What we say is important… for in most cases the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. — Jim Beggs
Over the past few weeks we have heard some important speeches and statements by local and regional leaders of note. The issues addressed by their words are important, as too are the words they used. For in the words of Lori Handleand, “Words have power…Words begin and end wars. They create and destroy families. They break hearts. They heal them. If you have the right words, there’s nothing on earth you can’t do.”
So let’s examine, first, Rev Conrad Pitkin, custos rotulorum of St James and guest speaker at the 40th serving of the annual National Leadership Prayer Breakfast. One of the powerful statements he made was: “There comes a time when, as leaders… we must put national interest above personal and partisan interests. We must do what is right for the collective good of the nation. Pitkin shot it!
Rev Pitkin hit the proverbial nail on the head with this powerful posit. Or, as we say in good Jamaican parlance, “Dat shot!” It was an absolutely fantastic word from the good reverend. This is vital if we are to make Jamaica win in this decade to meet the 2030 goal.
The national prayer breakfast began at a time when partisan interest was considered important because of the battling philosophies of the time. We had two political parties that were poles apart in their ideas regarding the governance of Jamaica. They were at opposite ends of the spectrum regarding what the future of our country should be. However, as Rev Pitkin himself also said, we have come a long way since then. Both parties are now more centrist in their political ideologies and both now share a common vision for Jamaica, as expressed in our Vision 2030 Jamaica: National Development Plan.
So it is time that ‘Jamaica first’ becomes a principle that drives the thinking and actions of our political parties, churches, private sector, and civil society operators. Time come!
Another important statement from Rev Pitkin was captured in a story he told: I was in a forum recently where an outstanding Jamaican leader asked whether it is time that we start discussing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission…so I put it to you this morning, is it time?
Dat shot again! Many months ago I posited in this very column that, “To my mind, real change can only come by a voluntary commitment to a… Truth and Reconciliation-type commission to open up for healing, so a new day can dawn. It would serve to allow the wounds of the last four decades to be aired for catharsis and healing. The church should lead this action…” Church, are you ready?!
Pitkin challenged the church as follows: “I would like to address my brothers and sisters of the Church. We have work to do. It is more than preaching. We need to get out of the four walls of our sanctuaries and be more visible and vigilant in our communities…our influence needs to be felt as a Church in this country. We are the largest constituency in this country and we should make a difference in this nation.”
Church, are you ready?!
Holness hit it! Mottley missed it!
In my first column for the new year I referenced a couple of issues that, for me, brought hope for possible real change for Jamaica. We are still in January with a few more signs for hope from a few more situations. The hot topic that has caused controversy for some is the visit of the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The primary point of controversy is the head of Caricom and prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley’s charging that the meeting was an attempt by the USA to divide the region seeing all countries had not been invited. It is reported that she defends her position on a remark made decades ago by Barbados’ first prime minister, Errol Barrow, that: “We shall be friends of all and satellites of none.” Mottley added, “This region must always check itself to ensure that we do not become the pawns of others… pawns on a chessboard for others to be able to benefit from.”
Whereas I subscribe to her right to her opinion, I object to a perceived inference that Holness, and any other State represented at the meeting, are pawns. She further asserts that her stance is on a point of principle. This suggests that the others have none. Prime Minister Mottley missed it on this one.
One can only stand on principle when one has facts and not assumptions. A cardinal rule for good human relationships is not to judge motive where intent is not stated. Same holds for good diplomatic relations. Unless the Barbados prime minister knows what we don’t, her position could be more divisive than attending and stating her objection to guide the future if the assumptions are found to be correct. As chairman of the region better wisdom would be to attend and rebuke where necessary. But if she found her assumptions were wrong, use the opportunity to properly advocate for the best interest of the people of the region.
The report coming out of the meeting does not appear that our Holness was a pawn or caused division, but rather batted well for the region’s interest in what seemed to have been dubbed the US-Caribbean 2020 regional engagement strategy. It has, Holness said, set the course for further work to promote prosperity, energy, security, health, and well-being for the region.
Regarding US-Jamaica relations, the secretary of state said: “…[I]n our meeting the prime minister and I strengthened our country’s friendship and set the table for greater engagement.” That is encouraging and gives hope for our nation and the vision we are pursuing. I am happy to see the US reaffirming their recognition to deepen ties and support for the region in their backyard. You may also recall I strongly asserted in my column of November 24, 2019 the need for small island nations to carefully choose its alliances in a fast-changing world; as non-alignment is a fallacy: “The countries in our western hemisphere that have historically been considered friends, despite the negatives, were best able to help Jamaica and therefore secured our allegiance are Canada, USA and Britain. More Jamaicans live outside Jamaica in those countries than those who reside here. The reality is we are almost inseparably joined. In addition, these countries speak our primary language and often open up job opportunities to our citizens. These facts have served to strengthen our allegiance to these nations.”
“…I believe we must therefore stand with Africa, USA, Canada, and Britain because they have stood with us over the years. While as a nation we entertain the identity and allegiance conversation, I unashamedly declare that I am pro-Africa, I am pro-USA, I am pro-Canada, I am pro-Caribbean, and I am pro-Israel.
“I do not believe that you can seriously be committed to biblical Christianity and the God of the Christian faith and be anti-Israel. I notice that there seems to be a few voices challenging the Government about our relationship with Israel, as if such a relationship is anathema. The same voices, however, seem to have no issue with our budding relationship with China — a country which is diametrically opposed to our culture and way of life in so any ways.
“I am a firm believer in the ancient adage, “Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed, and whoever curses Israel will be cursed.” So let’s be mindful and careful.
“…Perhaps it’s time for the USA, Canada, and Britain to revisit and review their relationship with us. It should be evident to all that the inroads that China is making in Jamaica is the result of these countries’ significant reduction and redirection of developmental aid and funding support. As a result, China is filling the need.
“Being on their back door, it behoves the USA to consider new rules of engagement for the region. Given the realities we should initiate dialogue with our historical friends — and they eagerly with us — to update the expectations of our allegiance for the future. US President Donald Trump’s approach and vision might result in him being the president that does the most for the region going forward.” ( Jamaica Observer, November 24, 2019)
Given these realities we should initiate dialogue with our historical friends and they eagerly with us to update the expectations of our allegiance for the future. With that said last year, it is an answer to prayer for me to see the initiative for greater Jamaica and regional alignment to the USA. May Britain and Canada be more forthright while we will have to make advances to Africa for mutual development.
It was therefore heart-warming to hear our new-era prime minister’s response at the press briefing. He affirmed that, “We are determined to position Jamaica to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to grow the economy, so that large and small businesses, as well as our communities and citizens, can reap benefits.”
We have to hold him to his word, particularly to ensure there is space carved out for small businesses and overall people benefits.
I am happy for the indications of this visit of the US secretary of state and to hear some of the comments he has made to encourage US firms’ investment in Jamaica as we share common philosophy and values. However, my strong caution remains that we must not sell the nation’s birthright (land) to foreigners. Lease only and permit no deals injurious to the nation’s best interest. Forge partnerships that retain a significant portion of income in the country. This is not what currently obtains in the tourism sector, banking sector and foreign direct investors. This must change to achieve the 2030 goal. All investors should have good returns on their investment, but it should be structured to equally ensure best national interest and funds circulation within our economy.
Copyright © 2020 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.