Help! I’m in Ja­maica!

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Ron­ald Ma­son Ron­ald Ma­son is an at­tor­ney-at­law and Supreme Court me­di­a­tor. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ and na­tion­

YOU HAVE been out of Ja­maica for a con­sid­er­able amount of time and you’ve cho­sen not to fol­low news and cur­rent events from the land of your birth. Now you’re back in Ja­maica.

You have made your way into the city of Kingston from Nor­man Man­ley In­ter­na­tional Air­port. The roads along the coast­line are dif­fer­ent. The hous­ing scheme on the right gives rise to feel­ings of some progress. You pass the Ja­maica Stock Ex­change, but a ma­jor dis­trac­tion forces its way into your con­scious­ness as you as­sim­i­late what is now Kingston. A tat­tered prison, garbage, va­cant, dirty lots and a de­crepit Rae Town; how­ever, you con­tinue out to King Street.

You turn right and your mem­ory is jarred. Bank of Ja­maica, Nathan’s, Issa’s, the many retail es­tab­lish­ments that used to thrive on King Street are no longer. The land­marks are gone, but the Kingston Parish Church re­mains.

Pa­rade is dif­fer­ent. It is crowded, noisy, traf­fic-packed and the ever present dirt and grime. West Pa­rade to Or­ange Street gives a pre­view of the in­dis­ci­pline that blan­kets the city. Pedes­tri­ans, ve­hi­cles, dogs, garbage jos­tle to oc­cupy turf.

You con­tinue up Or­ange Street and you are con­fronted with derelict and ram­shackle build­ings, aban­doned va­cant lots. Move up through Torrington Bridge to Cross Roads. Carib Cin­ema is still there, and a re­cently con­structed plaza, but the stream of peo­ple com­min­gling with the traf­fic never ends. They cross the road any­where, at any­time, and they jos­tle to de­ter­mine who shall dom­i­nate.

The scene is a stark con­trast to what Kingston used to be. The same thing is re­peated at Mon­tego Bay City Cen­tre, Man­dev­ille by the mar­ket, May Pen Clock Tower and at a num­ber of the parish cap­i­tals.


One can only con­clude that things in Ja­maica have be­come much more undis­ci­plined. There is coarser in­ter­ac­tion among the peo­ple, and dirt, grime and garbage dom­i­nate life.

You go on a jour­ney uptown. Bev­erly Hills and nearby com­mu­ni­ties have be­come pala­tial liv­ing spa­ces. Liguanea glit­ters: Shop­ping, banks, ser­vice busi­nesses, brand-name fur­ni­ture, up­scale restau­rants, stocked su­per­mar­kets and an em­bassy be­fit­ting any world cap­i­tal.

A re­treat is made to your place of res­i­dence, and one pauses to re­flect; so­lar wa­ter heater, big flat-screen TV and a mul­ti­tude of cable chan­nels. Apart­ment liv­ing and gated com­mu­ni­ties are now the ac­cepted standard. All is well within.

A look in the park­ing lot of th­ese build­ings re­veals a dis­play of high­end au­to­mo­biles: Jaguar, Audi, Range Rover, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Pa­jero. The odd Toy­ota and Honda are mis­fits.

One set­tles in to read re­cent hard­copy edi­tions of the daily news­pa­pers which re­veal hun­dreds of per­sons wan­tonly slaugh­tered: ba­bies, schoolchildren, grand­moth­ers, grand­fa­thers, male and fe­male – young, mid­dle-aged and el­derly be­ing gunned downed and stabbed sev­eral times. Peo­ple slaugh­tered like dogs in the streets, killed from bul­lets sprayed. Men cra­dle AK47s as if they were in­fant chil­dren.

No­body is re­ported as giv­ing the po­lice in­for­ma­tion as to who was re­spon­si­ble, what were the rea­sons for, and where to find the per­pe­tra­tors, so the blood­let­ting con­tin­ues: morn­ing, noon and night-time.

Killing is the trade­mark of this Ja­maican so­ci­ety. One asks, where are the po­lice? Does law and or­der not ex­ist in Ja­maica? The con­stant re­frain is that the po­lice force is cor­rupt, and the politi­cians are cor­rupt. ‘Bebe’ per­fected a scheme for in­come trans­fer from the USA to Ja­maica by way of lotto scam­ming. And the gangs con­tinue to grow.

We are told about new in­sti­tu­tions that have been de­vel­oped such as the Of­fice of the Con­trac­tor Gen­eral, which has never had a ma­jor suc­cess­ful prose­cu­tion. The In­tegrity Com­mis­sion is distin­guished by its in­er­tia.

The Of­fice of the Direc­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions is char­ac­terised by the fail­ure rate of its pros­e­cu­tions and its com­bat­ive role with ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion. The Ja­maica Con­stab­u­lary Force changes top lead­er­ship more fre­quently than its mem­bers get new uni­forms.


Fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions face the prospect of not be­ing able to main­tain cor­re­spon­dent re­la­tion­ships with for­eign banks. Is this Ja­maica? It is Wed­nes­day, Par­lia­ment is in ses­sion, and you are in­vited to watch the pro­ceed­ings live to get a sense of what oc­cu­pies those elected to lead.

The vi­sion is ini­tially jar­ring. The speaker is dressed in a colo­nial-style wig. The mem­bers saunter. They chat to each other in­ces­santly. They use elec­tronic de­vices con­tin­u­ally and they bark at each other like dogs across the aisle. The min­is­ters make open­ing state­ments; oth­ers are per­mit­ted to ask ques­tions only. No pre­am­ble to ques­tions. No de­bat­ing the con­tent of the min­is­te­rial state­ment. It is the equiv­a­lent of a pa­pal bull.

You turn to TV for news and you see per­sons in­dis­crim­i­nately fir­ing guns at a gas sta­tion, killing one and in­jur­ing pump staff. The big­gest up­roar is about who leaked the video­tape.

You read the Gov­ern­ment’s doc­u­ment to the IMF and it speaks to the Goat Is­lands project be­ing ap­proved for im­ple­men­ta­tion. Shortly there­after, as a state­ment in the USA, it is re­vealed that the prior state­ment to the IMF was a lie. Sud­denly, you be­come aware that what has re­ally hap­pened in Ja­maica is cu­ri­ouser than Alice in Won­der­land. The po­lit­i­cal power struc­ture op­er­ates on a whim, on emo­tions of the mo­ment rather than logic, rea­son, data and analysis.

Help! I am in Ja­maica. Help!


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