...and coming to terms with SOEs, our humanity, educationSunday, January 23, 2022
The five fingers on one of my hands are more than the times I have had a sound basis to commend the long-standing Member of Parliament (MP) for Kingston Eastern and Port Royal Phillip Paulwell. The reason is Paulwell has promised much since 1997, when he was elected an MP, but, in my opinion, has delivered very little.
Now, in the evening of his career, Paulwell seems to have developed some testicular political fortitude, as suggested in this banner headline: 'Paulwell warns PNP will pay for SOE vote' ( The Gleaner, January 17, 2022).
The Old Lady of North Street reported these and related details: “Former People's National Party (PNP) Chairman Phillip Paulwell believes the Opposition will suffer consequences for its decision not to support the Government's bid last November to extend states of emergency (SOEs) in seven police divisions nationwide...
“He said that he would have broken ranks and voted with the Government if he was one of the eight Opposition senators who doomed a proposed SOE extension.”
Within our deeply divisive political arena of party politics, the former Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining evidently has had a political eureka moment as suggested by this enlightened utterance which was also reported in The Gleaner news item mentioned.
Said Paulwell: “My people in East Kingston want an end to murders. When their loved ones are dying without cause, you can't tell them about principles.”
Paulwell seems to be getting it that a Member of Parliament is elected to vigorously represent the interests of his constituents, and not the whims and fancies of his political party. This is a good thing.
Some are attributing Paulwell's utterances to political and personal atonement. Some say he is a wily political fox strategising for a leadership challenge in September 2022. A few say Paulwell's utterances are wolf in sheep's clothing political tactic. Others guesstimate that he was experiencing a Damascus Road-like experience.
Paulwell's motivation should not, in my estimation, cloud the fact that he broke ranks with the party to which he is “genetically connected”.
We should not be so blinded by corrosive political cynicism that we block out the political bioluminescence which is evident in Paulwell's refreshing stance.
MP for St Catherine South Western Everald Warmington is famous for saying, “The people of South West St Catherine sent me here. I represent them.” Most of the other MPs seem to have forgotten who sent them to 81 Duke Street and why they are there.
It is the duty of an MP to openly reject politics which disadvantage their constituents and the country. So, I will not join those who are itching to pelt Phillip Paulwell with stones.
I believe we have suffered near-unspeakable pain in this country because there are too many among us who believe that our political, social, economic, emotional, and intellectual differences are more important than our common humanity. The consequence of this rotten reality is that too many of us are immersed in a politics which hurts people. That kind of politics makes us close our eyes to wrongdoing once it is happening to “them”, and the “others”. Wrong!
“Mark Golding is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Dr Peter Phillips, “pee pee, cluck cluck”. I wrote such sentiments in this space a few months after Golding took the reins of the PNP.
I have been proved right.
Previously, I adumbrated numerous instances of Golding's apparent and injudicious aping of the only leader of one of our two major political parties not to become prime minister.
Paulwell's observation that the PNP will be hurt for not supporting the SOEs which had been recommended by the high command of our security forces — did not require an Einsteinesque tickle.
All credible polls on the matter in recent years have found that the vast majority of Jamaicans support the use of SOEs to help fight our crime and violence epidemic. Hundreds of Jamaican lives have been saved because of the imposition of the SOEs. Still the PNP has continued its ludicrous opposition to the enhanced security measure. For his unwise opposition to SOEs and other reasons Phillips was booted from atop the PNP's perch.
Golding seems unfamiliar with the local saying, “Tek sleep and mark death.” He seems unfamiliar also with the fact that every credible poll in recent times has shown that he is not getting any significant political traction especially among our youth.
Why then has he put a knife to his political throat and that of his party? This is a puzzle within an enigma. Maybe the explanation lies in how Mark Golding came to occupy the prized office of PNP President.
Golding was catapulted to the PNP's top job. I say catapulted because he is an 'accidental' president. Some might even say he is a reluctant Comrade leader.
Recall it was Golding's long-time business partner and friend Peter Bunting, who was identified by many political pundits as the heir apparent to the PNP's throne. Bunting, I believe, fell prey to an age old political miscalculation. He could not wait for the 'king to die'.
History shows that those who make this fatal error suffer grave political misfortune. In 2019 Bunting launched and lost a bruising and a bitter leadership challenge. The PNP has been split into two major factions since — OnePNP and RiseUnited.
Recall too, that Bunting was giving a political trashing by political newcomer Rhoda Moy Crawford in the general election of September 3, 2020.
Many at 89 Old Hope Road said the PNP could and would not lose the Manchester Central seat. He did by a landslide.
Pundits say he was given a consolation prize when he was appointed a senator, Leader of Opposition business in the Upper House, and spokesperson on national security.
In political terms, Golding just does not strike me as his own man. It seems someone is Golding's political ventriloquist. I wonder who?
