An opportunity not to be missed

Soldiers on patrole earlier this week

In the situation that has emerged in the nation over the past two weeks, the state of public emergency imposed on the island’s capital was inevitable. It was not possible that the nation could tolerate the gross violation of the Rule of Law by criminal elements and its attendant besmirching of what remains of the country’s tattered reputation by what we saw unfurling in downtown Kingston and specifically in Tivoli Gardens. It is the closest that the state has come to be overtaken and hijacked by criminals. The foreign press is aghast that a country or at least the capital of a country in the Caribbean could be so easily brought to its knees by criminals.

We are at a decisive crossroads in Jamaica’s history. Many of us know what has happened in this country over the past 40 years to bring us where we are. Volumes of study have been done on the social and economic dysfunctions and inequalities in our society that have brought us logically and inevitably to this sorry state of affairs. We know of our broken politics, the greed for power and the lack of statesmanship in our leaders. We know that as a society we have not demanded much of those in whose hands we have invested our lives and our future. Civil society over the years has grown obese from sitting in the pavilion and to be content only with offering tepid criticisms of our governors. We have not held them accountable or held up high standards which, if they transgress, would call for harsh and unforgettable remedies. We have largely gone along for the ride, but now the inevitable consequences of a non-vigilant civil society are being played out before our very eyes. The assault on Tivoli is not just an index of what rampant criminality can do to a society; it is an index of the failure of civil society to demand good governance and to insist that every single Jamaican be treated with decency and respect.

It is clear and heartening that civil society has become more energised as to the role it must play in building a just and decent society. Tivoli and the Dudus affair have given the country an unprecedented opportunity to once and for all deal decisively with so much that ails this country. There can be no looking back. This is not an opportunity to be missed. We may never get another opportunity like this and neither should we hope for one because I do not believe the society could survive the further ravages of what has led us to where we now are. This is a moment to be seized. Although we are given to nine-day wonders in this country, I hope that this unprecedented opportunity will not be squandered but will be utilised to maintain a sustained assault on criminality of all sorts. The agenda outlined by the prime minister in his contrition speech must be followed up with great urgency. Members of civil society must continue to be vocal and strident in demanding that what was promised is actually fulfilled. Not only must they demand, but they must be prepared to offer themselves as part of the solution. We have a habit in Jamaica of demanding things of others, but find ourselves missing in action when the spotlight is clearly on us to step in and make a difference.

This is where I believe the work of the Opposition party must take on great force. Part of the maturity that we have seen coming from the present problems is the Opposition’s recognition that they too are not without fault. To believe otherwise would have been to take the people for fools for we have seen over the years their own culpability in reducing Jamaica almost to the status of a failed state. They are now grudgingly acknowledging that the people have had enough of their own prevarications, obfuscations and downright rascality in government and realise that they too ought to set out on the road to Damascus as Golding was forced to do. In this sense, the road to Damascus is set to become one big parking lot as the demand rises for more truth-telling and reconciliation if society is to be healed of its many ills.

Both Portia Simpson Miller and Peter Phillips have been sounding the right notes in recent times. We have not yet seen, and hope not to see, the kind of tribal partisan rhetoric and behaviour which would want to capitalise on what clearly is the country’s misfortune at this time. This is truly a time for healing; a time for people to really think and breathe Jamaica instead of political party.

In the meantime, this column would like to commend the security forces for the restraint and maturity they have shown leading up to the incursion into Tivoli. We regret the loss of lives among the security forces as well as among the civilian population. It is good for our democracy that we have a timely flow of information on casualties in what is clearly a war environment. Let us remember that the overwhelming majority of people caught in the carnage in downtown are law-abiding citizens who just want to get on with their lives. Our hearts bleed for them also as they undergo this time of terror.

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