Consensus vs conversation


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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Jamaica is a very contentious society. Indeed, "tracing" is one of our predominant pastimes. From the streets to Parliament, draw someone's tongue and you are likely to be tongue-lashed. In just about every aspect of national life, be it cultural affairs and entertainment, sports, religion, education and politics, confrontation and dissension have become endemic traits.

But it is perhaps in our politics that there is the greatest degree of divisiveness. The Gleaner refers to our two major political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party and the People's National Party as gangs, while in that famous speech dealing with the introduction of his values and attitudes campaign, former prime minister and president of the People's National Party, PJ Patterson, described the JLP and PNP as two warring tribes perpetually at war over scarce benefits and spoils.

It is perhaps more than instructive that that same politician, Jamaica's

longest-serving prime minister to date, in his recent speech when he was honoured during a joint sitting of the House of Representatives, passionately called for a greater level of consensus in the nation's deliberations on pertinent issues. Of course, the immediate reaction from the cynics is that he can only comfortably say so now that he is in retirement and no longer on the political hustings.

But out of all our prime ministers since Independence, Mr Patterson has been the one who has been able to sufficiently defuse partisan tribalism.

It is safe to say that since her second ascendancy to the post of prime minister, having got a resounding mandate on December 29, 2011, Portia Simpson Miller has been temperate in her public responses and has avoided using incendiary language. On Sunday, November 25, 2012, at the PNP's National Executive Council meeting in Montego Bay, she stated emphatically that at this time it is not about politics, not about the JLP or the PNP, but about the people of Jamaica.

Opposition leader, Andrew Holness, was therefore a bit intemperate in his speech at the JLP's National Conference when he intimated that power should be wrested from the PNP, although they have been in office only eleven months. Strategically and tactically, it suits every party to put its supporters in a preparation mode for elections, but knowing the Jamaican body politic as we do, a leader has to be responsible while being responsive. Periods of electioneering can become very disruptive and destructive, rife with street protests and even violent clashes. At this very sensitive moment in the nation's history, when a most pivotal International Monetary Fund agreement is imminent, it behoves our politicians to tread softly when it comes to opposing.

So far, the Opposition JLP must be commended for the most part in the way they have conducted themselves in Gordon House. As a sitting member of parliament, I have sat and watched the performance of JLP MPs both in the Lower House and committee meetings and there have been many meaningful interventions while the interchanges have been amicable and conciliatory. And in many instances there have been acts of support and agreement.

JLP leader Andrew Holness has also conducted himself well in the House, so many well-thinking Jamaicans are surprised at his shrieking utterances laced with much seeming animosity if not hostility. Our democratic process insists that only through the ballot box can power be gained or lost, and so there is a room and place for everything. Both Mrs Simpson Miller and Mr Holness ought to heed the words of Mr Patterson and thus pursue the path of consensus rather than confrontation.

If Jamaica after 50 years of political independence is to achieve economic prosperity, then there are areas in the national arena around which consensus must be built. Energy is number one in this regard, as without cheaper energy the country will not be able to produce competitively and thus put us on a growth path; education is next in line because without a trained and educated workforce "dawg will nyam our supper". Also, consensus must be reached with respect to how we deal with the environment. One of Jamaica's greatest assets is its physical beauty and still pristine environment. We lose that and we lose a lot!

Then there are the issues of the Caribbean Court of Justice and the move towards republican status. Mr Patterson's stated views on these pressing matters that are inextricably bound must not be taken lightly. Consensus must be the operative word, not political divisiveness. After 50 years, political infantilism must be replaced by patriotic maturity.

Lloyd B Smith is a member of parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party.




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