I did a little poll on Twitter the other day. It’s an election year in my country and it always makes me very pensive. I live on a tiny little island that is known by the whole world, influences sports, culture & music, is populated by the most amazingly talented people on the planet, but is still plagued by violence and inequity that just manages to prevent us from being the tiny paradise we have the potential to become. In my opinion, our politics plays the biggest role in hindering that progress and I have yet to see the potential for meaningful, sustainable change or a suitable transformational leader to guide that change.
You see, the issues that we have are systemic ones. They cannot be fixed by the actions of a few or even of many of the citizens. They require concerted effort, legislation and law enforcement. But we hover on the edge of this possibility because there has yet to be an administration that has the will to make the changes necessary. There are too many dirty hands and skeletons in closets. The root of our issues goes too deep into our social, political and cultural landscape. To bring true change would likely mean the complete dismantling of our system of government. Too much of our population exists below the poverty line and our minimum wage prevents anyone from improving their circumstances. Middle income wages barely do that so everyone remains precariously perched at the level they are born into while bearing the demanding weight of the upper classes to whom we are expected to give our time, our labour and then bequeath our status to our children to build and secure the wealth of the future generations of the haves.
And so I truly wondered: what’s the point of voting? Our politicians have been promising change for as long as I can remember. There is no doubt that there have been visible improvements. Better roads. Improved infrastructure… And, truly, that’s about where it stops. Materially, we have more. Financially, more of us can afford more. But it feels like nothing more than a panacea. A placebo of sorts. Physical comfort that in some ways prevents us from being hyper-aware that we are almost always in mortal danger. More things to distract us from the destruction that is being wrought by a few who seem to have a disproportionate amount of power. And no true change of circumstance; just the possibility of it, like a carrot on an ever moving stick. Just out of the reach, but still close enough to motivate us to keep trying for it. It distracts us from what continues to crumble and break down around us.
The systemic issues remain. Have remained. Seemingly will remain. Gender based violence plagues our women and girls while no real legislation is put in place to protect us or penalize the perpetrators. Our justice system continues to issue wrist slaps for rape and light sentences for what is arguably a cultural leaning towards rape, pedophilia and sexual assault of varying degrees. Debates about women’s bodily autonomy continue with no conclusion in sight. And certainly none that will benefit women. Our criminals are evolving at a faster rate than the security forces. High powered weapons, advanced technology, protection from high levels of government and society. Our class and colour issues remain. Wealth and assets are shared by a few members of society whose complexion belies the racial demographic of the island. Generational wealth remains just out of reach of the majority of the population as the haves continue to acquire at rates and with an ease that is denied of the have nots. And the contrived middle class remains complacent in the center, chasing the carrot while ignoring the manipulations of the persons holding the stick.
And every election season, we prepare to vote for more of the same. More superficial comfort. More visual manipulation. Believing that what we see and feel can insulate us from what continues to brew beneath the surface. But no real change has been forthcoming. No sustainable change of circumstances for the most vulnerable among us. No real social or financial upward mobility for the majority. No real hope for the uprooting of the criminal element that continues to act as enforcer and executioner for the people who should in fact be protecting us from them. And an out of control subset of thugs who have access to guns and are no longer under the thumb of their benefactors. Power, corrupting at all levels.
As if on queue, to prove my whole point:
Behold. The Jamaican politician, in their natural state of dissonance. That man is the former Minister of Energy. He oversaw the entity that provides fuel for the company he references. The company was privatized and now has free reign to gouge us for our energy consumption. In order to grease the wheels for the sale, they promised the company guaranteed revenue. That means no matter how much we conserve, they can make whatever adjustments to their pricing mechanisms in order to ensure that they make the profits they want to. The government can change that… But they won’t. Because it means a net loss for them. Less money in their coffers. Never mind it impacts consumption at all levels. It increases the cost of goods and services; these costs are then passed on to consumers. It increases the cost of energy for both residences and businesses. And no matter what we shut off, even if we try to go off the grid with alternative energy, they still have the leave to find a way to charge us in order to make their profit each year. And when the ballots are printed this year, that man’s name will be on one of them. Likely beside an opponent who is just as comfortable with the current state of things… It will be a similar situation in almost every constituency.
