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The deepening culture of resignation

Howard Gregory

Sunday, June 18, 2017

In the early 1960s my family moved to the Washington Gardens area of Kingston. It was a time when Pembroke Hall was under construction and Hughenden was a large orange grove with a great house, while Duhaney Park was one large callaloo garden and bush.

I was able to see the residents move into these areas and the pride which they took in developing their properties, their gardens and their communities. It demonstrated clearly the sense of pride that Jamaicans feel when they have a sense of ownership and identification with the land.

A few nights ago I had the opportunity to drive through Pembroke Hall, something which I had not done for a number of years, and was taken aback by the level of physical degradation which has taken place in that community. Commercial entities abound with a seeming lack of order and attention to the physical environment evident in the vicinity of some of these enterprises, and which is even manifested in the physical environment surrounding many of the housing units. It is troubling to see the decline of communities of this nature which, unfortunately, is replicating what has happened in residential communities in the western part of this city since Independence.

The question which arises is how is it possible for this to occur? I have come to understand that the municipal authorities apparently travel routes that do not reveal such development, neither are they residents in such communities. Many developments which contribute to the decay of communities in the city involve construction which is unauthorised and which falls outside of the radar of the authorities. It is true that this is not peculiar to the city of Kingston, as developing trends involving unauthorised construction and violation of various codes take place in just about every parish and community and without corrective action by the authorities.

What is even more distressing is the fact that many citizens have sought to exercise their civic duty as well as express their concern regarding the impact of these developments on their investment and the life of their community, but the response from municipal corporations has been one of unresponsiveness, or when details surrounding the legitimisation of such developments come to light, it is embarrassing to learn of the manipulation and the unscrupulous ways in which matters were resolved prior to or during the process of construction.

As I engaged people surrounding this issue I got a clear response that there is no sense that the authorities are active in our communities to maintain the integrity of them and to prevent them falling into decay, disrepair and disorder. At the same time, the response is also forthcoming that it makes no difference whether one reports these issues as no positive outcome can be expected.

If there is one thing which our national and local system of governance needs to address is the empowerment of a people who are becoming increasingly hopeless about their ability to claim their communities as spaces in which they have a say.

One morning, while walking in my community, I observed a gardener raking the sidewalk before his workplace, and witnessed the number of empty juice boxes and foam containers thrown on the side of the road by motorists and taxi drivers who take a break to have a meal and just discard their garbage on the side of the road. Later that day as I travelled around the city, I observed a Coaster bus reduce the speed at which it was travelling in order to allow a passenger to discard his or her garbage in some shrubbery.

With a day begun on this note, I could not help noticing the amount of garbage dumped in the Sandy Gully by residents on its banks and opportunists who had some waste of which they sought to dispose.

It is no longer a source of amazement to see the ease with which individuals just discard their food wrappers as they walk, without the least sense of public awareness and shame that would at least cause them to look around and see if their actions are being noticed by anyone. Two Saturday nights ago, after leaving the National Stadium at which a great Jamaican was honoured, I passed through Half-Way-Tree, in the vicinity of the Clock Tower, and could only feel a sense of shame when I looked around at the garbage and disorder all around. Is it that the authorities do not traverse these roadways like the rest of us? Have we lost our sense of cleanliness and civic pride as a people?

It appears that this is another instance in which there is no need for further legislation but action. And the question may be asked — action by whom? Yes, it is action by us citizens, however it is not only foolish but risky to challenge people who display such antisocial behaviour if the authorities do not see it as any big thing and are there to watch your back. Consequently, many citizens have determined that they will say and do nothing in regard to the undesirable situation.

Older folks like to reminisce regarding the days of yesteryear when an adult could address a child who was misbehaving on the road and would get a respectful response and a change in behaviour. Those days have long gone for the most part and we have become a society in which indiscipline has become a way of life most evident among adults and manifested even in conduct which involves violation of the law.

To push the issue further, one could say that the indiscipline has become institutionalised. One only has to venture on the road and see the conduct of motorists, especially those who drive with red plates, and see how “third lanes” are formed routinely, intersections with traffic lights, especially those with right turn arrows, are violated. I have had to change my walking path in the mornings as I fear for my safety from taxis, legal and robot, that are racing to stay ahead of the State-owned JUTC buses in a system legitimised by our elected officials.

I search in vain to find a police presence in some of these most notorious locations. At best, citizens have resigned themselves to the fact that this is the situation with which we have to live, while at worse, more and more citizens seem to have decided that they will take their cue from these violators who function daily with impunity. So it is that the Barbican intersection by the Loshusan complex is a demonstration site for such behaviours.

It comes as no surprise then that at the time of writing one of our daily newspapers should have as its lead story for the day 'Informers Wanted - As Calls To Hotlines Dip, J'cans Urged To Report Corruption'. The report quoted the head of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), Assistant Commissioner of Police Selvin Hay as saying that “despite at least two dedicated telephone systems where persons can call anonymously and report cases of corruption, Jamaicans are staying silent and not blowing the whistle, and are just not ringing as often as expected in a country where the practice is rampant”. He is quoted as saying further that “Earlier, when we set it up, there were far more calls, but shortly after that, it levelled out.”

I would argue that the “levelling out” is symptomatic of what I am calling the culture of resignation. People have developed a stance that it does not matter what they do or say, nothing happens, no action will follow. And while this may not be reflective of the modus operandi of MOCA, the point is that MOCA is not a standalone entity, but depends on the Courts to see that its work is carried to a natural conclusion, and justice be done or appears to have been done. The current delays in the movement of matters through the Courts will not enhance citizen participation in bringing about the results desired by MOCA and for which it came into being in the first place.

Having said all this about the culture of resignation, it is clear that we have nowhere to go as a nation if this is not changed in a dramatic way. In this regard, I believe that citizens always have a responsibility to take initiatives in bringing to the attention of the authorities and the public things that are amiss within the society, beginning with their immediate communities.

At the same time, there is still a burden of responsibility on the part of the elected and public authorities to ensure that there are in place appropriate and responsive channels and mechanisms for reporting matters of concerns. It is also important that those receiving the complaints be identifiable to the public, so that six months later the public is not being told that the particular agency has never received any such report. At the same time, the public must be assured that there are mechanisms for monitoring the performance of these individuals and agencies in addressing public concerns. Where appropriate, the individual citizen making a report should receive, at some point, a report on how the matter is being or has been addressed.

Unfortunately, too many public servants and institutions seem to believe that they have no such obligation to the public, even as there are loopholes to be plugged in terms of options and opportunities for corruption which the current status quo facilitates.

 

— Howard Gregory is the Lord Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands