Dawes focused on making change through policies

There was no hint of hesitation in Dr Alfred Dawes’ response when he was asked why he decided to enter representational politics, a venture that could easily put at risk his successful medical practice and, even worse, frustrate him to the point of quitting.

The decision, he told the Jamaica Observer last week, was made bearing in mind some of his core values.

“One was altruism, the other was self-empowerment, and the third was self-improvement,” said Dr Dawes who was last month selected as the People’s National Party (PNP) candidate to contest the St Catherine South Eastern constituency in the next general election.

“And whereas I had outlets for all in my medical practice, I had realised that the scope was limited by my reach, in treating and helping persons on a one-on-one basis. So, the best way to leverage my input in helping others — which is something that has driven me right through my career in medicine [and] advocacy — [is] helping to make policies,” added the man regarded as one of the Caribbean’s leading general, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeons.

He explained that he saw the difference he could make while helping to shape policies during his tenure as senior medical officer (SMO) at Savanna-la-Mar Hospital in Westmoreland.

“The impact on patient care was far greater sitting in that chair, than it was being the foot soldier on the ground, even though I appreciate the impact that I had at both levels. But I was able to affect a wide variety or wider cross section of people — the staff as well as the patients — in the SMO’s chair,” he told the Sunday Observer.

“I believe [that] sitting in the rooms where national policies are made, and having the ears of those who make those policies, I would be able to have a greater impact on improving the lives of Jamaicans and adhering to this value of altruism. So that, really, was the guiding principle behind my entrance [into representational politics],” he said.

“So last year I made the decision to go in, and that was based on the fact that I think I was on a better footing financially and I had more flexibility with respect to time. So I thought that the time was right,” he added.

“But having gone in now, and looking at the community level, I realise that even before I get to the stage of shaping policies, there’s so much I can do on the ground,” Dr Dawes argued.

Dawes though, received a mixed reception on his introduction to what some have described as a blood sport. While he enjoys support among many Comrades in the constituency, some greeted the announcement of his selection as the next candidate with fierce opposition as they felt that current Portmore deputy mayor councillor for the Edgewater Division Alric Campbell should have got the party hierarchy’s nod.

In protest, the PNP’s constituency office was torched, Dr Dawes’s car was defaced, and he received an early morning phone call threatening him and his family.

The experience, though, has strengthened his resolve as he has vowed to gut politics of its “dirty underbelly” and purge his party of people intent on creating mischief.

He revealed that he was first approached to get involved in politics in 2006.

“I have been approached by both parties, but my natural inclination has been to the PNP. One, because I pretty much grew up in a PNP family, and two, I firmly believe in the principles of democratic socialism,” he shared and argued that, as was noted at the founding of the PNP in 1938 by its first president, Norman Manley, the human development index is much greater for one subset of the population than others and needs to be addressed.

Dr Dawes also acknowledged that his move into politics was driven by an accumulation of frustration with the political process.

Jamaica, he argued, is at a turning point, and “if certain…dramatic changes are not made to how the country is governed, then we’re headed down the road to an abyss”.

There was no “eureka moment” that cemented his decision. “It was just a growing sentiment that something had to be done now, and enough nationalists had to go in to change the political landscape, and I felt that I had to be one of those persons.”

Among the changes he hopes that his involvement in politics will inspire, is greater participation among the electorate.

“I believe that our democracy is in danger with the growing voter apathy; we cannot have 20 per cent of the eligible voters electing a government to rule over the next 80 per cent of us,” he argued, his reference to declining voter turnout since the 2007 General Election.

“I think that the electoral process has really been hijacked by persons who can influence the outcome of a low voter turnout through money, and through control of the party machinery, and that is a danger to us all, because democracy is not one man, one vote, when those votes can be bought. Democracy is the will of the majority expressed in governance,” Dr Dawes said.

When the Sunday Observer put to him that he is only one man seeking to change a deeply ingrained culture, Dr Dawes said, “I think that there are enough young people, on both sides of the fence, who understand that the situation is untenable. I am not under any illusion that me going into politics is an endpoint where there’s going to be a lot of changes taking place. Rather, it is the beginning of a movement that I hope to help to inspire by being in politics, and if I am successful will attract other young persons who have the interest to change the way we are governed.”

He politely rejected any notion of him being seen as a catalyst for change, saying, “I would more look at myself as an alarm clock to try and wake up those who are slumbering peacefully while the house is burning.”