A new political culture for the new Jamaica

Al Miller

Sunday, July 08, 2018

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Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite all of the darkness. — Desmond Tutu

There is hope of a new Jamaica; the year 2018 being a turning point! There are some potent signs which, to the insightful eye, are indicators of hope. What are they?

I was so encouraged in my hope on reading the headline of Sunday, June 3, 2018, 'PNP man wants Seaga Road'. I subsequently read a mature and statesman-like article written by Hugh Graham, councillor for the Lluidas Vale Division in the St Catherine Municipal Corporation and new chairman of the People's National Party (PNP)-controlled St Catherine North Western constituency organisation.

“Jamaica's fifth prime minister, Edward Seaga, who has significantly contributed to the development of the road infrastructure in Jamaica, should have one of the city's important roads renamed after him – the Lady Musgrave Road,” Graham wrote in the article.

The editorial leadership of this very newspaper described Graham's call as “a rare demonstration of political maturity”.

I wholeheartedly agree, as his thinking reflects the kind of new-era political leadership I have been referencing and calling for in building the new Jamaica.

Hugh Graham was bold, honest, and open enough to objectively look at the contribution of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga of the party opposite to his own and acknowledge his positive initiatives. He further recommended that he be rewarded in a particular way.

Graham's action speaks to the type of maturity, balance and objectivity we need to see more of from both sides of the political divide. His action may seem small or simple, but it gives hope that we can create a new kind of politics that respects the value of opponents. A kind of politics that does not denigrate an individual without merit. A kind of politics that focuses on issues, policies, programmes, and the politician's ability to manage national affairs for the best interest of all, in keeping with a shared national vision.

If this position is a reflection of the attitude, spirit and approach of Graham generally, he is an asset to his party and the nation. That kind of thinking in a candidate should be supported.

Change is coming!

The changes of the guard from the old-style tribal, confrontationalist, one-upmanship political system is happening. Other politicos need to embrace this new-era approach and express it in their private and public speeches, writings, parliamentary and public addresses.

Regretfully, I am seeing too many of the up-and-coming politicians still steeped in the same backward, 'fool fool' politics of their fathers. I am impelled to remind those of that genre of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, “We must learn to work together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”

This 'fool fool' type of political animal is evident in both the Jamaica Labour Party and the People's National Party. I have heard a few of them over the last years in public, and they certainly make me hang my head in shame. However, there are a few very encouraging ones who must be applauded. I will not call names yet, give them time to show that they are indeed new era and not a fluke.

Speaking of fluke, we all must be mindful that we will not create the new Jamaica we want by accident. Our actions must be right, deliberate and strategic. This approach is especially true of those who are part and parcel of our political leadership.

What are some right, deliberate and strategic actions that will reshape our political culture and political leaders for the new Jamaica? I suggest training, rewards, restraints, and reinforcement, along with firm and fair leaders willing to embrace and express clear values and hold friends and family accountable to the same.

Political training

We need a short course for aspirants entering political service to the new Jamaica on topics such as:

• transformational leadership (principles, strategies, methodologies;

• effective communication for effective leadership;

• constituency management for people empowerment and community development;

• concepts in nation-building (principles of serving for national development and growth);

• representational politics (representing people, managing self);

• parliamentary decorum and protocol; and

• people-centric governance.

Somebody encourage me or join me in making it happen. Serious ting!

The HEART Trust/National Training Agency was established in 1982 by former Prime Minister Edward Seaga. It has since then positively reshaped the vocational culture of our island. Imagine if we could establish the political and public policy equivalent of HEART!

We cannot continue the political process the way it has evolved to the present. It will not change without training and the selection of a new-thinking breed of politicians with a servant leadership attitude. Intentional pressure in this regard must come from the populace; that's you and me!

Get rid of that foul smell!

Some of the recent rhetoric and the attitudes displayed by those seeking to offer themselves for representation in Clarendon are certainly not what we want going forward. It has a foul smell. A smell that will certainly not be entertained even in the present Jamaica, land we love. I present this as proof that it's not the youthfulness of age, but the newness of thinking, that will usher in our new era Jamaica.

Some young dogs are hugging up and imitating the snarling and snapping ways of the old dogs.

Young politicos of this ilk, I encourage you to leave that way of life alone; for it will not lead us to the new and prosperous Jamaica we all desire.

