How to Handle a Government
Below is an excerpt from Thomas Paine’s great work titled The Rights of Men:
“Dr. Price had preached a sermon on the 4th of November, 1789, being the anniversary of what is called in England the Revolution, which took place 1688. Mr. Burke, speaking of this sermon, says: “The political Divine proceeds dogmatically to assert, that by the principles of the Revolution, the people of England have acquired three fundamental rights:
1. To choose our own governors.
2. To cashier them for misconduct.
3. To frame a government for ourselves.”
Those immortal words should be taught in schools and to our parliamentarians to let them understand the implications of those rights. In Jamaica there is very little understanding of what those timely principles mean and how we should go about making sure those principles are the foundation of our society-in its true form. While we have those rights mainly because our independence was given to us by the British and the Jamaican public in the 70`s rejecting communism, we have failed to live up and to use those rights in a way that will guarantee our success and future happiness.
1. To chose our own government.
Once every five years we have the opportunity to chose which political party we want to run our affairs for the next five years. This nation has squandered that right time and time again on one political party that has systematically wiped out the Jamaican dream or what stands for the dream, and has plunged this country into a nightmare that we have no way getting out of anytime soon. And to make matters worse, from the elections at the dawn of independent Jamaica, until now, we can clearly see that the dreams and hopes of the nation have declined. It can be seen in the falling numbers of people participating in elections. If we should look at the present government and take its overall support in the last election-it’s a minority government that is in place, as more people opted to stay home than to vote. And that’s where the danger to our democracy lies. Not garrisons (as dastardly as they are), not corruption, (in the sense of corrupt money funding political parties) but the constant and steady decline in voter participation. It may very well reach the point whereby enough persons just do not turn up to vote to make an election constitutional and that could cause untold problems for this country.
While we may point out a lot of reasons why this problem of voter decline is so steady, and undoubtedly valid reasons too, we must as a nation stop this foolishness of not voting and instead start voting wisely. Whether voters vote or not, there will still be a need for a government and one must be installed. So everybody still has to live under whatever government is set up. Rather than allowing people to decide for you who they want to run the country, isn’t it better to chose who you want? Isn’t that smarter? Would you allow a person to spend your money to buy a car for you or would you rather buy it yourself? I prefer buying it for myself.
If we all stay away and grumble without trying to effect change, will we ever have any change? No. We have to go out to vote and make the necessary changes. The great difference must be however, we vote smarter. Jamaicans must understand that voting must be on the basis of competence rather than speeches and promises and kisses. Jamaicans must start sitting down and evaluating the two main parties and what they have to offer this country but we must first decide what is it that we want Jamaica to look like ten years from now. Decide on what future you want for your kids and yourself and decide which party has the best plans. We must get away from the backward idea of what can politicians do for us specifically, and focus on what can they do for the nation because once the nation is doing well we will all benefit. The right to choose our own government is not a matter to be treated lightly or left up to the minority, because whatever mistakes the minority makes the majority will have to live with.
2. To cashier (or hold to account) them for their misconduct.
The idea that public officials must be held to account for their actions has generally been lost in our political system. To find public officials who have been held to account for corrupt or wasteful practices, we would most likely have to go back to colonial times. In Jamaica as the former security Minister Peter Phillips said years ago: “the man that plays by the rules is the man that gets shafted.” While he spoke the truth, ironically, his government played a part in creating a society of lawlessness. If the political culture we have in Jamaica was indeed built upon the principle of accountability, and prudence, scarcely any politician in the governing party would be in power now. From the shell waiver scandal, the furniture scandal, down to the recent phone bill scandal, more politicians would be in jail or kicked out of the political process than any other place in the Caribbean or maybe the world. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The PNP has led Jamaica to be one of the most corrupt places on earth, according to transparency international, and we have seen many corrupt acts emanating from this party, some ending up in courts, some a “nine day wonder.”
If we have had a more robust system of accountability we would have been spared the likes of PJ Patterson who uttered the famous or infamous words” I shall return”. In my estimation he is the worst former PM ever in Jamaica’s history, only surpassed by the one presently occupying that position. We as a nation must understand that in order to be wealthy and well-ordered we must hold our government accountable. What many persons don’t seem to understand is that government is not our masters but our servants and should be treated as such. Government exists only with the consent of the governed, in a contractual agreement that states implicitly: we the citizens hereby hand over power to you for five years to exercise in our interest, doing what we cannot do for ourselves individually. (that would be a great if those words could be used at swearing in ceremonies to remind them who is in charge.)
