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Getting Jamaica on track after the Dudus/Manatt Enquiry

BY AL EDWARDS

Friday, April 08, 2011    

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AND so the country gets a reprieve from the Dudus/Manatt Enquiry, albeit temporarily, and the government can now focus on the governance of the country, setting it on a path for growth and making it a place where its citizens can live rewarding lives.

Indeed the Enquiry was necessary and a more fulsome explanation was needed of the events that saw over 70 people killed in Tivoli Gardens.

The Prime Minister, in hindsight, made a mistake in selecting Emit George to head the Commission. He should have heeded the barbs of cronyism and a disposition towards the incumbent ruling party that greeted his choice. Once again Bruce Golding's political instincts were off. It would have served the country better if he had opted instead for a totally independent, non-partisan personage to head the Commission, perhaps someone outside of Jamaica. Instead the Commission can be characterised by effete, anodyne leadership where Counsel, sensing weakness (rather like a lion does in a physically deficient water buffalo and so pays scant attention to its dangerous horns) and befuddlement, totally disregarded the authority and reputation of the lead Commissioner and pressed toward the objective.

What have we learnt?

What did we all learn from the Enquiry that went on for nearly a month after it should have been concluded? We learnt that political partisanship colours every facet of Jamaican life. The Enquiry held up for all to see that debilitating tribalism goes to the heart of the judiciary, the legislative process and the executive. It is the defining theme above all else.

Civility, rationality, intellect and an ability to coherently articulate the events that led to the extradition of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke by the front line of the country's political leadership went out of the window. Instead we saw our political leaders and legal luminaries spitting venom and bile, obfuscation and an absence of courtesy. Yes, the spectacle did make for good daytime theatre and it did provide a hiatus from the country's pressing problems, but at the end of the day, it highlighted why politics Jamaican style means that the country is for the time being destined to be a third-world backwater where citizens lives are rendered redundant.

The churches wade in

The conduct of the country's most prominent political leaders did not go unnoticed by the churches who still remain the last bastion of decency and morality in this country. In Jamaica it is becoming increasing clear that a theocratic approach rather than a secular one appears to be an avenue to salvation for a country where moral turpitude is rife and civility is woefully absent. This is why the churches must step up to the plate and take a greater role in the leadership of the country.

The following statement issued by The Jamaica Council of Churches last week is not only instructive but its sentiments are shared by most sectors of society:

"The last few months have witnessed a number of unbecoming and unexpected behavioural expressions by several of our national leaders. These have served to undermine the values espoused in the National Transformation Programme: dignity of work, respect and reverence for life, honesty, responsibility and justice as well as the Jamaica 2030 Vision, 'Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business".

Putting Jamaica on a growth trajectory

It is vitally important that Golding now focuses on two matters -- putting the country on a growth trajectory that sees Jamaica become a state where its citizens can prosper and feel safe without the need to migrate and secondly, ensuring both his own and his party's political survival.

The Gleaner's editorial on Tuesday was most prescient. Entitled "If the gangs of Gordon House are to change..." it made the point that after nearly 50 years successive governments and their political leaders have failed to deliver transformational change that sees its citizens inhabiting a country where discernible progress on all fronts can be seen. Jamaica is undoubtedly the sick man of the Caribbean. The politics practised by both Golding and Portia Simpson Miller has not and cannot inure to the country's benefit. Both now in their sixties, they must look to a new way of governance that produces positive results.

The statistics are damning and numbers do not lie. Jamaica has a debt to GDP ratio of around 130 per cent. It has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Crime costs the country as much as five per cent of GDP. Official unemployment stands at around 13 per cent, illiteracy is widespread and is the scourge of the country. A third of the population live in squatter settlements. With inflation set to rise inordinately, wages and salaries will remain the same. The chasm between the haves and have-nots is getting wider, creating two states within a state. Jamaica's food importation bill is close to US$700-million and its oil importation bill may well close in on the US$2-billion mark for this year, thereby destabalishing the balance of payments. Then there have been 14 consecutive quarters of negative growth.

