Columns

Kern Spencer for prime minister

MARK WIGNALL

Sunday, March 30, 2014    

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I am certain that a young man who was identified in no uncertain fashion as 'political material' from his days at the UWI Mona campus cannot now simply turn his back on politics just because he experienced a bothersome break of over five years.

That little matter of Cuban light bulbs must be put behind him. For his new future in politics, he needs a rest of about two years to recharge, get into a new energy-saving routine, flick new switches and announce himself to the people as the most God-fearing politician in the Caribbean.

The young politician must learn how to grow a tough skin and not cry at silly accusations. Then again, I have been reliably informed that women tend to 'feel' more for men who show their sensitive sides, that is men who bawl at childbirth (again, at their children's) and in empathy with tears being shed by their womenfolk.

Wow, I must try it sometimes. Who knows, I may even triumph at something.

Kern Spencer, as we all know, was last week freed of corruption charges in a court case that had been dragging on for over five years. He was freed on the judge's acceptance of a no-case submission by his team of lawyers. In Jamaica we love our heroes to be men who have faced down 'the system' and beaten it back.

Certainly, Mr Spencer must now become the national role model for our young people for having stood up fearlessly, if not 'tearlessly', against the wickedest of accusations and won his battle. We love that, and who knows, maybe even now a young historian is in the making for future penning of the great fight the heroic Spencer put up on behalf of not just himself, but every other university graduate that was ever wronged.

I am putting it to you that he has the right to have his name placed on the ballot for the next elections in 2016. His next campaign slogan will be 'The fighting, lighting Kern; the man who could not be turned off or left in the dark. A vote for Kern is a vote against the darkness that has troubled this constituency, this nation.'

The beautiful thing about the jurisprudence that is practised here is that it is an automatic assumption that there is congruence between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. I am no student of the law, but I suppose the 'spirit' of the law ought to mean that if a line in the sand is determined as the letter of the law, the spirit of it should mean that the line leads to a place, a better place where reason, decency and humility exist.

For that alone, while it may not be our duty to believe what the courts have ruled on, we have to accept that Spencer has earned the right to avoid all criticisms which could point to anything else but his total innocence. The courts decreed it so.

And just in case he should find that at some level there may be hesitation to accept his name on a PNP ballot for 2016, he should try for a by-election in 2019. Certainly a sacrificial lamb could easily be found in a St Elizabeth seat. That would be about five years from 2014.

In a country that believes in 'guzzu', 'obeah', numerology and 'God-fearing' people, Kern Spencer would roar back in and shine brighter that 10,000 energy-saving bulbs.

And if that fails, were I Kern Spencer I would apply to the JLP (in opposition) for membership. By 2019, any lingering doubts will have died down and Spencer will have earned the right to draft his constituency manifesto. By that time he will have learned so much that I expect that the great manifesto produced by him will catapult him into becoming a future prime minister of Jamaica.

The courts will have long spoken and the people will have long forgotten those who had a need to redefine the 'spirit' of the law.

Fast runners and slick deejays cannot help Jamaica's development

"Cuba has a long tradition of cultural respect for knowledge, has invested heavily in education, and admires local intellectual skills. This tradition goes back to the late 1700s and the struggle for Independence from Spain in the early 1800s.

"Cuba is able to build on this because a much larger fraction of their young people want to be doctors, engineers, and scientists, instead of singers or runners, than in Jamaica, where we have let education languish. For Jamaica to compete in the advanced skill global knowledge economy like Cuba, we will need to develop a similar cultural mindset and values." -- Tom Goreau, marine biologist, making a comment on the Caribbean Online Forum.

Nothing quite excites like excitement, and in Jamaica at this time when the annual high school championships (Champs) concluded yesterday, we would have experienced the epitome of that excitement. Among the children, many in the general population and alumni of the schools who have learned how to win races, leap highest and be the best on the field but all through a vicarious kick, the euphoria will last for another week or so.

Jamaica is home to the fastest man and woman in the world -- Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce -- and both were once children running on those Champs tracks. As much as we exude the extreme in nationalistic pride and puff up our chests when our foot racers leave other racers from developed countries in our dust, I can remember a time in Jamaica when our national priorities were not as skewed to momentary thrill-seeking as they are now.

In the years following iIndependence I can remember that many schoolchildren had parents who were fully charged up on the idea that book-learning had to be a main objective in the household. In the same manner that schoolchildren surreptitiously play Candy Crush on their smartphones (during school hours), today I can remember when future scientists, engineers and doctors would gather under trees on benches at lunchtime to discuss mathematical theorems and lab experiments, and actually found excitement in it.

Older men and women saw hope, and when paired with Independence, it meant that their lives would become better because their children's lives would be made better through education. For a fleeting moment in the 1960s, a time I experienced as a child, we flirted with the idea that 'learning' and the new urge to gain understanding of social, political and economic issues could become part of our cultural norm.

Well, it was all a dream, because as education expanded for more, political priorities shifted to political matters and qualitatively, education headed south.

There are some realities that we have to face today. Jamaica is not in love with 'learning', and has never experienced a decade, or two, or three, when we were caught in that cultural direction. But we are among some of the happiest people in the world. Of course, there is no universal definition of happiness, so an automatic problem arises.

In the happiness contest there can be no comparison of apples with apples because it is possible and likely that one man's apples may be another man's apricots. One lady's sweetsops may be another lady's starapples.

