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PNP administration suffering from old-age already

MARK WIGNALL

Thursday, October 11, 2012    

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SOMETHING is drastically wrong with this country.

We have been informed by the best of our scientific minds that close to half of us are mentally unstable and yet we have never considered that among that 50 per cent may be politicians.

We seem to be people who mean well, but somehow don't want to do well.

In the time of the last administration, a lot of noise was made about transforming energy from expensive oil-burning to the interim stage of LNG. It wasn't exactly earth-shattering, but it indicated that we were on the right track towards making our country more competitive in the region and giving our people a chance to make their lives more meaningful.

As the talk of moving to liquid natural gas (LNG) gained momentum, so it seemed did the savvy of those who made up the last JLP administration. First, the Office of the Contractor General pushed its way to the front and the JLP Government wilted as the people rejoiced. As one listened to "the people" it must have seemed that there were many scallywags stalking the halls of JLP party central.

An election was later held and the JLP was soundly rejected.

Close to one year later, the only sound voice in the present PNP administration seems to be that of PNP minister, Phillip Paulwell.

We have all accepted the fact that if we do not configure our energy-producing sector to move away from heavy oil-burning, we will remain in the backwoods forever. That we know. In the last JLP administration, one which made its name through making Jamaicans even more distrustful of politicians than they were before, once the matter of LNG arose, all eyes lit up!

Too many people were making too much money, we thought. And even if we did have the full picture in our minds, it must have meant that we the people were being shafted. Or so we imagined.

In the end, a weak JLP administration bowed to the dictates of political and public pressure and the entity that had won the concession for introducing LNG to Jamaica, Exmar, and its local connection were scuttled.

The PNP rejoiced.

With a PNP administration that is close to one year old and is generally suffering from "old-age" in so short a time, there have been a few areas which have attracted my attention, and it seems the attention of the general public, if word at street level still has any credence. I speak, of course, of the energy ministry.

First, there have been the efforts in levelling the playing field in the mobile phone market. Somehow that seems to be on the reverse as one big telecoms player has been playing grand games with the public. Second, a convenient and totally indiscriminating public has bought the idea that that particular telecoms entity is deeply in love with them.

That said, Minister Paulwell's strident efforts to bring about a lowering of the energy bill to ALL in this country must be lauded.

First, there was the thought among many that the LNG project was going to be government-driven and run by a historically proved inefficient government, especially one dominated by the PNP, an administration that has a history of being anti-business and too socialist-oriented. Second, as the world turns, and especially in Jamaica, corruption was the big bugbear.

The present arrangement which takes the LNG supply project totally out of the hands of government, once it had reached the stage of deciding the directions of the energy policy of the country is, to me, the best compromise. It is not the perfect one, the one that I would have preferred - that of reverting to awarding the LNG bid to Exmar and its local partners. To me, however, Minister Paulwell has committed his ministry and government to the JPS lowering energy rates by 50 per cent by the year 2015, a time when the people of this country will still have the chance to make a decision on the direction of his government.

Let us face it - there is not much that the Portia Simpson Miller administration can feed to the people as pap at this time. It won the 2011 elections on wild and reckless promises and mostly on the fact that it placed the populist PM Simpson Miller out front to play her song-and-dance routine to the people. Since the win, her song has died and her dance has failed to move us, but in the bleachers, the political watchers know that the Opposition JLP has a next-to-impossible chance of regaining all that was lost and given away by the abysmal and indecisive leadership of Bruce Golding.

Seaga was dead right!

The IMF analysis of economic trends for the next five to 10 years makes for bleak reading. Jamaica has lived most of its post-independence life as a mendicant nation where our prime ministers earn their kudos and clout at the polls for selling to the people their potential for borrowing the most. To a people of low-information voters and aggressive businessmen who are always seeing in such an arrangement an opportunity to make an extra buck, that simply feeds into the idea that government in this country must not be a facilitator as much as it ought to be a feeding tree.

The people rely on this, especially whenever a PNP administration is in power, and big businesses know that as much as they hate to do business during a PNP administration, if they want to survive, the ball has to be kicked back and forth. Again, Seaga was right.

In an administration filled with too many old socialists, Phillip Paulwell is a leading light in the effort to draw the PNP into the new 21st century. Finance Minister Peter Phillips has long shucked off his socialist leanings as the rigours of the current economic climate present themselves to him in a most unkind light.

He has to face the harsh reality of an IMF programme in danger of being derailed by the historical politics of the PNP. The negotiations need the full cooperation of all inputs from the various ministries such as the energy and commerce ministries.

We all know that the prime minister is out to lunch, so not much can be expected there more than a tip to the poor waitress, a hug and a kiss. Poor "she".

Keep doing your thing, Minister Paulwell. Who knows, maybe even the most inflexible leader can be brought fully into the 21st century.

— observemark@gmail.com

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