These problems demand a concentration of the mind and a degree of consensus as to how Jamaica can best address them. It does not require a business-as-usual approach and the country rallying around green or orange political colours.

Golding is lucky that he has not had to confront widespread disgruntlement that has seen revolutions take place in the Middle East. So why tempt fate? What is patently needed is transformational change that leads the country into better times. The paucity of ideas and political will to fashion Jamaica into a twenty-first century economy that works is a cause for concern. It is clear to all that the current way of doing things has not and is not working. In fact it has resulted in abject failure.

It is said that Golding is a very articulate and intelligent man. He now needs to demonstrate what he can do to get Jamaica on track, to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work raise families and do business.

Should the JLP throw Golding under the bus?

The Dudus/Manatt hearings ended on April 1st. This should be used as a date to end this foolish distraction and get to the matter at hand. The government has a year and a half perhaps to put things right or begin to do so. It has already squandered a year and a half of its tenure with this Christopher Coke affair, which was poorly handled and saw the country pitched into civil insurrection.

There are those who say it may be better to throw Golding under the bus and look to new leadership going into the next general election. Both Christopher Tufton and Andrew Holness have been untainted by the sordid affair that is Dudus/Manatt which would have seen any self-respecting Prime Minister falling on his or her sword.

Holness or Tufton may perhaps give the incumbent administration a better chance of returning to power. Then again Audley Shaw has done a reasonable job as Minister of Finance and is increasingly looking like a senior statesman. His stature continues to grow and he has been mooted as one capable of leading the way to a new form of governance. Then again "the young turks" tend to frown upon the educated and erudite elite. They say that their very own "street smarts" can ensure electoral victory and that there is no place for a cerebral approach in Jamaican politics. One thing is for sure, if Golding is going to remain at the helm he will have to count on total loyalty and ensure that soldiers and generals have his back as opposed to surrounding himself with mercenaries and sycophants. Some say he is a lame duck and that the John Crows are circling. That may be a tad premature. He may well conjure up a Houdini political escapology act, he may yet push the sun back into the sky for one more day of summer. That speech he made on the night he won the general election is beginning to ring awfully hollow now. The reality has not matched the rhetoric. But be mindful he does not have too long to put conviction behind those inspiring words.

Harold Wilson, the now deceased former British Prime Minister, once said a week in politics is a long time. A year and a half may well be an eternity.

The PNP must take a hard look at itself

The Opposition has not got a lot to crow about. Portia Simpson Miller is totally absent from both political and civic life. The strategy may well be to let the government implode, allowing the People's National Party (PNP) to win the general election by default. This approach may not pay dividends and may very well backfire on the PNP. It has not presented to the country a credible alternative to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Sure it has highlighted the Government's shortcomings. Yes, KD Knight did gain political yardage with the Enquiry, but how will it position the country for growth and does it propose to make the country a better one to live in?

Portia Simpson Miller still carries political dynamite in her purse. She is the only political leader capable of rallying the base and galvanising the entire country. No one else in the PNP comes close. Last time out she came within a hair's breadth of winning, despite having very few resources and heading a government that had ruled for 18 years and had become bloated by corruption and an inability to bring substantial growth to the country.

This time the JLP will not benefit from the largesse of heads of Ponzi schemes and the younger demographic will undoubtedly register its disgruntlement. Sista P will have to rely on a lot more than that.

When she succeeded PJ Patterson, she exhibited reticence and hesitance failing to go to the country straight away and wasting her considerable political capital allowing the JLP enough time to mobilise. She must learn from that because to make the same mistake twice in failing to take the initiative would be unforgivable. Fortune favours both the brave and the bold. She must head a strategy that the entire country buys into and employ her political skills wisely. She cannot go missing and wait for the JLP's mistakes and misfortunes to carry her over the top.

Any sportsman will tell you, knowing how to win is half the battle and the PNP do know how to win. Stalwarts like Bobby Pickersgill, P J Patterson. Roger Clarke, Omar Davies and KD Knight have been victorious in many battles. They must impart this and guide the younger generation in this art. It must communicate its message well to the population. Question is, what is that message?

