Admit it, PNP, you can't handle the job

Mark Wignall

Thursday, September 27, 2012    

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At the beginning of 2009, as the terrible effects of the global recession were at a high point in wreaking havoc on our small and vulnerable economy, then prime minister Bruce Golding struck an agreement with himself.

As much as political leadership involved the concern of hard numbers on social and economic data and the extent to which those could be tweaked either by developmental programmes or fancy juggling, Golding knew that he needed to stand out front as an empathetic leader as he attempted to address the immediate economic problems facing us on top of those which lived with us, especially since the 1970s.

The immediate problems were contracting revenues due to low demand for goods and services, business contraction and increasing unemployment. The generational problems were exorbitant and rising bills for fuel, a high crime rate, a society in social decay and the troubling fact that the nation had been borrowing money for housekeeping expenses had a crushing yearly payback on the accumulated debt.

He did one little thing with a big symbolism and the nation, never ever fully sold on the JLP and Golding, gave him little or absolutely no credit for what he did.

Earning about $3 million less than what the present prime minister earns, Golding imposed on himself a 15-per cent pay cut and convinced his MPs to accept a 10-per cent pay cut. While he knew that the savings were relatively minimal in the bigger scheme of things, for a leader who wanted to demonstrate empathy to a nation of shell-shocked people, significant numbers of whom were joining the unemployment line, the symbolism was just, and the proper thing to do.

Golding then sought from the PNP leader and her MPs the same 10-per cent pay cut that he had imposed on his JLP MPs. The leader of the PNP (who has never spoken for 10 minutes without commending herself for love for the poor) and the rest of the PNP MPs rejected the offer. So much for the love, the caring and the concerns of broad leadership in the PNP.

Prior to the last election campaign, for the first time in about 20 years, the payback on domestic debt was made more manageable, the exchange rate was stable, inflation was kept in check, foreign money supply was adequate and lending rates were trending down. However, there was a big, nasty fly in the ointment.

An IMF deal that was pending for too long.

In the campaign, the PNP ridiculed the JLP government on its failure to seal the new IMF agreement, and the nation, largely packed with low-information voters, bought it hook, line and sinker. Incredibly, the PNP leader sold the nation a bill of goods by convincing the same low-information voters that the PNP could seal an IMF deal two weeks after a PNP win! Along with other negatives against the JLP, especially the fallout over the Dudus/Manatt matter, it was always going to be problematic for the JLP to win.

The deal against the JLP was probably sealed when Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the nation from the JLP conference podium in November 2011 that the way ahead would be tough. Madness, this telling of the truth. At the same time, the PNP in ads were telling the nation and the PNP base of low-information voters that a vote for the PNP would be one to guarantee that "nice times would come back again".

It has been close to one year and the PNP, highly discordant at times and with a leader who has opted for globetrotting and has put forward Finance Minister Peter Phillips in the fiery hot seat, they all cannot seem to deal with the fact that their last election campaign was filled with "pathologically mendacious" promises.

The "anglophiles" in the IMF have dished out bitter medicine to nations in Europe whose people look like them. These nations possess much better institutional cushions than Jamaica. There is therefore no reason to believe that the IMF will look on our black faces more favourably.

The matter of tax reform and the public wage bill are the most troubling of all. Plus it was the PNP administration which, in its run from 1989 to 2007, bloated the public sector with friends and cronies.

In 2012 most of the PNP administration's ministries are packed with fellow travellers as consultants and that has also jacked up the wage bill at a time when one of the preconditions of a new IMF agreement is a workable plan to cut the public wage bill. With unions who would be normally amenable to directions from any PNP administration now holding "hard end", how can the government face these unions and tell their workers that there is nothing in the cupboard to give them?

What about even the pure symbolism that the JLP adopted in 2009 of the PNP leader taking a pay cut of 15 per cent and asking her MPs to take 10 per cent? I am certain that JLP MPs would agree to it.

My point is, the PNP told the nation that "nice times" would return if a vote was placed for it, while the JLP leadership was telling the nation that tough times would be ahead.

Who is now the more credible? The JLP leader who told us the truth, or the PNP which sold us bitter snake oil in syrup bottles, mendacity in pretty baskets and at this time cannot even signal to us that it has a coherent set of policies moving forward?

With brutal murders and ferocious rapes taking place, it only adds to the general sense that the nation is adrift and that effective leadership is missing.

The most pressing problem facing this nation's ability to respond to crises is the fact that we are not producing enough even to feed ourselves. Much worse is the fact that whether PNP or JLP is in, we will have no choice but to borrow the funds to keep the leaky boat afloat.

The nation cannot respond to spikes in ferocious criminal activity because police stations are grossly underfunded and under-equipped. If at the next elections in Venezuela Chavez is cast aside and our Petro-Caribe arrangement ceases, what then? Chaos?

Granted, many of us have always known that political parties in this country fight, not necessarily for the right to "serve" the people, but for predation, to rape the public purse.

Increasingly, as real solutions evade the political parties, we need to consider seriously the idea of a melding of the best from both ends. Government of national unity?

It is obvious that the job is bigger than the PNP which must, in private conversation with its members, admit that the nation is neck-deep in awful stuff.





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