The politics of entitlement
Even as the curtains come down on Jamaica's Emancipendence celebrations, the seemingly indelible stain of political tribalism continues to besmirch the black, green and gold and all that the national flag symbolises. It is perhaps more than ironic that in recent times there was much kerfuffle about the lack of green in the Jamaican flag at a St James Parish Council function and the alleged use of orange on the cover of a printed national budget presentation in the House of Parliament, triggered no doubt in the final analysis by narrow partisan considerations. Indeed, the potent question that may well be asked is, if black had been the missing colour, would there have been similar outrage?
The sad truth is that Jamaica at 50 is still a much-divided country replete with "wagonists", opportunists, hypocrites and would-be nationalists. Yes, we have achieved much primarily from an individualistic standpoint, but as a nation we are still being weighed in the balance and found wanting. A typical example is the way many Jamaicans reacted when Usain Bolt appeared to have lost his lightning effect at the recent National Trials preceding the London 2012 Olympics. All kinds of unkind, nasty remarks were passed against him and many had started to warm towards his "partner in success" Yohan Blake more than before, and going as far as eyeing Asafa Powell as a potential upsetter. Come Sunday, August 5, 2012 and the "wagonists" came out with their pot covers and encomiums in droves!
By the way, the West Indies cricket team has been winning with Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels, both outstanding Jamaican batsmen, displaying remarkable prowess.
In a country that a famed United States entrepreneur reportedly once dubbed "a land of samples", opportunism abounds in just about every sphere of Jamaican life. No one is prepared for the long haul; immediate gratification is the order of the day: "me first, country next". As for hypocrisy, just check any cocktail circuit and you will leave feeling nauseous, not caused by the food and liquor, consumed but by the level of "double-speak", sycophancy, "suss" and backbiting that prevail. And it is well known that many of us are proud to be Jamaican only when Bolt wins and the Reggae Boyz look World-Cup ready. Otherwise, it is business as usual and for many well-to-do Jamaicans, it is important to keep the "naassy, dutty nieygahs" in their place.
My cynicism may offend some people, but when the current feelings of euphoria will have dissipated, and honest reality sets in, then as a nation "we need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves". Truth be told, a nation that is divided cannot stand. And it is in this context that the distribution of scarce benefits and spoils takes centre stage. One ugly side to this sordid affair is the politics of entitlement whereby supporters of the party in power fervently believe that is "fi we time now" - and theirs alone.
This, of course, is a very ticklish issue because it is no secret that when a party is out of power its many supporters have to "suck salt through a wooden spoon". Indeed, the nature of Jamaican politics is that "parson christen 'im pickney first." It is understood that during the Sir Alexander Bustamante/Norman Manley era, both the Jamaica Labour Party and the People's National Party had established an unwritten code whereby a certain percentage was allocated to both the winning and losing party. Nowadays, one is not sure that such an arrangement is still in place as political thugs led by area dons usually commandeer whatever is available - be it jobs, contracts, etc.
At present, the Portia Simpson Miller administration has been coming under a great deal of fire from PNP supporters who feel that the government has not moved fast enough to get rid of Labourites who are employed in state entities. MPs, including ministers, have been berated and abused because, while Comrades remain unemployed, Labourites are still at work, some in cushy positions or in situations for which they lack the required qualifications. It is felt by some of these aggrieved partisans that the PNP leadership is "soft" and not acting swiftly enough to provide jobs for them and their relatives.
This vexing scenario epitomised in the saying, "Room for rent, apply within; when I come out, you come in", plays out whenever there is a change of government. There is the convention that a new administration is given room to select its own people to key and sensitive positions, and there was a time when such persons would resign in order to make way for these changes. However, it would appear that money has become the operative word, as the party in power usually ensures that contracts are renewed on the eve of a general election which means that if the incoming administration is to fire them, then they would have to be paid up. At present, this PNP administration has intimated that it would cost a tidy sum to pay up all such contracted Labourites. What a preckeh!
Recently, I provided assistance for a woman who I was told was a Labourite. I was chastised by some Comrades who insisted that is "fi dem time now" and "no Labourite mustn't get nutten". Frankly, I do not subscribe to such a view and I have told my constituents that I am there to represent them all regardless of their political persuasion. I will continue to maintain that to give a man a fish (handout) every day is non-productive. Incidentally, in Jamaican politics it is usually called "fish head".
It is my view that the time has come, if Jamaica is to become politically mature, for there to be new rules of engagement with respect to the distribution of scarce benefits and spoils. Both the ruling PNP and the opposition JLP need to set up a bi-partisan task force, including civil society representation to examine fully this sore on the nation's body politic. Its terms of reference should also include the matter of transition when one party takes over the reins of office from another. As it now stands, the politics of entitlement by its very nature and practice is inimical to any meaningful move towards attaining economic independence.
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 or the Government of Jamaica.