Looking to a younger generation

The younger stars in the party can bring a lot to the table. Both Peter Bunting and Mark Golding are willing and able, not to mention independently wealthy; enough to ensure their paws do not get caught in the honey pot. Phillip Paulwell did a fantastic job with the telecoms sector and can still do a great front-line job. Julian Robinson is very bright and has political savvy enough to make him a valuable asset. Lisa Hanna's political stock continues to rise and her stint in opposition has helped to hone her as a parliamentarian. She continues to conduct herself with grace and dignity. Anthony Hylton has a very good grasp of foreign affairs and can do a more than competent job with that portfolio. It's all to play for , if the PNP can crank up its machinery and sell itself to the public successfully with a new vision for Jamaica.

The JLP can point to positives

Golding has a lot of positives to point to and this gives him a platform to go to the country with a number of notable achievements chalked up on the board.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is reporting that murders have dropped by 42 per cent since January. Speaking at a Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) conference held at the Jamaica Pegasus last month, Golding said, "The most recent update which takes us up to Sunday the 20th March, indicates that since the start of this year we have had a 42 per cent reduction in the murder rate. That reduction amounts to 150 less murders committed in that period as compared to last year."

Although these figures result from the government being coerced into signing the extradition order and the public outcry that demanded that Dudus be brought to book, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction.

Golding added that in the continued fight against corruption, the Government had introduced "legislative and statutory muscle" into the justice system including the whistleblower legislation and an independent commissioner with investigative and prosecutorial powers, to address excesses committed by the law enforcement personnel.

Audley Shaw has done a creditable job as Minister of Finance. The Jamaica Debt Exchange (JDX) has to some degree proven successful, with interest rates trending down. The Jamaican dollar has remained stable and there is now a preference for Jamaican dollar assets. Net International Reserves stand at US$2.17 billion with gross reserves at around US$3 billion. The government continues to meet the targets stipulated under the IMF's Standby Agreement. In 2008, inflation was running in the region of 16.8 per cent. In 2010 it was 11.7 per cent, a 30 per cent drop. This year it is expected to fall again to below 10 per cent.

Tourism is showing promise and under Ed Bartlett's tenure continues to go from strength to strength. Year-to-date provisional estimates show total visitors, including both stopover arrivals and cruise ship passengers, came to 1,053,737, a 9.4 per cent increase on last year's figures. Gross foreign exchange earnings have also increased to US$766.6 million for the year to date, a 7.4 per cent increase. This means that Jamaica is on its way to breaking the US$2-billion earnings mark for the year.

Many Jamaicans are benefiting from the Abolition of User Fee Policy since it was introduced in April 2008. According to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Jean Dixon, the policy has increased access to health services, to many Jamaicans who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

"The policy has also levelled the playing field as far as health in the public sector is concerned, for the haves and havenots and hastened the repositioning of Primary Health Care as the foundation of any good and sustainable health system," said Dr Dixon.

The agricultural sector currently contributes six per cent to the Jamaican economy and employs 20 per cent of the Jamaican labour force. It is the third largest foreign exchange earner in the country. Dr Christopher Tufton has done very well in turning around that portfolio. In 2009, Jamaican farmers created approximately J$106 billion of value, an increase of 12 per cent over 2008, producing 489,671.5 tonnes of food, the highest figure since 2003. The sector also created 10,000 new jobs. Tufton's call for Jamaicans to eat more local produce appears to be bearing fruit. In 2009, Jamaica's food import bill was US$802 million, 7.5 per cent less than the year before. In 2011, the country's food importation bill fell to US$661 million.

Mike Henry is making great strides with his transportation and road work's portfolio. He has embarked on a road works programme that will transform Jamaica for decades to come. The railway network is about to be unveiled and the road works programme will create much needed employment, not to mention refresh the country's public transportation and road infrastructure.

Despite inheriting very little from the previous administration and a global recession not seen since the Great Depression of the 1920s there are rays of hope and positive developments that Golding can point to, but he now has to endeavour to make transformational changes that can make the lives of Jamaicans far better than it is today.

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