Would Ja be better off as a police state?

Lloyd B

Thursday, June 14, 2018

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For many decades the success story of Singapore has been juxtaposed against Jamaica's failure to achieve economic independence and social stability, given the fact that both states emerged as self-governing in the 1960s. According to Carla Ibanzo, in an Istthirdworld blog entitled 'Singapore, Jamaica and the late Lee Kuan Yew', “In the early 1960s Singapore was part of the Federation of Malaya. It was without adequate water supply and any natural resources. Division and hostility existed between the Chinese and the Malaysians. Massive unemployment, riots and labour unrest riddled the island. It was also surrounded by hostile neighbours. Singaporeans spoke four main languages: Mandarin, English, Malay, and Tamil.”

She adds: “Jamaica was known as the pearl of the Caribbean in the 1960s. It was a period of robust growth and prosperity for the island. Bauxite, alumina and tourism were its main income earners. Jamaica enjoyed good relations with its Caribbean neighbours and its people spoke one language — English.”

Today, while Singapore has been hailed as one of the world's greatest success stories, Jamaica, for the most part, remains a debt-ridden, developing country that is lacking in economic buoyancy and a quality of life that is desirable for all. And so the sad truth is that, while in 1965 Singapore was seen as a society that was destined to fail, Jamaica in that same period was seen as an example of a nation moving in the right direction, so much so that Lee Kuan Yew visited the island in a bid to learn from us.

There are many Jamaicans who oftentimes wish that this country was the “Singapore of the Caribbean”, but in the same breath many argue that we would have to go as far as creating a police state, as Lee Kuan Yew did in order to “manage” the developmental process.

According to Wikipedia, police state is a term denoting a Government that exercises power arbitrarily through the power of the police force”. Originally, the term designated a State regulated by a civil administration, but since the beginning of the 20th century it has taken on an emotional and derogatory meaning by describing an undesirable state of living characterised by the overbearing presence of the civil authorities. The inhabitants of a police state may experience restrictions on their ability or freedom to express or communicate political or other views, which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement. Political control may be exerted by means of a secret police force that operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional state.

The current states of public emergency in St James and St Catherine, as well as the zone of special operation in Mount Salem, which rely heavily on the presence of police and soldiers, are reminiscent of a “mini police state”. Many residents in these communities have welcomed wholeheartedly this strategy of maintaining law and order that has helped to reduce incidence of crime, including murder and extortion. And they have been willing to put up with various inconveniences, including curtailment of some of their rights, for the common good. As some country folk would say, “If you want good, you nose haffi run.”

According to one observer, “Singapore's success is due to MPH: Meritocracy, Pragmatism and Honesty.” And, despite its being seen as a police state, some of the most talented people in the world, including Americans and Europeans, are giving up their citizenship to become Singapore citizens. Maybe they have noticed something that the Western media has not. Singapore is one of the best places to be born in and live in. It is in this context, perhaps, that the city state was chosen for the Trump/Kim Jong-un summit.

Here is how one experienced world traveller described being in Singapore: “We feel safe, never having to check our pockets or over our shoulders after dark in the city…The public notice signs have us feeling all fuzzy with their inclusive language: 'Let's work together to keep streets clean!', 'Give up your seat on the MRT to someone who needs it more than you do!'…Singapore just seems to have it all, a temperate 28 degrees Celsius climate, low unemployment rates, efficiency, interesting sights, and a society that promotes tolerance and kinship. Surely, we think, this is a gleaming steel and glass example of a harmonious modern-day utopia. A carefree and pleasant society, where everything is looked after for you.”

So we get down on our knees and cried: “Why, why, why?”

A Jamaica Observer columnist, in a 2015 article headlined 'Jamaica went for sprints, Singapore goes the distance', wrote: “Jamaica could have been the Singapore of the Caribbean. With visionary leadership we can still achieve that. But, as Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Then he added a somewhat cheeky aside, “I would add 'with the same people'.

Would Jamaica be better off as a Singapore in its current political and governance framework? Should hardened criminals, including drug pushers, be executed? Should litterbugs be flogged publicly? Would its “enlightened dictatorship” be beneficial to us? With all these and several more negative images of Lee Kuan Yew's legacy, Singapore's population is one of the best educated in the world so, despite the restrictions on freedom and harsh consequences for those who do not fall in line, most who live and work there choose to stay.

Meanwhile, “back a yard”, most Jamaicans if given the opportunity to migrate would do so, the majority of our university graduates are constantly flying out never to return permanently and, according to a Carl Stone poll some years ago, over 60 per cent have felt that they would have been better off if Jamaica had remained a British colony.

Interestingly, in a trip to Jamaica, Lee Kuan Yew said, “If they had given me an island of this size, close to the United States, instead of a too small, poor and dirty, how much would have been able to do.”

Crime and violence is said to be Jamaica's greatest deterrent to economic growth. Singapore continues to have one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Crime is said to be generally non-confrontational and non-violent; guns are strictly controlled and are almost non-existent. In 1962, it can be stated with fierce certainty that Jamaica had one of the lowest crime rates in the world. By 2009, it had become one of the murder capitals of the world, and still is in that category.

With the success of the state of public emergency and zones of special operations many Jamaicans have expressed the view that the entire island should be so blanketed, which in essence would have put us on the road to becoming a police state whether we like it or not. Desperate measures for desperate times?

Incidentally, a recent survey revealed that many Jamaicans would support a military coup if it became necessary. Much food for thought.

Lloyd B Smith is a veteran newspaper editor and publisher who has resided in Montego Bay for most of his life where he is popularly known as “The Governor”. Send comments to Observer or

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