Let’s start the new year of independent living in the manner we wish to proceed. It’s always interesting to consider what Jamaicans consider to be honesty. I was brought up to understand that it was an absolute. But, I find in Jamaica that it’s relative. (Before going too far, I know that honesty when it comes to things that affect the family is definitely relative, relatively speaking.)
How so? Well, for many Jamaicans, life’s path is about who you know. So, with truth and honesty. It’s also the case that honesty is a matter of who may be embarrassed by it. “You can’t say that. Don’t you know who’s…?” That goes hand-in-hand with the well-tried “Do you know who you’re talking to?” bombast that stands in the face of reasoned explanation.
Maybe, I’m wrong, but I was faced with some of this relative honesty first thing today. One of our main papers has an occasional regional section. I was surprised, therefore, to read an article that posed important national questions about the administration of our junior athletics programme. Was it a bit of editorial subterfuge? Good piece, but let us not make too many waves. Read the piece and think. The challenge will be whether this becomes another ‘nine-day wonder’. As we don’t do follow-up well, who will pursue these matters? Our media houses have a big role to play.
We will get more chances in coming months to see how truly honest we can be. The Minister of National Security introduced a new arrangement to deal with organized crime and corruption. Well, if ever something was clear then the fact that no high-level officials or politicians ever get cited in some instances would suggest that Jamaican people are so awfully honest that anti-corruption measures are a waste of time. Sorry, did you just choke on a peanut? Well, we have an off- island location to take confidential information, dialing 1-800-CORRUPT. We should watch calls flood in like people dashing to drive toll-free on the new Mount Rosser bypass.
On that latter topic, I listened to the Minister answer questions about the new structure. He sounded confident. He made reassuring statements, including a few that included red flag terms such as ‘trust me’, ‘believe me’, or other political sidesteps. The presenter thanked the Minister for his concern but asked him to answer the question. This is not typical journalism in Jamaica. The Press don’t press.
That approach has to change. Thanks to developments like social media, we can open other avenues of enquiry. They may not be well regarded worldwide, but can’t be ignored. News flows at light speed on the Internet and cannot easily be ignored. Just last week, our Ministry of Health (MoH) refused to offer comments on the spreading Ebola virus during a radio broadcast, claiming the media were spreading panic. That was immediate news and criticism flowed. Many felt ignorance was more likely to cause panic. Now, damage control had to be called upon. Honesty? It’s on hold. Then, this week, the MoH got out its statement, including how it wants to work with the media. Their spokeswoman made an appearance and said a few words. What did they fear a few days ago? Search me.
But, let’s give the various players a chance. They may be really stubborn and want to always wait for a crisis to arrive to see the need for openness, frankness and honesty. I hope not.
The PM urged the nation in her Independence message thus, “We have to take responsibility and be accountable for our actions.” I recall the struggle to get answers some months ago about a little official travel. But, let’s try to be nice and forward-looking, and believe that this sentiment is plastered high and bright for all to see. I read in this morning’s paper a story of a man beaten to a pulp while in police custody. Those words above seem to want some serious reflection.