With news emerging about the resurrection of the Vale Royal talks and the positive feedback, especially from the Opposition, it leaves me to utter, “God is not sleeping.”
In a letter published in the Jamaica Observer on Monday, January 3, 2022 I wrote, “The best new year’s gift that Andrew Holness can give Jamaica is not just a reshuffling of the Cabinet, but the restart of the Vale Royal talks, but not simply for photo opportunities.”
In that same letter I challenged the prime minister and the other participants to relearn and adopt a new way of engaging in dialogue called “transformational conversation”, which is aimed at facilitating consensus towards sustainable national development. I wrote, “Participants aim to discover what they don’t know. It’s a ‘share-discover’ dynamic. It’s a we-centred conversation. The mindset of participants is to ‘hold a neutral space to explore uncharted territory, ask questions for which we have no answers, and listen to connect.’ “
Given the hybrid, plural nature of our society in general and our politics in particular, the best governance option as a small nation State is transformational conversation. Any other option would be a recipe for anarchy, social conflicts, and socio-economic disaster. We need to learn from the politics of the 1970s and from the current politics of our Venezuelan neighbours.
Transformational conversation is very difficult and challenging. It requires the ability to boldly place your opinions on the table, listen to differing perspectives, and allow them to reshape your position. It also entails the willingness to compromise, which requires excellent negotiation skills.
The process can be extensive and tedious, with multiple phases. These characteristics, however, must be rooted in trust. While the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the European Union are imperfect, their many successes support a political model from which leaders can learn.
To this end, I wish to thank Prime Minister Andrew Holness for giving Jamaica the long-awaited new year’s gift and also the Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding for his party’s active participation in the talks.
As many commentators and civil society groups have been opining, there are key national issues that need consensus, such as national security, constitutional reform, health, and the Jamaica 60 diamond jubilee. I wish to add to this list the need for a strategic plan to implement the recommendations in the Jamaica Education Transformation Commission’s 2021 report compiled by Professor Orlando Patterson.
Rev Fr Donald Chambers