Recent concerns raised in the media by Citizens for Conservation about the billboard menace in the land caused me to review what is meant by human development. The renowned Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, defined human development “...as an approach...concerned with...advancing the richness of human life...(and not solely) the richness of the economy in which human beings live...” Few would disagree with this interpretation.
Fewer still would be so narrow-minded and materialistic in their views and tastes to undervalue or despise the contribution of art, beauty, culture, intellect and a wholesome environment to enriching our lives.
Many, protesting the innumerable billboards intruding the space around the Queen’s Park Savannah, argue that they destroy the scenic beauty, harm the well-being of viewers and are manifestations of visual pollution. This is not dissimilar to positions adopted elsewhere. As early as 1911, a court in US deemed billboards “inartistic and unsightly”. The US Supreme Court ruled in 1981 that billboards “by their very nature, wherever located and however constructed, can be perceived as an esthetic harm.” This is not about pristine purity but development that is ecologically sensitive ad aesthetically pleasing.
There are those who are of the view that cluttering the inner city ambience with billboards thereby reducing visual access to nature’s greenery is no “big thing.” But as has been noted elsewhere, there is another dimension to this issue: it concerns the matter of the law. We scream, shout and are upset about the breakdown of law and order in the country, wondering about public trust in the law and the integrity of the law and justice system.
We perhaps forget that the rule of law serves as a constraint on behaviour of all, including behaviour of public officials. It is the glue that binds the diverse strands of a democracy, impeding tragic descent into chaos. Therefore, citizens and government ought to have a stake in upholding the rule of law and preventing crime, corruption and social disorder.
Is it true that the State is not only complicit, but in some instances culpable, in the increase in these illegal structures, around the Savannah and indeed across the native land? Are there currently (have there been in the past) similar breaches of the law in other facets of public administration?
If so, should we be surprised about raging crime, violence and social disintegration in the country? The State must be exemplary in its strict adherence to laws. It must understand that blatant disregard for the law sows seeds of resentment in the public’s mind, provoking the question: “If the State could play, who is we?”
On the road to 2015, it is imperative that citizens assess parties and politicians on their respect for and upholding the rule of law; the very foundation of our democracy and national security.
Winston R Rudder,