When did a political speech solve anything?

Wignall's World

Mark Wignall

Sunday, January 13, 2013

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We are, most of us, suckers for punishment.

The prime minister addressed the nation last Sunday and immediately after it was delivered, the expected criticisms started to roll in.

Prior to that, most people, including myself, were of the view that the PM should be more hands-on, as her idea that when she is not heard from it means that she is working, will never be enough for Jamaicans, many of whom are feeling as if the country is on auto-pilot.

So, we criticised her for not talking, then, when she finally did say something, we tore into her. As a seasoned politician, she ought to know that criticism comes with the territory, even though she is still the most popular politician on the local circuit. Saying that she doesn't listen to the critics should have been replaced with her telling us that the critics are entitled to their own opinions.

The fact is Jamaicans are hurting, and the general feeling is that much of the economic uncertainty is being caused by the failure of the Government to ink a new stand-by agreement with the IMF. What none of us want to face is the fact that Jamaica's huge debt problem and the massive amount required to be paid down each year is not a PNP or a JLP problem. It is a Jamaican problem.

From Hugh Shearer's austerity budget speech of the late 1960s, to Michael Manley's 'we are not for sale' speech of the 1970s, to Seaga's 'bite the bullet' delivery of the 1980s, to PJ Patterson's easily forgettable, boring speeches of the 1990s and early 2000s, to Golding's 'putting his political career on the line' speech, we have been bamboozled, buffeted and blinded by the spoken word of politicians for what now seems like forever.

So bad has it been that we have long lost the ability to search for the truth in any political speech.

"A whey Mama P really a sey to wi?" said one man to me last week as he wavered between mocking her address to the nation and just being generally irate at his inability to find work.

She began with, "A year ago my administration assumed office, propelled by the hopes and aspirations of a nation that wanted a new type of governance characterised by humility, honesty, inclusiveness, respect and trust.

"We came to office at a difficult time on the platform of people power, and I have never allowed that to escape my mind. Our record over the year has not been perfect, but it has been persistent. We have restored trust; brought back respect and decency to governance while making important progress in some key areas."

It is likely that the people probably wanted more than humility, honesty, inclusiveness, respect and trust. Many of them wanted jobs, but I am prepared to give her a pass on that opening dramatic flourish -- humility, honesty, inclusiveness, etc because that is the stuff that speechwriters live by.

The bit about 'people power' escapes me in the speech because the term was used extensively on the campaign trail as a PNP catch-call. But, no big sweat over that.

The speechwriter erred when he wrote, "Our record over the year has not been perfect, but it has been persistent". A nitpicking critic could have made the case that the prime minister was making the point that the Government's imperfections were persistent, but even that I will allow to pass.

The next two paragraphs of her speech were pretty much standard political fare where dramatic language and cultural fluff are used to shroud or discourage further explanation of key economic concerns.

This was a bit scary: "Our mission of uplifting the Jamaican people and working toward economic independence was challenged during the past year by the slippage of the Jamaican dollar. The Net International Reserves also dipped, but not our reserve of courage, determination and resilience in the face of the international economic environment and domestic challenges. Yet, our confidence in the Jamaican people has never been stronger.

"Our ancestors did not fight so gallantly; did not shed their blood for us to now capitulate to gloom and doom. No. We know, as Jimmy Cliff assured us, that we can get it if we really want. All we have to do is to try, try and try, and we will succeed at last."

It was at that stage that I stopped listening and figured that reading it online the next day would be better for the digestion.

Many of my readers will know that I have been the harshest critic of the PM since mid-2006. Prior to that I was one of her biggest 'promoters'. Her inability to arrange team cohesiveness in the Budget exercise of 2006 and her religious rant to a church in Portmore turned me 180 degrees.

Since that time, we have tried Bruce Golding, a man much more capable of 'thinking on his feet' than Simpson Miller. He bombed out. To date it has never been fully explained to the people of Jamaica why Golding had this sudden, serious and overbearing flirtation with resignation in the latter part of 2011.

After he did resign and allow political astrology to place Andrew Holness in the slot, history will show that it created the perfect opening for the re-emergence of Portia Simpson Miller.

Is there a new PM Simpson Miller?

In the clash between politics, plain good sense, and a people making a choice about the country's economic future, the fact is, as unpalatable as it may be to many of us, there is presently no one identified in our polity who can beat Simpson Miller at the polls.

The JLP knows this and the PNP knows this.

Prime Minister Simpson Miller is no gifted orator as Michael Manley was, able to bring unique and enlightened clarity to the pressing thoughts floating around somewhere inside him. Where Simpson Miller lacks that, it is easy to draw the conclusion that since she cannot express herself as intellectually palatable on the national and international stage as Manley could, it must mean that she is devoid of the same thoughts or even some vastly ahead of where Manley was in the 1970s.

