The two-faced, phoney side of Jamaica’s politics

The two-faced, phoney side of Jamaica’s politics

Christopher Burns

Saturday, December 19, 2015

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Phoney sells, but counterfeit politics and political practices sell even more. Nowhere is phoney politics and politicians more popular than right here in Jamaica. The governors are as guilty of phoney politics as the governed themselves are, and the double standard that accompanies the pretentiousness is remarkable, to say the least.

The bad thing about the phoney politics is its debilitating side effects on the health of our body politic, because it automatically kills the opportunity for honest dialogue and bankable solutions to take root and thrive.

Give me a real person any day over someone who finds pretence irresistible. As a good friend asserted last week, "I can deal with someone from humble origins, who misplaces as ‘s’ or adds an ‘h’ over another who pretends to be the heir apparent to the British throne…"

Seriously, though, our brand of politics, except for a few instances, has always rolled on the wheels of pretentiousness, fuelled by snake oil, instead of real gas. Phoney politics, and its sister practice of marketing falsehood, is in urgent need of abandonment. Most of our politicians, and a great many of our business leaders, have become so adept at practising phoniness that it is easier for them to be that which they have never been and will never become, instead of being who they truly are and represent.

It is true; their mundane spuriousness has become stubbornly nauseating because the foundation on which they build their castles of pretence and pomposity presumes the rest of us to be either mentally inferior or haplessly idiotic. Consequently, the majority of these pretenders — political and commercial — believe they can do or say things in furtherance of their collective or individual self-interest, then wiggle their way out of taking responsibility or apologising for their churlish conduct or boorish attitude.

Then, there are those whose politics and commercial interest mandate them to erect walls of deception behind which they cower, only to launch bombs of discord, sabotage, and venomous innuendoes. The phoney side of Jamaican politics is inextricably linked to (oftentimes exemplified by) how some of us operate on a daily basis.

The viciousness of the double standards and doublespeak is flatly disturbing. They speak out of the two sides of their mouth like Spanish machetes. One day they ride the horse with blinkers, the next day they ride without it. Put simply, no real or steadfast dogmas guide their thinking; therefore, they change their positions to match "every direction of the wind". They excuse prior utterances or positions without explanations and, usually, there are no admissions to the power of evolutionary thinking or behaviour. More likely than not, they offer no transitional path for anyone to follow in an effort to understand new positions adopted. In the end, constituents — in the case of politicians — are oftentimes confused, bewildered, and underwhelmed by the inconsistencies and sudden changes in positions.

The objective of this column is not to advocate for absolute rigidity in thinking or positioning. Quite the contrary! The aim is to discourage the phoniness that sometimes accompanies the way we practise business and politics. It is fair for our views to evolve on a range of issues, and expectations are that the evolution could inform our position on a variety of issues. But let us keep it real by saying why we have changed course.

There are several instances of right-out phoniness that come to mind. The shifting of positions by many in the political and business community towards acceptance of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our final appellate court, instead of continuing relationship with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), is an example of how phoney politics and political pretence can cause chaotic change. The current International Monetary Fund (IMF)-monitored economic reform programme, the so-called ‘dead babies scandal’, the transfer pricing mechanism, public sector reform programme, the primary surplus target (now 7.25 per cent), the recent UK prison proposal and prisoner transfer offer, and use of the popular "Nuh draw mi tongue" or "leggo beast" idioms are all living examples of phoney politics and pretentiousness.

A lot of those inside and outside the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the formal Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), which currently argue against the CCJ becoming our final appellate court, once held very strong opinions and positions in favour of and support for the regional body replacing the Privy Council. Their previous position was never influenced by the need for any indicative referendum to determine the outcome of whether to join the CCJ or not. The phoney call for a referendum is purely political, because how can we ask the Jamaican people to vote on retaining the Privy Council or rejecting the CCJ when it is not up to us (Jamaica) to determine permanent place or access to the Privy Council. How can we entrench something that offers us temporary guest status?

