Observer column for MON 25 FEB 2013
by Jean Lowrie-Chin
Professor Errol Miller’s encouragement last week was like a cool drink of water on a hot, dry day. “We are a country in which we exaggerate our problems,” he declared. “Things are not as bad as they are said to be.” Prof Miller says that although we get a great deal of criticism about corruption from developed countries, Jamaica is no worse than many of them.
Is this man joking? Doesn’t he know our plight? But the continuation of his address was a very good answer: “We don’t fully understand and recognise what a unique people we are,” he told us, and continued: “I have confidence in their innate intelligence.” He is right. Even as some are cursing the darkness of our debt, remember that there are others like the Professor, who continue to burn the midnight oil to tackle our problems. It is not a time to give up, but a time to look up at diligent visionaries like the Professor, and follow their lead.
Accolades rang out as Government and Opposition leaders, ECJ commissioners and the ECJ-EOJ islandwide team last week honoured Errol Miller for 12 years of superlative service as chair of the ECJ. In his reply he observed that we should not judge folks by their address. “There is nothing our people cry out more for, than for justice,” he said.
Prof gave us an important lesson when he named his three predecessors the Late Professor Gladstone Mills (who wrote that revealing book about his term in office, ‘Grist for The Mills); Peter John Thwaites and William K. ChinSee. “I came, I saw and I have great respect for those who have gone before,” he said. “I honour their sacrifice – we must not throw out what others have built.”
Indeed, the Electoral Advisory Committee, the ECJ’s predecessor, was the house built by the JLP and PNP in 1979 when the parties were led by two of our fiercest political adversaries, Edward Seaga and Michael Manley. Yet, they put partisan feelings aside to agree, in Prof Miller’s words, that “a party will never use its majority to impose its will”.
Since then, nominated members of the JLP and the PNP have collaborated with selected independent members to hone an electoral system so fine, that it has become a model even for developed countries. The synergy among ECJ members was evident at the Jamaica Pegasus last Wednesday, as they were of one voice in their appreciation for the leadership of this great Jamaican, Professor Miller.
JLP Senator Tom Tavares-Finson noted, “Not one of us ever questioned his decisions as he shared with us his vision of a nation he so clearly saw.” He marvelled at the Professor’s intellectual capacity which was described in the ECJ citation presented by independent member Hon Dorothy Pine-McLarty: “A brilliant educator, indeed a veritable ‘walking encyclopedia’, Professor Miller has the uncanny ability to recall details of meetings and discussions conducted in the distant past, and his knowledge in mathematical and statistical matters baffles the ordinary mind.”
PNP MP Dr D.K. Duncan lauded Prof Miller as “one of the most distinguished patriarchs of the ECJ … fondly called ‘The Emperor’ by some members, and leaving a legacy of which all Jamaicans can be proud.” Dr Duncan opined, “The ECJ is the kind of model that our political culture should embrace… if we can break the back of the problems of our electoral system, then Jamaica can solve our other issues.”
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness said he “had to cope with [Prof Miller’s] independence, but it was easy because of his competence,” and quoted him: “I know I am doing something right when both the JLP and PNP are criticising me.” Minister Phillip Paulwell who represented PM Simpson Miller spoke of his “absolute devotion, fairness, equity and innovation” and of the ECJ model as one to be used for wider public service where we can have discussion on national issues “drained of political hysteria”.
ECJ independent commissioner Dr Herbert Thompson remarked that the professor had given “12 years of quality time” and through his leadership, “the differences at the table did not lead to disrespect.” Humility is also the hallmark of a fine leader. Director of Elections Orrette Fisher lauded Prof Miller’s “unquestionable benevolence …his willingness to seek and take advice…he was the tallest person I have ever met, after my father.”
Last Wednesday we got some good lessons in leadership from those who were led by Professor Miller. They beg the question: how are other leaders measuring up?