A multi-millionaire may find a long burst of happiness from acquiring a new work of art or settling with his newly divorced wife for much less than she had been demanding. The poor man may find happiness in finding a job that allows him to provide food for his woman and children.

In a highly developed country like Singapore, a country that simply rocketed past us in its overall development, their people are said to be among the most stoic on the planet. Stoic as in, 'I have a good job and my family is OK, so why am I not rejoicing?' Stoic as in, 'Tomorrow is just another day. The economy will continue to grow and develop and I will do my best, so why am I not rejoicing.?'

In Jamaica, our fatalism is fun. A businessman borrows from the bank to recapitalise his business. But he acquires a new car and another girlfriend. Young men in inner-city areas smoke weed and dream of getting a visa so they can hit the streets of Brooklyn and sell what the street demands. And they are always smiling.

Unemployed men meet in bars, finish the little they hustled in the week, do a crude cash/sex transaction then go home half-drunk and happy. On the weekend our young women head to dances and return home at 7:00 am the next day. Happy.

The farmer trudges home and smells to high heaven. He takes a bath, has a meal, downs a half-Q of rum, swears that he will kill the next person who steals his yams, but never let it be said that he is not happy. It cannot be denied that, for better or for worse, Jamaicans have the capacity to scrape away 'junjo' to find happiness.

Our contemporary heroes are not to be found among those who can take us to heroic heights of development. Our heroes are the foot racers, the deejays and the criminal dons who have accumulated fortunes. We have not yet identified the scientists or group of Jamaican scientists who are feverishly working to provide the world with the next breakthrough in medicine or advanced technology.

I am certain that, as PNP MP for West Rural St Andrew Paul Buchanan said to me last Thursday, 'We have to produce the next Jamaican Zuckerberg.'

We have small, encouraging pockets of our young people who are skilled in high-tech advances like robotics, but we have no culture of learning and achieving on that trajectory.

What matters for now are the cheers from the stands and flashing a thousand lighters at the next big deejay sensation.

Cuba took action while we slept

In the over 50 years that Cuba has had a trade embargo imposed on it by the great big USA, Jamaica has had a relatively unfettered access to that market north of the Florida peninsula. Did we fully exploit it? Absolutely not!

Many serious businessmen today are not allowing the 'non-democratic ideals' of Cuba to see it as anything else than a big market waiting to have a beautiful economic explosion.

In the time that the heavy boot of the USA was kicking away the economic development of Cuba, that country was following on its earlier tradition of learning, and it educated its people to a level that seemed impossible to outsiders. Frankly, it could only have done it on the socio-political model that so many people find distasteful.

While Caricom indulges in romantic feel-good ideals, Cuba's development of certain state agencies and especially in the field of medical research has allowed it to attract the attention of Western European countries which have no time to romanticise over ideology.

Professor Hilbourne Watson, who contributes to the Caribbean Online Forum, speaks to the state and sovereignty and how they are assimilated by both Caricom countries and Cuba.

"Cuba could hardly have survived the rapacious impact of the US economic embargo without deepening its ties to many countries in all regions of the world. Havana does not fetishize sovereignty, rather it puts sovereignty to work to transform its relationship with other state and non-state forces on a global scale, a strategy that helps it to weather the aggressive strategy of the US in "peace time", and especially since the collapse of the USSR."

The growth of government in Jamaica since the end of the 1980s to the present, where we are experiencing pain in the IMF forcing us to shrink the size of government spending, did nothing for the capacity of the state to better handle our economic affairs. In comparison, Cuba's state-centric focus bore more than just empty ideology. It bore fruit, as Hilbourne Watson states:

"...if Havana's state capacity was not as developed as it was. Nor would Havana be in the position it is in today to have France rushing to form a strategic alliance in certain areas of drug research, production and sales in the global market -- to give France a stronger footing than it now has. Cuba has done more research on certain areas of Hepatitis than most other countries, something France appreciates and is seeking to exploit and will not allow Washington's shenanigans to get in the way."

Will it be goodbye forever to Flat Bridge?

I am pleased that the Government is entering into talks with China Harbour (CHEC) which will be looking at the possibility and the feasibility of damming the Bog Walk Gorge for the twin objectives of providing hydro-electric power and irrigation/water supplies to a much wider area than now exists.

This is something that probably should have been done from the 1980s. Not the talks, but the full build-out.

I am no civil nor electrical engineer, but I would imagine that any design would take into consideration building the dam at a spot where it would have the largest volume of water behind it and at the highest drop. It would have to be considered a huge project but, as far as the Chinese are concerned, based on the gigantic dam projects they have constructed, the Bog Walk gorge would be minor (in size and capacity).

There would be displacement of people for sure, and I am certain that the arch-environmentalists will be out in full force to tell us all about what is wrong with even thinking about such a project.

Water security must be put up as high priority to match that of future energy supplies, and the Bog Walk project will be a step in that direction.

I will not miss Flat Bridge. As a child I was scared of it, but that has changed for me as an adult. What I would hope, though, is that if a decision is made to begin the full build-out of a dam years from now, the engineers should take up the bridge and locate it some other place, as they would say, for posterity.

Too much of it — even for bad memories, but for the added fact that it has captivated us at most times throughout our history — must mean that we will never be prepared to retire it.

— observemark@gmail.com

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