The Holness-administration’s focus on economic growth over the last two years is commendable.We have all been hankering for prosperity so it is encouraging to see all these economic related projects being implemented. However, while I applaud the government for their stick-to-itiveness, I remain deeply concerned about the dearth of attention to human rights and social justice.
I hope the same kind of leadership and decisiveness can be demonstrated by the government this year to fulfill their human rights obligations. We cannot afford to continue ignoring the critical role the protection and promotion of rights play in ensuring there is economic growth and development and that all Jamaicans benefit.
It is therefore rather sad that neither government nor civil society seem to understand (or care about?) the symbiotic relationship between the two. Consequently, government myopically focuses attention and investments largely on their thrust to improve the economy while non-governmental organizations (NGOs) advocate for people’s enjoyment of their rights. Seldom is there a discussion about the two and how we can address the rampant abuse of rights and limited access to redress that are characteristic of life here in Jamaica to the benefit of our development goals.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) tells us “human development is essential for human rights, and human rights are essential for human development.” The government must therefore consider the implications of inaction around human rights if it intends to take us from poverty to prosperity and ensure the full and wholesome development of each individual towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well becoming a developed country as articulated in Vision 2030.
If the state fails to address the plethora of challenges around securing economic rights by ensuring people are paid livable and fair wages, for example, some families will never be able to take care of their basic needs for clothing, food, shelter as well as their health and education expenses. These persons will undoubtedly have to depend on the state for support through a number of state funded welfare and assistance programmes. If the state fails to address inequality, women will continue to be denied opportunities and paid $0.40 less than men, people from low income communities will continue to be subjected to limited job opportunities, and children from poor communities will continue to have poor educational outcomes. If we fail to protect the right to life, then our hospitals will continue to spend millions of dollars each year to care for victims of violence which they could use to invest in communities.
These and other human rights challenges all have an impact on our economy. If we were able to control crime and violence, for example, the country would grow by 5%, according to news reports.
On Friday, October 7, 2011, in a commentary entitled Will Holness Be A Pro-Rights Prime Minister? which was published in the Jamaica Gleaner, I suggested that Jamaica is “most desperately in need of a prime minister who will be pro-rights.” I made the suggestion on the heels of Holness’ endorsement as the successor to Hon. Bruce Golding who was stepping down as Prime Minister (at the time). A pro-rights leader is critical because Jamaicans need someone in parliament who will “take bold steps in ensuring that the human rights of all Jamaicans, including the most vulnerable and marginalised persons, will be protected and widely promoted” without any distinction whatsoever. The rampant breaches of rights that we hear about and witness every day, including those being perpetrated against low income workers, such as household workers and security guards, must not continue unabated.
Several years later, Holness has an opportunity, his own mandate, to stand up more boldly for rights. This is an opportunity that he must not squander. He should help engender greater appreciation for respect for rights and embark on a human rights project that will fully protect the vulnerable, marginalized and voiceless in this country.
If there is to be economic growth and development, it has to be inclusive and the protection, promotion and enjoyment of rights must be seen a critical to such efforts. The Planning Institute of Jamaica which has responsibility for Vision 2030 must be mandated to play a more active role in this regard. Perhaps this is an initiative the Partnership for Prosperity which is chaired by the Prime Minister can take on as a project. I commit to lend my support and time to any such project that will promote inclusive growth and development.
Photos taken from Jamaica Information Service (JIS)