Columns

2018: The same old, same old cannot cut it

Al Miller

Sunday, January 07, 2018

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The new year has rolled in giving us new opportunities and creative possibilities to develop our dreams, both personal and national. The atmosphere from December of the commencement of a season of national repentance that has carried into the new year is the ideal climate for us to commit to making 2018 a major turning point towards the new Jamaica we all desire.

This is a call for a serious preparedness to tackle the crucial issues that have dogged us for years. In order to achieve real progress amidst the many problems, there are some vital areas that, if addressed, could significantly improve the national welfare, and if not they could severely derail all our best efforts.

The economy has within the last couple of years shown signs of stability, and that's good. Much attention must now be given to growth and development. This makes the small business sector a prime candidate for special attention. Small and micro businesses have the best opportunity to provide jobs and boost income levels throughout the country. Big business, of course, provides a large part of the tax revenue and many other benefits, but we must be careful to ensure that monopolies and cartels are not permitted to so dominate the landscape that smaller players are unable to thrive.

Bureaucracy is one of the biggest hindrances to the development of our economy and the success of small businesses in this nation. It is a challenge to large corporations as well and to foreign investment. Can we once and for all simplify our systems and truly make it easy and enjoyable to do business here? This leads inevitably to the issue of customs duties, which for many types of goods remain unjustifiably high and seem to serve more as a hindrance to prosperity than an aid. The high cost of bringing materials and goods into the island impacts the cost of goods and services to the consumer and ultimately their standard of living.

If we could finally get our act together in 2018 and capitalise on the potential value to the economy of sports and the arts, that would be great. Their potential as income earners remains largely untapped due to the lack of coordination and serious investment in the needed infrastructure and systems to capitalise on the talents of the Jamaican people. How exciting it would be to see real world-class facilities and events happening on a regular basis, and the people earning real salaries from their abilities.

Sadly, however, the excitement and expectations that should come with hope of new beginnings in a new year have been overshadowed by the reports that we closed 2017 with the third highest murder rate (1,617) in any one year in Jamaica.

Crime was the consistent headline of the year. How I had hoped that I would not have to refer to crime in the first column of the year, but the crime reality leaves an indelible mark on the minds of most of our citizens. Undoubtedly, this has proven again to be the primary issue to overcome in 2018, for we are already in double figures in homicides even though the new month is only seven days old.

Growth and development in the economy, public safety and security, the peace of mind of citizens, and the welfare of the nation depend on overcoming this monster. Success has eluded successive governments for decades.

This column has spoken repeatedly to this problem, pointing in the direction of real solutions that could be considered by the authorities. I maintain that this out-of-control monster can be caught and tamed in record time if our leaders and security forces are willing to do things differently. Stop trying to succeed with failed models and methods. What we have been doing has not worked, and so we must concede it cannot work and will not work.

I hope this new-era prime minister will not give in to the rumblings I am hearing that suggest a change in the commissioner of police is being contemplated. No change of police commissioner or national security minister has ever made a difference. That is a part of the failed historical strategy.

In as much as I am a strong advocate for the major overhaul of the police force — in their present state they are a big part of the problem — we still have to make the best of what exists since we are unable or unwilling to make the radical changes needed.

The new commissioner needs a fair chance. He must be given a free hand to select his top leaders that support his vision. He seems to have appointed a good man over the crime portfolio in Deputy Commissioner Selvin Haye. In a force known to be corrupt, the commissioner needs a team he can trust. He can then apply a new approach based on the available research, recommendations and ideas that have been shared with the police over the years. If he then cannot deliver, then certainly fire him.

Fear the State's power

The current crisis needs a National Mobilisation and Social Transformation Team with prime ministerial authority and resources to work alongside the police force. The approach of this team should be simple: short-term cauterisation of the problem and long-term solutions that will transform the negative values and attitudes which form the root of our crime problem.

The new era prime minister has to be bold enough to take some tough measures that may ruffle the feathers of both local and international players. Bold action is necessary in this time of crisis.

Fitz Jackson, the Opposition spokesman on crime, was thinking in the right direction when he said, “...none must be spared. These criminal perpetrators must be made to fear the power and force of the State without a speck of doubt.” (Our Crime Challenge 2018', The Gleaner, January 2, 2018)

The scripture supports this position. Romans 13: 4, speaking of the responsibility of government says, “The ruler is God's minister to you for good, but if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain, for he is God's minister to execute wrath on him who practises evil'.

A reality we have to face in our society is that there are some who grew up under a donmanship culture and who are schooled only to respect and respond to the exercise of force. It is going to require force, in the short term, to curtail them, but it should be a controlled, compassionate force.

