Sunday, December 23, 2012

Guest commentary: Separating fact from fiction - by Dr Hamid Ghany

On Tuesday December 11, 2012, the Jamaica Observer wrote an editorial about the governance practices in this country that created a minor stir, before it was recognised to contain more fiction than fact. 

This country has grown up over the last 50 years by gradually coming to appreciate in greater measure its own rich diversity which is celebrated widely.

There are political differences just like any other parliamentary democracy that operates on an adversarial system of Government and Opposition. Race is the engine of politics in Trinidad and the major political parties in Trinidad have been able to engineer changes with crossover votes that confirm the existence of independent voters who can and do make the difference in certain marginal constituencies.

In Tobago, race is not the engine of politics and the political pendulum has swung different ways there at the national and at the domestic Tobago level on the basis of leadership attraction and articulation of genuine Tobago issues.

We do not engage in gun battles to settle our political scores and there have been five changes of government over the 50 years of our political history. The suggestion of “ethnic stocking” is based on a premise of failing to observe affirmative action which opens a door that this country has never handled.

As we continue to develop, race and politics will continue to intersect but we are mature enough to understand it. The development of a multi-party system with two major parties in terms of seat counts over the last 20 years means that the PNM and the UNC are the ones who are most likely to capture the majority of seats in any election.

In understanding that phenomenon, one has to appreciate the influence of race in our politics. There are powerful sociological reasons why this is so. Other political parties have tried to disavow the race factor either with left-wing ideology or just pure idealism. Whichever it is, we have survived as a nation whenever the political pendulum has swung because the will of the voters and the leadership of the political parties has made that happen.

The fact that the PNM or the UNC have rewarded their supporters in the past is not a curse because they happen to be of one ethnic group or another, but rather that the standard rules of political patronage have operated in this democracy just like any other through political rotation.

Likewise in Jamaica, however, there can be no doubt that supporters of the PNP or the JLP will be rewarded whichever party is in power. The only difference is that they will have the visual of “party stocking” as opposed to the visual of “ethnic stocking” because of the obvious social differences.

The fiction in the editorial is to assume that supporters of a government are not entitled to be appointed to positions because of the cloak of political support that covers their ability to be appointed and somehow their race ought to disqualify them.

According to the editorial: “Many people in Trinidad and Tobago do not want to tackle ethnic stocking because persons who raise the issue are accused of being racist in a society guilty of self-delusion about racial harmony.” This is clearly fictional because there is no self-delusion about racial harmony.

We understand our challenges. Unlike other countries of the world where there is real racial or religious strife, Trinidad and Tobago has the ability to quarrel about these matters without the threat of violence. How many countries in the world have an Inter-Religious Organisation with a rotating chairmanship?

The article did have a good suggestion about parliamentary scrutiny of certain appointments, but it failed to understand that the Parliament is controlled by a majority. It would only be different if we adopted a presidential system where there would be a clear separation of powers in which the executive does not control the legislature and they are genuinely separate.

For the first 25 years of our independence, the PNM was the dominant political party, while for the last 25 years the PNM has had serious competition which has resulted in five changes of power taking place between 1986 and 2010. Jamaica has also had five changes of power over its 50 years of independence which makes it no different to us.

The force that drives public appointments in many instances is the swing of the political pendulum of power. As the competition gets stiffer, political parties have to reach across the aisles to embrace new supporters while managing the expectations of their traditional supporters.

The fact that this country has been able to maintain its political stability in the face of fierce political rivalry is a credit to its growing political maturity and infinite tolerance. We are not as bad as others would want us to believe because both those in Government and in the Opposition have a “boundless faith in our destiny.” They simply have different political lenses through which they view the future.

The Jamaica Observer editorial clearly misread this country and its diverse population.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai