Columns

The party with the plan was absent last December

CHRIS BURNS

Monday, September 03, 2012    

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The festival of politics has long ended in Jamaica, yet the reality of hard life and foolishness continues like a loose, unmanned locomotive down a steep and greasy track. For while there are hardly any benefits to gain from playing "Monday morning quarterback", the position of hindsight can be instructive in informing the future. The truth is, we can always learn from history and experience; and as Marcus Garvey said, "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots."

In the run-up to last December's general election, and even before, this column was on record in discouraging the People's National Party from becoming a government by default, but encouraged the party to seek political power on the basis of meritocracy and sound plans. In fact, there were many occasions when it reminded the then Opposition about the significance and intrinsic worth of conducting itself as the "government-in-waiting". As such, it encouraged the PNP to engage the people in serious dialogue about the kind of country and future it envisioned for them, their children and their children's children.

It was never lost on me that the PNP, having spotted a chink in the Jamaica Labour Party's armour, "tun up di ting", as it went for the political jugular of its weakened prey - JLP money notwithstanding. However, it also became clearer by the hour that the PNP needed a firmer and more credible platform on which to launch its appeal to the electorate. Its signature pronouncement and depiction of the JLP as a "wicked and an uncaring government", while politically expedient, became boring, and exposed the PNP's strategy on how it intended to romp home to victory. The PNP painted the JLP as insensitive to the needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the society, but sensitive to the desires of the wealthy. The strategy worked and the chief communicator, Mrs Simpson Miller, achieved her own mandate.

None of that is to let the JLP off the hook for its political fumbles leading up to its resounding defeat in last December's general elections. The JLP ran a terrible campaign. It failed to shake off the "Dudus effect"; it succumbed to the politics of inseparability, and it prematurely and naively foisted a leader upon voters without evaluating the merits of his rise to power - he was too hastily installed and without proper preparation. He did not help his cause, or that of his party, because he became so immersed in the politics of "I" and "Me" that he almost disregarded everything else to his own peril.

Besides the political hula-hoop that so many played and obviously enjoyed, we now have a country and a stock of problems that hardly anyone, at the political directorate level, seems to know how to tackle, plan to fix or even willing to take on. Sadly, the main cheerleaders, but worse yet, the lead player in the political hula-hoop have all but gone dumb, deaf and blind. The energy has died a sudden death; the shouting and on-stage prancing has suddenly become inaudible whispers and listlessness. The trumpet still sounds, but no one will answer the call. The torch has been lighted, but dawn isn't at hand.

Many are now declaring much of what transpired prior to, during, and after the elections as a big joke, given by a bunch of "poppyshows". The PNP spent months perfecting its Progressive Agenda, yet after its glitzy launch, the document has found its way somewhere in the graveyard of irrelevance, and like the "21st century" document that preceded, no references have since been made of the principles enshrined therein. But even if the current administration chooses to refer to the Progressive Agenda (as timidly progressive as it was written), the document never intended to breed life into our ailing economy, which is at the root of our social problems.

There was a lot of noise but no discernible plans. There were no common-sense programmes, except for the JEEP, which has many elements of the ill-fated JDIP, to stimulate economic activities and increase aggregate demand. Neither the PNP nor the JLP had any immediate short- to medium-term plans to tackle the many social problems associated with crime and violence, unemployment, youth and gang activities, inner-city problems, the training deficit and so on. If there were plans, they were obviously unbankable, poorly articulated or improperly thought through.

Both parties spent valuable time feeding voters a diet of promises, but without telling them about meaningful or tangible accomplishments of the past. In fact, if the records were sterling, there would have been no need to remind anyone about achievements. There were no concrete plans to rescue agriculture, to jump-start manufacturing, to reform local government, to fix the environment or to achieve an orderly short-term employment programme to fix infrastructure. Instead, we have been witnessing an endless ring game with too much "bobbing and weaving" and too little on target strikes.

Well, eight months have passed since the PNP government was sworn in; and already everybody appears tired. Some who are bubbling at the mouth are sleeping at the hands; and others who are busy with their hands, are doing inconsequential stuff. Moreover, Madam Prime Minister appears withdrawn, tired and impatient to go off into retirement. We hope she is in good health. That aside, we must insist on the implementation of a "Marshall Plan", packaged as the Jamaica Recovery Programme (JRP), and targeting economic expansion. This should be at the centre of all negotiations with multilateral agencies. We have no choice than to grow our way to socio-economic prosperity.

Burnscg@aol.com

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