On behalf of Prime Minister, the Most Hon. P.J. Patterson and the entire administration it is indeed a pleasure for me to endorse the objectives associated with this launch of the Civic Dialogue for Democratic Governance. I note that since the introduction of this dialogue by the UNDP, the Jamaican Leadership Forum, led by Justice Ian Forte and comprised of representatives from broad based organizations have now taken over the process.
This is not only commendable but indeed appropriate given Jamaica’s proud record of democratic governance. Jamaica provides the world with one of the few examples of a newly independent state which has maintained a continuous parliamentary democracy.
In two years time, we will be celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the founding of Jamaica Welfare, which provided the entire developing world with a model of rural community development and a sterling example of voluntarism.
Jamaica Welfare has since evolved into the Social Development Commission (SDC) which a decade ago, as an integral part of a renewed social agenda, the Social Development Commission launched a programme to facilitate citizens at the community level recognizing their common interests and objectives as well as their role in the process of governance.
However, even as recognize these positive achievements we must also admit the extent to which political tribalism and the most extreme manifestation of political violence has polarized our society and robbed us of our social cohesion. We must also recognize and deal with the threat posed to our democracy by communities where systematic intimidation of political opponents, and cynical manipulation of the electoral process frustrate the process of social renewal.
These communities over time provide an environment for criminal enterprises and promote anti-social behaviour. Public order and lawful behaviour must be restored as a matter of priority all over the country. The fight against all manifestations of corruption must remain in the front page of the national agenda. Through the civic dialogue we must institute a public forum where these defects to our democracy can be admitted and discussed in such a way as to allow the society to move forward with a commitment to social peace and equitable expansion of economic opportunity.
The administration for which I speak today is convinced that any national initiative, whether for economic growth, the inculcation of democratic values or the enforcement of public order must begin with the community. For it is here that our people must understand their role and right of participation in the decision making process.
Against this background, the Civic Dialogue is indeed timely, and its slogan “Jamaica Vision 21: Secure and Prosperous”, is at the heart of the future that we in Jamaica seek for our country and our people. I want to specially commend the UNDP for its partnership in a range of initiatives over the years, which has brought an innovative expansion of our social programmes.
I am confident that this dialogue will leave all the participants better prepared and equipped to make participatory governance a way of life. Information is the critical factor in democracy, since the more informed our choices are, the more certain our progress and development will be.
We live in an age of globalization, which requires us to think globally. However, even as we appreciate our new international framework, let us always be mindful that real progress is built and sustained on local foundations.
Improved participation at the community level provides the ideal platform for the introduction of community economic enterprises to compliment the programme of social intervention. For it is only by increasing opportunity for economic activities and for employment that we can keep our young people focused on productive citizenship and an improved quality of life.