So, I asked, what’s the point of voting. And I got a few responses.
For the persons who said they would vote, it was mostly based on patriotism and a respect for the sacrifices and fight of our ancestors who provided us with Universal Adult Suffrage. And I get that, I really do. But I don’t think what our ancestors fought for was simply the right for us to vote, to show up at a polling station and make a selection of whichever candidate has been presented to us. It couldn’t be. I think they’ve convinced us of that though. It benefits them if we continue to show up to vote “just because”. Someone will get selected and the corrupt, inadequate system of government will continue. If we look closely at the party options, we see where there are relations by blood and marriage on both sides of the aisle and even across the aisle. We know that they get paid well, exploit the system to line their pockets and have no term limits in which to do so. It doesn’t matter who we vote for, the loser will get another chance at the pot soon enough. So they convince us to keep showing up, time and time again. Even though nothing fundamental, significant or necessary has changed at the most important level of our existence. We are not safer. Our laws are still anachronistic and insufficient. Our security forces are still corrupt. Our government is still corrupt. Our society is still corrupt. It doesn’t matter who I select, the only guarantee I have is more corruption. More bandaids over open sores. More placebos. More misdirection. More carrot and stick. More poverty. More inefficiency. As a noise-maker and a disruptor by nature, I am unimpressed by the current offerings of the public service.
What do I want to see:
- Penalties and prison terms for government ministers who commit crimes. These should be harsher based on how much money/resources is involved
- Term limits for all members of the political party, including the Prime Minister. No more than 3 terms overall, even if they switch parties
- Maximum age limits and mandatory retirement ages for all politicians, including the Prime Minister
- A reformed voting system where I can vote for my Member of Parliament, my local government minister and my Prime Minister separately. All these elections should be held at the same time, a fixed date or fixed interim and carry the same tenure and tenure limitations
- A mechanism by which we can track the activities of my representatives against what was promised, including the financials and budgets against which these goals are being pursued
- A mechanism by which we can critique and grade performance in a way that everybody can view and add input to. Low grades and bad critiques mean potential ousting at the polls next election because everyone can see where the person is falling short. It would look something like this https://jampja.org/, but would be tied to individual performance of all political representatives, including the Prime MInister
- A system by which we can request that a new representative be provided to the constituency in the event that the one(s) in place are deemed unsuitable (by the means in suggestion 6)
- A required constituency voting quorum. If enough people don’t show up because the protestations in suggestion 7 did not see a responsive and/or adequate change, the vote is voided and must be redone
- Mandatory and public succession planning that eliminates the internal squabbles that create divisiveness in the parties
- More referenda for matters affecting the majority of the population, especially those that end up in the crosshairs between church and state
- Actual separation of church and state
I don’t think this is too much. There needs to finally be accountability and real transparency in our system. I’m tired of lip service. I’m tired of the perpetuation of the status quo. I’m sick of the contrived inefficiencies in every aspect of our society that support cronyism, nepotism and the “eat a food” mentality that pervades our country and stymies our potential. Something needs to change. And it can change. The recent effects of the pandemic have most clearly demonstrated that there are more than adequate resources that can be accessed when needed to do what is required, what is beneficial for the populace.
How do we demand it? How do we make the necessary changes? Where do we start?
Firstly, know your Member of Parliament: https://jis.gov.jm/government/members-of-parliament/
Secondly, hit that ‘Contact Us’ button on this page https://opm.gov.jm/your-government/members-of-the-cabinet/ and ask that a resource be created for a listing of electoral office addresses be provided, including telephone numbers and email addresses and that each representative’s profile be updated with their qualifications, responsibilities, plans for their tenure and progress of those plans.
Something has to change and while it ultimately requires legislative adjustments, we have to make the demands on these representatives. They need to earn our votes. As Jamaicans, we know what the term “pressure buss pipe” means. We need to apply pressure.
4 thoughts on “Tis The Season…”
A carefully thought out and heartfelt piece on everything that ails our beloved nation. The call for transparency with the suggestions are excellent ideas and are at least worth being taken into consideration by our PM.
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Very insightful piece…Sad state of affairs but true.
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Great Work, I learned sooo much from this!!!
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The age old question should I or shouldn’t I 😦