That’s basically how it goes. When you are in a contractual arrangement, both parties have certain obligations to fulfill and if one party doesn’t fulfill his/her part of the contract, the other party can sue for breach of contract. What the Jamaican people have allowed politicians to do is to become “Lord over God’s heritage” and to inadvertently rule by “divine right.” At least for five years. In the days of the kings of Europe that used to believe that they had divine right to rule a particular nation, they did it with the belief they were not accountable to the governed and once God didn’t strike them down then he agreed with their rule no matter how barbarous. One of the greatest threats to the well-being of a nation is when its government feels it can do as it wishes and still retain state power. That’s how most dictatorships start. It’s the same way this present useless, annoying, pathetic, and drunk government is behaving. Take the NHT scandal that erupted recently and look how the government handled the matter? Up until now we have heard nothing but lies and half-baked excuses. If Jamaica had a system of accountability, the entire NHT board would have to go, because a good, strong Prime Minister would have fired the entire lot, and would have truthfully told the Nation all the facts of the case. The Prime Minister was either lying or brainwashed by the NHT board as her explanations raise more question than answers, clashing many times with the views given by the NHT board chairman. I won’t say what I think she was doing, I leave you the readers to make up your mind. I could go on and on outlining the many instances where the people let the government off the hook when it comes to holding them accountable. Omar Davies squandered public resources to win the election in 2002 and then slammed us with a massive tax package. Instead of riots in the streets and the toppling of the government and the recalling of the election by nullifying the polls, he was allowed to brag and get away scotch free.
With the scant regard Jamaicans pay to accountability in governance, it’s no wonder the government behaves so arrogantly and disrespectfully in all its dealings with the public. As a nation when will we decide that enough is enough and start rebelling? Why are we so unwilling to display some civil disobedience? All great nations have been through some or a series of rebellions to not only get rid of a bad leader. Why is it that Jamaicans are afraid of “storming the bastille” to create a new society of accountability, transparency and good governance? In this present climate I cannot see a way to rid this country of its lack of accountability, transparency and bad governance, short of civil disobedience (lawfully though). Jamaica cannot reform itself with the present crop of politicians and the present state of mind of the wider public. We simply will have to start with a clean slate. It can be done as other countries have successfully done it. While I paint a pessimistic view, I guess it could be said that what’s blocking actions to reform Jamaica is it’s tribalized culture and the lack of political cohesion and goal sharing. If we can get Jamaicans to see the country and not the tribe then we may have some hope of avoiding a revolution. But from my standpoint I don’t have that faith in the citizens of this country.
3. To frame a government for ourselves.
After every election the party that wins takes state power. That’s the party that we gave authority to govern our affairs until the contractual time period ends in five years time. This right is not something that should be taken lightly or sneezed upon as the government that is formed has power to do as it wishes for five years barring a rebellion to remove it from office. That’s one of the glaring shortcomings of our present system of governance that should be remedied in short order. The importance of forming a government of our consent is a right that most Jamaicans exercise with little or no thought whatsoever-to many of us. It’s like careless sex. We take it when we get it, enjoy ourselves then forget that we may get someone pregnant or contract a disease and so we choose just about anybody to run the affairs of the nation.
To be brutally frank, the most glaring example of such carelessness was the re-election of the PNP to govern our affairs, and the result of that carelessness has been the further destruction of the Jamaican economy. But it seems that this sort of carelessness happens on occasions of crisis that benefit the JLP in the sense that when there is trouble, the Jamaican people resort to the JLP for leadership in correcting the problem, then after they have repaired the problem, they are promptly voted out of office. That’s a paradox I haven’t been able to figure out yet. But such is the importance of selecting a government that it cannot be entered into lightly, but must be selected on the basis of deep rational and comprehensive thought, free from the corruption of tribal politics and the desire to stick to tradition. We must remember that there is no way to remove a government constitutionally until their term in office is up! It is full time we recognize the importance of choosing based on rational and deep thoughts who we send to parliament. That’s the only way to guarantee a better future for us all.
The principles discussed above must be seen as the guiding force for the governance of this nation and should be read, discussed and understood just as how we read the Bible. Nothing else will suffice. These principles show noble processes as they seek to lay out how a truly free and democratic society must be governed and gives to its people the power to ensure that their country is run in the best possible way.
Prosperous societies can arise by following these principles, and we all need to embrace, internalize and live by these timeless truths. Failure to do so results in what we are now seeing in this country. These principles can only be put to good use when they are embedded deep in the minds of the common man entrusted with the awesome task of selecting governments that are responsible for governing us. It must be done with a clear understanding of these principles.
Happy new year to you all.
The important issue is not who one votes for, but our consistent demands on the elected, to perform the functions we elected them to carry out.
I understand why fewer people are voting these days, both parties has let the people down time and time again.