I believe the PNP's helter-skelter approach to national issues such as the SOEs is rapidly undermining its political viability. Public sentiment is the lifeblood of politics.
Dr Phillips vigorously paddled the PNP's boat against it and now Golding is doing the same.
Golding seems oblivious also to this rising tide: “PSOJ reiterates support for states of emergency...with review tribunal” ( OUR.Today, January 15, 2022). Has Golding seen this? “Mobay Chamber calls for return of SOE to combat 'out of control' crime.” ( Jamaica Observer, January 15, 2022).
Not the answer
We need to be very careful that we don't accept uninformed panic and hysteria as a strategy to counter crime.
Consider this: “Presiding bishop of the Christian Holiness Church in Jamaica Dr Alvin Bailey is challenging Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang to show moral rectitude and resign immediately.
“In a statement on Saturday, the bishop said if Chang refuses to resign, the prime minister should relieve him of his duties in the interest of the safety and security of the Jamaican people.” ( Jamaica Observer, January 15, 2022)
On social media and in sections of traditional media some are again calling for the Jamaica Constabulary Force's head, Major General Antony Anderson, and outgoing head of the Jamaica Defence Force, Lieutenant General Rocky Meade, to be got rid of in one fell swoop.
Well, go right ahead, kick them all to the curb, and appoint Bishop Bailey as the minister of national security even. It will not stop the long-standing bloodletting in the country.
We have been chopping and changing ministers of national security and commissioners of police from “Whappie kill Phillup”. That action has not addressed what, I believe, is the fundamental problem.
We are simply not catching enough of the criminals, putting them before the courts, and getting them convicted. When are we going to get it through our heads that the best deterrent to crime is the certainty of being caught?
When is it going to register that it is widely known in our country that if you commit a crime, you have better than a 50 per cent chance to get away scot-free? It is not rocket science, therefore, that our crime rate is one of the highest in the world.
Our police force needs an urgent systemic overhaul. To the credit of Dr Chang, he has implemented numerous improvements to the intelligence gathering capabilities and has done a lot to improve the physical working conditions of the security forces. But we need more and fast. Among other things, I believe we need international help.
He is human, too
On the subject of help, I think it would be helpful for all of us to remember that we are all human. Certainly until we “shuffle off this mortal coil” (Shakespeare's Hamlet).
Some weeks ago Prime Andrew Minister Holness poured out his heart at an annual prayer breakfast. He came across as tearful. Some people, who evidently conceive of themselves as a cross between the mythical superman and Ironman, interpreted the prime minister's emotional moment as a public admission of failure, bordering on some kind of breakdown.
I see nothing wrong with the leader of a country expressing his inner feelings to his countrymen. Of course, I don't want a prime minister who is emotionally inclined, like John Boehner, former speaker (2011-2015) of the United States House of Representatives who was just a little too emotional/tearful too often in my estimation. It is widely wholesaled and retailed in this country that “big man don't cry.' Perhaps such men are made from concrete. I certainly don't want those types managing the affairs of my country.
So another report on the sorry state of education in Jamaica has reiterated what some of us already knew. The Orlando Patterson-chaired Commission on Education Transformation report makes for grim reading, but so did similar reports before it.
I have said in this space already, but it bears repeating: We have been delaying for far too long the surgery which the local education desperately needs. We can continue to sugar-coat. We can continue to pile excuse upon excuse, it will not change the reality of the severe crisis in education which exists.
The commission found that the majority of Jamaican students were failing to achieve mastery of foundational subjects such as mathematics and science.
The report says the state of primary education is “extremely troubling”. The commission found that 56 per cent of Jamaican grade 6 students have no research skills and are unable to find information on assigned subjects.
Those who continue to tinker with the sick patient that is our education system should be charged at a minimum with negligence. I mean that. We are doing a great injustice to the children of the poor and downtrodden of this country. Make no mistake, the children of the rich and middle classes do not attend the failing schools. These are the majority of schools. For years I have been pointing to that fact in this space. It is not an original observation.
We will only get out of this learning crisis when we start being honest. The entire education system needs an overhaul. And please do not hold up the pockets of excellence as representative of the whole. That is just deception.
Our teachers ought to be among the best-paid professionals in this country. Our teachers' colleges, like in other countries, should accept the absolute cream of the crop. The present reality is quite the opposite. It is a settled matter in education that a quality teacher is the most critical ingredient in a child's learning. When are we going to get that?
At present, only a mere handful of our best and brightest enter the teaching profession. It is obvious why. The salary is embarrassingly low and the working conditions generally poor.
We need to make some paradigm shifts here. I have been pointing out in this space for years that the current funding system that is applied to our school system is flawed.
The system used to pay teachers invites and rewards high rates of unproductiveness.
And the archaic legislations which are used to guide, determine, and measure participations and outcomes have helped to push the education system within inches of falling over the learning crisis precipice.
We need to save ourselves.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.