For those who choose to step out of the old pack into the new-era thinking, both the Opposition leader and the new-era prime minister should develop a new system of rewards. For those who choose to stay in the foul-smelling old way of politicking, they should suffer severe consequences.

Of course, this suggestion of mine calls for strong leadership. Singapore is credited with moving from Third World to First World in the same time that we have gone from Third World to 'lower third'. Most people attribute Singapore's quantum leap in socio-economic development to the strong, firm, fair and consistent leadership of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (1959 - 1990).

Some would say his style was strong-handed. He reportedly said the following: “I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn't be here today. And I say, without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn't be here, we would not have made economic progress if we had not intervened on very personal matters — who your neighbour is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right.”

How do I move from old style to new-era thinker?

My suggestion is quick self-examination and a willingness on the part of all aspirants for service in the new Jamaica to choose to become a part of the answer and not contributors to the continuing problems we are working at solving. The fact is leaders have to raise the bar. Leaders have to maintain the consciousness that they are being followed.

Good leaders accept their responsibility, so they love correction and are quick to deal with recognised flaws in character or behaviour. Good leaders are quick to apologise and work at developing good character to positively influence their leadership role. The political leadership of the new Jamaica has to be of this ilk if we are to experience real change.

Set free

Do you remember that the prime minister, as leader of the nation, was willing to publicly humble himself before the Almighty God and lead the nation in a prayer of repentance for the nation? He acknowledged the sins of the political parties and Governments against God and the people, post-independence.

His apparently simple action was one of the most necessary spiritual steps towards the release of the blessing of God for building the new Jamaica. It has laid the spiritual foundation in creating the shift for real change and growth which we have begun to see.

This was important because, while others can pray for forgiveness of the nation's sin and for mercy, they will see limited change until the authority of top leadership engages. Both God and the evil spiritual forces respect and respond to the principle of authority.

A further step to the act of repentance would be for the prime minister, his Government and the Opposition to collaborate with church leaders in a Truth and Forgiveness Commission. This is important for the healing of the soul of the nation and setting us free from the past so that we can embrace the new-era future. A people entrapped by years of oppression, death, corruption and pain can only be set free by truth and a renewed commitment to justice and equality.

Questions, answer,

Another sign was the recent dialogue in Parliament over the Petrojam issue. For a while, a healthy and controlled discussion ensued. The Opposition raised some probing and relevant questions of the prime minister and his Government. The questions were raised in a spirit of inquiry in a disciplined and orderly manner, searching for truth in the public's interest. They correctly did what we expect a responsible Opposition to do.

The prime minister, in his response, answered respectfully, understanding their right to ask and the need for the nation to whom the Government is accountable to know. The prime minister was strong enough not to yield to the call for the minister's resignation without due process and gathering the facts to guarantee fairness in decision-making.

I have mentioned before that there is a growing tendency in many quarters to first call for resignations wherever a problem arises, and often without any reasonable justification. There is also a tendency for us to expect perfection from imperfect human beings. We are unkind and give no room for human error, yet we expect it when the shoe is on our own foot. It is so easy to forget the injunction to do unto others as you would want done to you, if you were in the same situation.

If you have a good person in a position doing a good job, with the right attitude, it is irresponsible, unfair and unkind to lightly remove them simply for human error at acts over which they have no direct control. Strong mature leadership should never capitulate to such calls. Leadership actions must always be only on principle, love, and justice — never fear-based.

I must remind Phillip Paulwell of what might have happened had not then Prime Minister P J Patterson been strong enough to stand on principle and exercise judgement based on more complete knowledge of the situation. He must have seen something of value in the young man who he retained, acknowledging the fact of his error in judgement, calling it “youthful exuberance”, yet allowing him to continue to serve his country. Let's be careful of self-serving calls and not ensuring right, responsible action.

These are glimmers of hope of change. The signs are there that it can and will happen. Fellow columnists and other opinion leaders, let's seek out, applaud and reward the hope-givers as we engage in print and broadcast media.

Public and private sector leaders, isn't it time to put down the old way of thinking and action, which have not taken us to a First World prosperity status, and employ new-era thinking and actions that will adequately prepare us for the new Jamaica? You can do it! You will be better off. We all would be better off for for it.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or

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