The fact that we cannot affirm our position or right of access to a court that can evict us any time it feels like makes the arguments for a referendum nonsensical. Access and proximity to justice and affordability of justice were major influencers for the earlier positions taken. However, all of a sudden, the issues of judicial independence, integrity, and the itinerant nature of the Privy Council have become dominant features in the debate, although the Privy Council, by experience, has not travelled in the last 150 years or so outside of its resident country, except for a handful of times, to adjudicate cases. The phoniness of the recent change is too apparent to ignore.

On the political side, the JLP has not established any sound objections, except to stick to the position of its previous leader, whose opposition to anything regional is well established. The private sector’s concocted fear (phoniness) that politics could influence and interfere with the outcome of certain cases is without merit and represents an unfortunate affront to the integrity and competence of Caribbean justices. Are they suggesting that Privy Council justices are superhuman, ordained by a supreme being that place them beyond corruptibility or political influence?

Several months ago, the Opposition JLP, and a few other misguided individuals, raked Minister of Education Rev Ronald Thwaites over the coals for referring to unruly children as "leggo beasts". The politically phony opposition spokesperson on education reacted with utter disgust and pointed to negative stigmatisation that could harm the kids. It never stopped there; condemnation extended to all who use the term as part of the daily vernacular. "Backward", "insensitive", "this has no place in modern-day Jamaica", and "in poor taste" were some of the adjectives and phrases used to describe the expression.

Well, lo and behold, Audley Shaw, JLP spokesperson on finance, went to a St Andrew Eastern JLP rally and, in his own inimitable style, described the prime minister’s movements around the country as, "…She running up and down di place like a leggo beast…" To this day, there has been no repudiation of Shaw for describing the head of the Jamaican Government in those terms. Certainly, there has been no rejection from Senator Kamina Johnson Smith. There has been no denunciation of Shaw’s comments by those who hitherto found Rev Thwaites’ usage of the term derogatory. Talk about the double standard of phoney politics.

Then, years ago, Portia Simpson Miller warned Audley Shaw, "Don’t draw my tongue…" Many in civil society, commerce, academia, and the political class vilified, mocked and scorned her for expressing what most of us repeat daily without even knowing. Funny, keen listening to her original comments will reveal at least one truth about that quip; Portia tried to tidy up the expression: She actually said, "Don’t draw my tongue…" instead of the more authentic "Nuh draw mi tongue…"

Condemnation of Portia reached fever pitch: "She is a minister of government"; "Lawd, public figures should not behave that way"; "She is too vulgar…" were few of the things people said in reaction to the outburst.

The JLP used the comments extensively during the run-up to the 2007 election. By way of digital technology, the campaign team looped Simpson Miller’s utterance and milked it to make her look insanely unkempt and disturbed. Truth is, like many of us, Simpson Miller was being real and true to the culture. "Nuh draw mi tongue" is certainly not alien to the Jamaican vernacular. Jamaicans from all walks of life use the phrase in jest and sulk, but because it came from Portia, political charlatans made it into an instant disgrace.

Well, just recently, Dr Peter Phillips, in continuing his crusade of inveigling Opposition Leader Andrew Holness to respond to questions about the everlasting big house he is constructing in Beverly Hills, touched his last nerve. Phillips’ insistence that the mansion be part of the election campaign has not gone down well with Holness. Andrew has made clear that he will have none of it. Therefore, and as expected, the Opposition leader took to the political platform, aided and abetted by strong social media support; he gave Dr Peter Phillips the ‘full length of his tongue’. With phoney political elegance, he lashed out at Dr Philips: "I promised my mother that mi nah mek nobody draw mi tongue, and worst of all, I nah go mek no man draw my tongue..." Any juxtapositioning of the optics and high-pitched outbursts is bound to render Portia’s to be mild in comparison. Yet, to date, no one has openly condemned or criticised Andrew for his weighty use of the saying. The sad truth is that we have remained a society that values phoniness in the same way that we romanticise about and overcompensate for our political "Dr Jekylls and Mr Hydes". We just have to be careful not to become them. Merry Christmas! Hold tight.


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