities. If the current leaders in our House of Parliament continue to foment this ignorance and division, then well-thinking Jamaicans must ensure that they will not have the opportunity to warm a seat ever again in Gordon House.
It is an open secret that the crime-producing squatter settlements were encouraged by politicians on both sides who "trucked-in" their votes via the hapless residents of gully sides and zinc-fenced mazes. Every politician who has communities of this description in their constituencies must tell us what they are doing to restore these citizens to a decent way of life.
I have tried to navigate the ragged zinc paths in one such community with a group of donors. In one pathetic little corner was a dirt-floored area with a battered desk and a rusty chair. This, a resident told us, was the "study room". A bright young boy was introduced to us - he did his homework by the street light. And now we will tax a book he may have saved all year to own?
That child, who will not allow his ambition to be extinguished, deserves a leader who will help to bring order and peace to his community. We are no longer moved by passionate speeches in the House: we want to see this passion translated into a better life for the poorest of the poor. When an MP can refuse a donation to build a school because the donor is not dealing with "my people", then that MP is promoting darkness, not light. Let us start blogs and websites, upload photos and videos, and expose these wrongs.
No doubt our new taxes will be a hard blow, but we should know that it is a universal blow and Jamaica is still better off than many other countries. If our leaders were less selfish, we could certainly minimise the hardships being felt by the poorest among us. We understand that the Constituency Fund granted to MPs has strict guidelines. We challenge members of parliament to give the Jamaica Information Service funding updates, so that we can be convinced of your probity and good character. It is not an easy time, so we should not ease up on monitoring how every cent of our taxes is being spent.