The corrupt, unjust and evil side of the police force cannot do this. All the more reason the commissioner has to be allowed to select his team and a unit that has the right training and mature balance to be a controlled, compassionate force that is effective.

With the right approach, the monster of crime can be tamed in a short time, while transformation of the communities and the police force may take a longer time. I continue to contend that although there are short-terms ways to reduce crime, the crime problem cannot be effectively tackled outside of dealing with the underpinning elements that create the bed for it to flourish. These are political tribalism, garrisonisation, donmanship culture, and a corrupt police force.

2018 the turning point

The year 2018 must be the year when we deal with these negative elements. The political system cannot heal itself. The Church, the defender of justice, ought to lead this move. The year 2018 needs a strong active Church engaging the national issues and being that moral, prophetic voice of conscience; engaging the social issues with love and care to create change; engaging the communities to bridge the leadership gap and thus causing a tipping of the scales in a positive direction. The Church must move beyond the four walls into the streets, teaching and guiding the children, youth and parents in a better way of living. 'Live Love. Live Better!' ought to be the mantra and rallying cry of every pastor, elder, deacon and congregant.

Just this past Thursday, our prime minister issued a press release urging the Church “to be advocates in the fight against crime and violence”. I am in full agreement with him. In 2018, the Church needs to engage with Government not just in crime fighting but also to restore and strengthen its involvement in the education of our children.

It is abundantly clear that the root of our social problems is a result of the poor values and belief systems of our youth — the main perpetrators of crime. The serious breakdown of values is a problem of the last 40 years owing to weak societal leadership, a shift in focus in education from character development to information dissemination, and allowing economics to override critical nation-building principles. When we destroy the foundation on which a strong society is built, we ought not to be surprised at the inevitable deterioration that follows.

In 2018 I hope to see the new-era prime minister leading the nation with boldness and courage to return us to the foundation on which strong societies are built up; that same foundation that was laid by our founders — justice and truth; true respect for all; vision and wisdom in governance. Visionary, inspirational leadership committed to values, integrity and to putting Jamaica first is a primary key to societal transformation. We need principle over economics; people over power; and best national interest over party interest.

This new-era prime minister is showing signs of potentially maturing into that kind of leader. He must therefore, in 2018, draw a few persons close to him of similar vision and outlook to support, encourage and strengthen his hand so that he does not easily succumb to negative, destructive pressure from within or without. Strong, focused, principle-centred leadership at the national level is a rarity in our modern world. So when we find a leader with the potential, we should get behind him and give all the support and encouragement we can.

Our history has shown the opposite tendency to be present, and as a nation we have suffered for it. I have publicly stated, on many occasions, that there were two politicians in senior leadership that had shown indications of real change and heading in a new direction to chart a new path and who needed our support to survive and navigate the difficult waters. We did not give them the type of support needed. The Church, in weakness and fear, went silent; the wider society allowed self-interest and ulterior motives to throw them under the bus. The result was that they drowned in the rough seas when instead they could have steered the ship to less turbulent seas and we could have avoided the worsening crime deluge we have now. The problem should have been dealt with before the ship was inundated.

The individuals of whom I speak are former prime ministers Portia Simpson Miller and Bruce Golding. We destroyed their best productivity by a lack of quality support and unwarranted criticisms.

Let us not repeat the same with this new-era prime minister, Andrew Holness. Notwithstanding any possible weaknesses, he has brought a potential freshness to the table. We must help him to build on his strengths and, where there are weaknesses, the right advisers and staff must be found to fill the gaps and complement his strengths.

We must not again make the mistake of not supporting those who are ready to change. It is with this past mistake in view, and with great hope for the future why I am committed to support Holness and any young politician who shows the desire to break the status quo and do what is right. The past cannot be changed, but the future is in our power.

The year 2018 calls for bold, honest, open and decisive leaders in all sectors, who will speak truth and not allow fear of the faces of critics not committed to the best national agenda.

Other young politicians worth guiding and giving support are Damion Crawford and also Alando Terrelonge. I had hopes for Julian Robinson, but he is becoming too much of a 'party animal'. It's blinding his objectivity. I pray he finds his way back to centre.

I know I have opened a can of worms but it is necessary if we are to turn the corner of 2018 into a new day. I have taken enough licks for misconceptions, false accusations, rumours, and misrepresentations, so what is one more lick? This is the time to do the things that will create change. The same old, same old cannot cut it.

We can and must turn this nation around, making 2018 a major turning point. Will you join me in making the bold steps to tip the scales in this movement? #DoItRight #BeFirstClass

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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Love
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Children
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Better job
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