Unfortunately those considerations pale in comparison to the troubling fact that she may be electable under all circumstances. In other words, whether she has the capacity and capability to be wildly successful (economic growth of 10 per cent annually) or painfully catastrophic (unemployment rate 40 per cent), she is a certainty in getting elected. I have problems with that in principle.

There were individual areas where the prime minister claimed success -- crime: "We successfully reduced the rate of murders, shootings, robberies and sexual offences. There was an 18 per cent increase in the recovery of firearms and a 14 per cent increase in the recovery of ammunition."

Then there was JEEP, road rehabilitation, repairing bridges and cleaning gullies, Hurricane Sandy assistance, health centre refurbishment, housing, increase in tourist stopovers and other minor stuff.

A prime minister's speech must soar way above those details, but it must not do that to the extent that it promises economic fantasies which can never be realised.

As in all life, most things are connected. At the very moment that the prime minister was delivering her speech she must have known that many in the PSOJ, the JCC and in the general business class, from small to medium, were waiting for her to address matters concerning the pending IMF negotiations.

It is my information, and I have stated it before, that the prime minister has told her finance minister that until he has crafted a deal with the IMF that will not destroy those at the lowest economic rung, he must not report anything to her. In other words, the only news must be good news.

"You guys still believe that the prime minister is playing to the old, dead politics," said a powerful PNP insider to me recently after I had voiced the fact that very few people at street level had anything commendable to say about the PM's speech.

"It is people like you who must lead the way. She will not report any fantasy or tell the people any lies. She knows where we will be in about four years and further than that. Trust me, she understands the impatience, but she knows that if there is a game plan on the ground for real development in this country, she is not going to allow pressures from special interest groups to take us off the track."

He was, of course, making reference to the much touted Logistics Hub which, from what I have seen as its detailed plans and far advanced investor engagement, is the only and most logical way to bring Jamaica to transformative and sustainable economic development.

"So, why did the PM not make much about that in her speech?" I asked.

"Man, have you forgotten what I said earlier? I know you have been told by Minister Anthony Hylton that the prime minister chairs a lot of those committees on the Logistics Hub. She knows the delicacy of the background workings and the jostling between the potential investors. She will only report when it is at that stage of development that she can point to it and say, there it is, that is what we were working on all along."

PNP supporters quiet, JLP supporters bawling

After the PM's speech she was made into a caricature of herself by way of the many harsh views expressed about her speech.

"OK, I agree," I said to one young woman. "She is not my favourite person to deliver state of the nation speeches. Frankly, I believe that the prime minister should have personally penned that speech, with the usual inputs for the numbers."

"But, a who she a talk to? A nuh mi. She nuh have nutten fi worry bout. Look how price a go up!" the young woman responded.

I suggested to her that many people in the world tend to see through the prisms of their own construction. The rich man who talks to his peers, drinks with them and shares the same travel destinations will never understand the poor man's plight. The poor man will always believe that there are basically three ways to view a rich man.

One, he is 'tight', always trying to the pay the cheapest for the most. Two, he is disconnected from the poor and will use his powers with the security forces to ensure that the disconnection is safely maintained.

Three, he can be good at times, but in case he is not, if he is robbed or extorted, it is not necessary to shed tears.

I sincerely believe that ministers of government need to shop at 'corner shops' and stop in at 'two-stool bars' in the late evenings. Many have become disconnected, always talking to their friends and losing the ability to measure and feel the underlying and troubling social temperature.

"She sey she love poor people. Well, mi poor and mi nuh love whey mi a go through," said the young woman's friend. "Wha bout dat fi love?"

Is Craig Beresford wearing the shroud of Greg Christie?

Say what you may about the last contractor general, Greg Christie, he did what none before in his post did.

He kept the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) in the public spotlight and earned the admiration of a large majority of the general public.

Seeing that he was no politician, it could hardly be said that he attained that fame by spouting empty campaign promises. He actually worked at his job and did it with precision, even in the cases where I believe he went off track.

Immediately on Christie vacating office, the acting CG, Craig Beresford, has decided to report the Cabinet to the DPP with a view to having it prosecuted.

Mr Beresford wants to lock up Cabinet members after which, we hope, the expected calm will prevail. What utter madness!

When I was a teenager, at a party one day in 1967 I walked over to a group of attractive young girls and said to one, "I have absolutely no idea where I got the nerve to come over and say something to you, but... even if you run me away, I will go back to my friends and tell them that I just gazed into the eyes of an angel."

We became a pair for about a year.

I figure that Mr Beresford was seeking a first impression like that, a burst on the scene to announce that it was not just going to be business as usual, but he was co-opting the Government.

It is also likely that that matter was one long discussed with Mr Christie and asking the DPP to prefer charges against the PNP Cabinet is just Christie's hangover.

It is entirely possible that Mr Beresford hasn't yet found his footing, but in the meantime he is trying to fit in a pair of boots which Mr Christie had left in his office cabinet.

Tight fit? Wrong fit?

How about wearing your own boots, Mr Beresford?





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