Sat | Apr 20, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | Humility works

Published:Monday | March 18, 2019 | 12:09 AM

For me, the finest moment of Peter Phillips’ speech last Thursday was when, after expressing his support for public-private investment through the stock market, Audley Shaw reminded Peter of the time, I think it was in 2015, when he, Peter, then finance minister, had expressed the view that the Junior Market, with its incentives, should be phased into the main board.

So how now, Audley asked quite reasonably, could he, as leader of the Opposition, be giving it full support? It was Peter’s reply that impressed me, with words to this effect: “I am not above acknowledging a mistake, correcting it and then moving beyond it”.

Why is this memorable and instructive, you ask? Because it displayed humility and her beautiful sister, maturity. For me, these are among the highest qualities of leadership.

I had heard that it was really the international financial agencies to whom we were beholden at the time, who were pressing Phillips to even out the field by removing the tax breaks for listing on the junior market.

They argued that an institution which was intended to encourage start-ups was being used by established companies as a means of tax avoidance.

Peter did not offer any excuse or explanation on Thursday, however. He just acknowledge that his suggestion had been mistaken, resiled from it and counselled moving on; trying to do the best you can for the people who elected you for the short period you have to exercise a little influence. Audley nodded approvingly. He knows.

Shouldn’t this attitude, and the value system beneath it, be the norm of both public and private life? We so love to score points; to echo the catcalls of “hypocricy”, audible from some ministers on Thursday again, that we fail to admit that in every sphere of life, we make all kinds of errors of judgement.

And not all of them are cretinous or corrupt; and further, that the cause of the common good requires admission, correction and then doing better because we know better.

What if this kind of spirit were to characterise the behaviour of all – especially those who bear the greatest responsibility and hold the highest office.

And what a contrast to the incautious remarks from someone at the highest level, who, when Peter was insisting on efforts at national unity in matters of security, interposed to say that the only obstacle to unity re crime was Peter. Callow!

After Tuesday’s sitting, when Mark Golding clearly matched and, I think, exceeded Nigel Clarke’s command of the Budget process and people-grounded priority-setting, I engaged Horace Chang on his careless charge inferring that the Opposition, in its unwillingness to condone a semi-permanent state of emergency (SOE), is to be blamed for the resurgence of murderous violence in St James. I sensed and shared his desperation but not his conclusion.

After a year of the most severe measures known to our Constitution, the crime problem in St James remains unsolved. To me, having read our history of futile popular repression and having lived through the Suppression of Crime era, this is the clearest proof, once again, that suppressive measures, by themselves, just do not work. Unless you intend to continue the SOE indefinitely, which, terrifying to realise, would be quite acceptable to a fair number of Jamaicans who are exempt from its asperities, Chang and the Government need to wheel and come again with a constructive, bipartisan, anti-crime strategy.

Create mandatory camp

Why not twin the intensive activities of the security forces with a programme, anchored by the army, to create a mandatory six-month camp for 500 of the most vulnerable youth in each crime-prone parish – the idlers who cannot give account of their way out of vagrancy.

Subject them to a regimen of vigorous physical activity, heavy civic (not partisan) indoctrination, including the responsibilities of fatherhood; hard work improving public infrastructure and social facilities; behaviour modification, good food, no weed, modest stipend related to performance and an orientation towards career and employment.Do this and more with families and schoolers and I believe the seepage into gang culture will be stanched.

Those hardened gunmen and scammers who refuse to participate must be dealt with by the security forces – not murdered extra-judicially as some admire the Phillipines for doing, but detained, charged and brought before a court for review periodically until trial. Do this and many guns will rust.

That is what we should be spending the available billions to achieve. It will involve a social, financial and security state of emergency, far more comprehensive and purposeful than the type the Government wants to resurrect.

And such an effort would surely garner full national support.

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.