Political stone-throwing

Michael BURKE

Thursday, May 08, 2014    

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Procurement guidelines should be followed. It is wrong to not follow the rules when giving out any form of contract, let alone a very large one for a company that should provide electricity. It is wrong to try and overrule the contractor general in a manner that is not transparent. Any form of exuberance, whether youthful, middle-aged or elderly is wrong.

But, let us resolve to put an end to all breaches of guidelines, and not just have one political party when in Opposition accuse the other side and vice versa. I am sick and tired of the hypocrisy of both sides, but that is the nature of politics and I have to live with it. Both sides say one thing while in Opposition and do another when in government.

The latest news up to the time of submitting this piece is that the Government is thinking of abandoning the project with Energy World International. If by the time you read this the plan has indeed been cancelled, then it is safe to say that from the beginning of the present controversy I always suspected that this would happen. Indeed, it may all be part of a tactic. Why am I of this opinion? I will explain.

In his Gleaner column of Friday, May 2, 2014, Deacon Peter Espeut wrote: "youthful exuberance has become middle-aged exuberance". At the time of the NetServ incident, about 13 years ago, Phillip Paulwell was at the centre of the controversy, as is the case today. That was when the then prime minister dismissed it as "youthful exuberance".

The truth is that, ever since the People's National Party was returned to office on December 29, 2011, their strategy has been to attempt to win the next election primarily by bringing down the price of electricity -- hence the characteristic exuberance, whether youthful or middle-aged, of Phillip Paulwell. And, if I could figure that out, then the JLP could do that also.

So the JLP's strategy would therefore be to find a way to derail any plan of the PNP to reduce the price of energy. In this way, there would be no buffer to the tough times we are experiencing due to the payback plan of the International Monetary Fund. And, if there is no buffer, the people will angrily vote out the PNP and vote in the JLP. This is essentially what all of this fuss is about at the present time.

I am of the opinion that the Government does not want the cheaper energy to come on stream until a few months before the general election in 2016. If it happens from now then voters are likely to forget. I also believe that after the Government set up plans to use EWI, they discovered a cheaper way of doing so through solar energy.

Earlier this year there was a seminar at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), sponsored by the Japanese Government. Apparently, after the tsunami in Japan in 2002, the Japanese Government decided not to rewire the entire country because it would be too expensive. So they worked on the idea of putting separate solar energy plants on the roofs of each house in Japan.

Such a method would be much cheaper and healthier. And there would be no need for any procurement of a contract. All the Government would need to do is to import the material. The Japanese Government would send people to voluntarily help put up such a plant because it would be in their interests to see more of such plants sold.

But the Government had already started to engage an international company to put in another type of plant, liquid gas, I believe. Is it possible that there was hope that there would be some sort of fuss so that they could change to solar? As far as I understand, the Government plans to keep its commitment to cheaper energy.

Let's face facts. If the JLP unites around its leader and there is no division, and they are equally organised as the PNP, then the incumbent in government has more to lose, especially given the harsh conditionalities imposed by the International Monetary Fund.

The fact that it was the previous Jamaica Labour Party Government that put us again in the throes of the IMF means nothing to angry voters. Who they will blame is the incumbent. If I know this, the ruling PNP also knows this. So, to have the winning edge the strategy is to bring down the cost of living and at the present time. This can only be done by cheaper electricity, unless there is a split in the JLP.

There are two types of political readiness for an election. One is to get your supporters to get on the voters' list and also get them out on election day to vote. The other is to foment hostility to the Government so that tempers will flare and the campaign for the incumbent will be overrun when the Opposition campaign becomes a crescendo.

Both political parties have used both methods over the years. But the PNP tends to use the method of election preparation -- canvassing voters to get on the voters' list and to vote on election day -- more than the JLP. And the JLP tends to use the method of blocking roads and other means of fomenting a crescendo far more often.

It was Jesus Christ, when speaking about the woman caught in adultery, who said: "He that hath never sinned, cast the first stone." Jesus embarrassed the accusers of the adulterous woman. One could look at a history of these breaches of procurement guidelines and ask who has the right to talk.

The Jamaica Labour Party was in power for most of the 1960s. One minister at the time was referred to as "Mr Ten Percent". Does anyone remember who was called that and why? In later years, suspicions that one or two ministers of government were taking bribes became so common that special names for those doing so were no longer necessary.

I end with a personal reality check. Paul Burke, the new PNP general secretary, is my brother, not me. I have already received undue congratulations from people who evidently thought that my parents could only have one child. And, incidentally, James Robertson is my first cousin. I have always had relatives on both sides. Please do not use my relatives' fat to fry me.





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