Columns

It's discrimination!

Stephen
Edwards

Monday, June 11, 2018

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While at my desk this week, buried in work, my phone rang off the hook. To my surprise it wasn't because a friend or family member was in need of urgent help. It was because my name had been brought up in Gordon House during a meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC).

Apparently, Dr Wykeham McNeill, who is an Opposition Member of Parliament and PAAC chair, took issue with my employment at a government agency because of my affiliation with the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). This is not the first time that I have become the target of political victimisation, and I do not believe it will be the last.

McNeill should be reminded that the Constitution of Jamaica, which is the highest man-made law of the land, protects all citizens from discrimination based on race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, or creed. It therefore means that his taking exception to the my employment, and that of other young professionals, simply because we do not share his political views, is in total contradiction with how our forefathers intended Jamaica's democracy to work.

Thousands of bright young men and women were looking on as McNeill abandoned the meeting's agenda to launch his partisan attack. The message that his actions sent was that there is no place in the public sector for young, educated and qualified individuals who have political opinions. The enforcement of such a position would be tantamount to imposing a punishment on our youth for exercising their constitutional and democratic right to association. Dr McNeill, the People's National Party, and its youth arms should all tell the country if that is their considered and collective position.

At a time when the nation is trying to overcome voter apathy, especially among its youth, McNeill's actions did a tremendous disservice to an entire generation of Jamaicans who look up to young leaders who are associated with political parties, including his own. How do we now convince them to use political activism as a tool for advocacy and change if it will inevitably exclude them from possible employment opportunities or, worse, subject them to unwarranted public attacks on their characters?

My personal opinion is that the education that I have been afforded, having been subsidised by the Government of Jamaica through the public school system, is an investment by the taxpayers of Jamaica. I strongly believe that the people of Jamaica — many of whom did not have the opportunities that I did — deserve a return on their investment. It is therefore my duty to work diligently and creatively to give them their expected return. It is that philosophy that has guided most of my career decisions, from teaching at a public high school to working for the Government.

My commitment to serve the country has not been without its challenges. Time and time again I have suffered the wrath of political victimisation. However, I feel no ill-will towards those whose hands the abuse came from. Instead, I am cognisant of the fact that there are lesson in these trials tribulations. It is through these adversities that I have experienced first-hand the circumstances that I am duty-bound to work to change in Jamaica. These unjust attacks only serve to strengthen my resolve.

This situation presents an opportunity for us to right the wrongs of the past. Let us now have open and honest discussions about how we can put policies and systems in place to ensure that every employee, whether in the private or public sector, is protected from discrimination based on their place of origin, political opinions, colour, or creed.

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