Thursday, March 10, 2016

Bright day for democracy

by Jean Lowrie-Chin - Observer column for MON 7 March 2016

As we resume this column after a two-week break, we look back to three weeks ago, when we held our breath to hear whether the PNP would agree to participate in a national debate.  They refused, not understanding that Jamaica had matured beyond the tribal politics of die-hards following party over policy, no matter what.  It mattered.  Why would you employ an applicant who refused to attend a job interview?  The national debate was the job interview Jamaicans wanted so they could see who would deserve to be paid out of their hard-earned taxes.

Jamaica's new Cabinet after the swearing-in at King's House on Monday 7 March 2016
The “articulate minority” demonstrated that they are indeed no minority – it is estimated that over one million Jamaicans are on Facebook, including members of our engaged Diaspora. On Election Day, folks posted photos of their inked fingers on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #articulateminority. We had checked the websites of both the PNP and JLP and thought that the PNP’s was more engaging; however, they did not follow through on the social media platforms.  The JLP balanced social and traditional media, with those Observer and Gleaner “wrap-arounds” during election week, a stroke of genius.

We welcomed the new young faces in both political parties, mentored by those elders who wisely affirmed the importance of succession planning.  Juliet Holness proved to be a campaigner in her own right, and ensured that she answered well those allegations about a family member. Andrew Holness also gave a comprehensive account of the financing of their Beverley Hills home. The backlash from both allegations was a significant setback for the PNP campaign. How could they not remember how the “Don’t draw mi tongue” ad hurt the JLP in 2011? People are far more interested in real benefits like the increased tax-threshold of $1.5 million, than personal attacks.
Andrew Holness made none of those mistakes he made leading up to the December 2011 Elections, when he had given his followers expectations of an early December election, and called it between Christmas and New Year.  This time, it was former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller who led an un-merry chase for an Election Date.

And so, Jamaica now has a new JLP administration.  We applaud the inaugural address of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, a man who stood stronger than ever at that impressive Half Way Tree Rally just a few days before the general elections. Jamaicans should heed his sober observations at King’s House which should apply to every organisation, every business, every project: “With this mandate, there is no majority for arrogance, no space for selfishness, no place for pettiness, no room for complacency, and no margin for error.”

These are serious words, pointing to the heart of Jamaica’s developmental issues.  Since Independence, we have squandered our precious resources, and driven away valuable but disillusioned citizens.  Both political parties have fomented tribalism to serve their selfish ends, and have killed the dreams of solid citizens, simply because they were not interested in wearing green or orange hearts on their sleeves. 

Let us hope that this leadership will be able to continue and strengthen the national partnership programme, identifying those leaders who have a proven track record of supporting their communities and country, and encouraging our young talent to stay and contribute.
We salute the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Office of Jamaica who worked tirelessly to pull off well-organised Nomination and Election Days, despite the time and budgetary constraints.  Hon Dorothy Pyne-McLarty and Orrette Fisher have once again showed their mettle as strong and impartial leaders of the electoral process. 

Let every candidate, every party worker, every behind-the-scenes organizer be proud of their contribution to our country’s democratic process.  Those massive campaigns, especially the rallies and the on-the-ground organizing required extraordinary planning and energy. 

Let us now transfer that zeal to the running of our beloved Jamaica.  JLP General Secretary Horace Chang is quoted as saying of Prime Minister Holness, “he is committed to a government of performance, transparency and sound principles.”  We are hopeful.

Kudos St. Catherine High

In this Year of Mercy, it is interesting to note that Andrew and Juliet Holness both attended St. Catherine High School, which was founded by the Sisters of Mercy.  The Mercy philosophy influenced the school’s activities, in which young Andrew Holness was deeply involved.  He excelled, becoming valedictorian and headboy, and taught at the school for two years. 
My friend journalist Erica James-King recalls that Andrew Holness and Juliet Llandel were her schoolmates.  The school’s most legendary Principal, the now retired Sister Mary Paschal Figueroa, Grand-Aunt of Dr Peter Figueroa and Professor Mark Figueroa made a strong mark on the governance of St. Catherine High. 

Inductees in the St Catherine High School Hall of Fame in 2013, (from left) then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness; Deacon David Yee-Singh (representing Sister Mary Mercedes Doorly); Troy-Marie McDonald (who received on behalf of Bishop Kenneth Richards); Lascelles Williams; and Wilbert Davis (representing Kenneth Neale), pose with the citations presented at the function during the school’s 65th anniversary banquet.
Erica notes, “The principals who served while Andrew and I were in school were Ms Madge Anderson (now deceased) and Mrs Christabel Fuller. St. Catherine High School presented the best nurturing environment that any adolescent could have asked for or required. It is an ideal place for preparing one for life’s ebbs and flows. Although Sister Mary Paschal (after whom our school’s auditorium is named) was not our principal, we were often regaled with stories about her love for the students and for God.”
The brilliant Sister Mary Paschal RSM

She continues: “Our alma mater’s motto, “Prayer and Work Conquer all” is a mantra for me and I am sure it is still a guiding principle for Andrew Holness and thousands of others who have passed through the doors of that noble institution. Our motto gives us the right perspective on life, reminding us that we will achieve greatness if we maintain the right balance of placing God first and ensuring we are diligent, productive and effective in our labour.”

“Our school song, “Dear St. Catherine High”, also reiterates the guiding principles of the school motto. For example it has a line that says: “Prayer and Work shall ever conquer while to you (our school) and God, we are true.” St. Catherine High made us confident that it was our duty to make a positive change in the life of others, and there is nothing in life that we could not achieve if we pursued that goal prayerfully, honestly and industriously.

“The holistic teaching and guidance St. Catherine High offers has kept engendering social responsibility in its students and graduates. The school impresses on all its students that we are responsible to God, our community and country and we should take that responsibility seriously. Structures are also in place to encourage students to engage in volunteerism and by extension community development. Through core curriculum and extra-curriculum activities, the school also encouraged and still encourages students to be advocates for their rights and the rights of disadvantaged persons. For instance: the Debating Society (of which Andrew and I were a part, though we were not in that club at the same time), Inter-School Christian Fellowship, Key Club, Drama Club, Red Cross, Historical Society, Spanish Club etc. gave students an outlet for expressing themselves and their talents while engaging in community development.”

Congratulations to the Sisters of Mercy and St Catherine High – you can now claim your contribution to the high office of Prime Minister.

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