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Ethnic stocking: another view

By Michael Harris

There were many in this country who took comfort in the bashing the Government received in a Jamaica Observer editorial about two weeks ago.

The editorial stated, in part, that "The real problem in the energy-rich republic is not substance abuse, but the abuse of substance. By that we mean the abuse of the substance of government business because of the ethnic stocking of public offices and the widespread perception of corruption."

Although I am among the fiercest critics of this Government, I could take neither comfort nor joy in that editorial. Rather my reaction was one of deep concern, both at the fact that such an editorial could be published and at what it actually stated.

The editorial was an open, blatant and completely subjective attack on the T&T Government and made no pretence at objectivity or analysis.

The fact that the Observer does not speak for the Jamaican government makes its actions only marginally less serious and reprehensible. The newspaper is not, or purports not to be, a tabloid rag. It is a serious newspaper whose considered views are read in capitals around the world.

From such an institution there is expected to be a far greater sense of responsibility. I cannot recall another instance in which a major newspaper in one Caricom country has, without any provocation, launched such a scathing attack on the government of another Caricom country.

It is a most unfortunate development which, if it were to set a precedent, would serve to swiftly destroy the already fragile bonds which hold Caricom together.

But my concern is not that what was said was not true but that it was not the whole truth. And by giving only a partial view of the truth it does a great disservice to the citizens of this country and the citizens of Caricom in general, who are struggling to understand and cope with the nature of our politics.

Firstly, "stocking'' is neither new nor a phenomenon peculiar to T&T. Indeed, among Caricom countries, it was in Jamaica that it was first institutionalised as a fact of political life.

In the days when the two major Jamaican political parties, the PNP and the JLP, regularly rotated in office every two terms it became an accepted fact that with every change of government there would be a root and branch removal of public servants from key positions, with many of the previous incumbents being left to languish in a form of internal exile.

"Stocking'' was being practised in Jamaica long before it reared its head in this country. Not that T&T was in any way smarter or immune from that vicious form of political corruption. The fact that this country came late to the game of "stocking'' is attributable simply to the long period of hegemony enjoyed by the PNM. Since there was never a change in the party in office over the first 30 years of our independence the phenomenon simply never arose.

But during those 30 years another development did occur which, when finally there was a change of government, would lead to the "stocking'' phenomenon being practised with a vengeance. This other development was the systematic emasculation and politicisation of the public service which was perpetrated by Dr Williams and the PNM.

When the PNM was finally removed from office, the NAR found its work hampered and subverted at every turn by public servants whose allegiance, by and large, was to the PNM. Minister John Humphrey grew so frustrated that he demanded the removal of his permanent secretary. Once this was acceded to "stocking'' began.

Since then every time a government changes there has been "stocking''. The NAR did it, the PNM did it, the UNC did it and now the People's Partnership is doing it.

It is certainly true that the "stocking'' being practised by this Government is more blatant and indiscriminate than any before. The most incompetent persons are being placed willy-nilly in positions of serious responsibility. The PM herself is on record as telling board appointees that the most important quality she demands of them is not competence or integrity but loyalty to the Government.

But this has nothing to do with "ethnicity'' per se. It arises from the fact that the UNC, the dominant partner in the coalition, is not so much a political party as it is a permanent election campaign unit which results in the fact that, once in government, there is no way to resist the demands of the troops for pillage and plunder.

That such "stocking'' manifests itself as "ethnic stocking'' is the inevitable outcome of a system in which the two major parties are based on race, mirroring the racial polarisation of our society. To suggest (by omission) that the PNM did not indulge in "ethnic stocking'' is an egregious falsehood. As Selwyn Ryan would say, moving one party out of office is to "unstock'' a race.

It is only when we understand this that we can come to appreciate that the most fundamental requirement is to destroy once and for all the political party system based upon racial mobilisation and to found a genuine national party, one in which every creed and race is equitably represented.

The racial delineation of our politics is our burden to bear and our problem to solve. And we certainly do not need the Jamaica Observer pushing its nose in our business and compounding even more, with its distorted viewpoint, an already difficult problem.

I would like to extend to my readers my best wishes for a peaceful and joyous holiday.

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