Columns

Which PJ Patterson should we believe?

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, June 08, 2014    

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"If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me." — William Shakespeare

IN light of the statements by former four-time Prime Minister PJ Patterson at the Spanish Town Rotary Club recently, one of four or maybe all four conclusions might be drawn in my view. Firstly, that Mr Patterson has had and or is having a Damascus road experience.

Most may remember the story in the Bible based on Saul's journey to Damascus where he was travelling to further persecute the Christian converts there. En route, the Lord appeared to him in a brilliant light which caused Saul to fall before it.

Jesus spoke to him, and Saul was totally transformed from a vehement and vindictive unbeliever to a humbled man seeking the Lord's will. In modern-day usage, a Damascus road experience refers to a profound life-changing and/or sudden turning point.

Like the Christian converts who doubted Saul's conversion, I have a great challenge believing Mr Patterson is genuine in his pronouncements and hence his 'conversion'. Sometimes the messenger is more important than the message. In speaking of the failed Values and Attitudes campaign that was his brainchild, Patterson said: "I spoke then of the growing tide of social incivility, indiscipline, disorder, disrespect for each other, the fight against corruption in all its forms and the critical need to promote integrity in every facet of national endeavour. Every speaker at the launch of that original campaign emphasised the need to arrest moral decline in our country and enunciated compelling reasons to stem this growing tide.

"Twenty years after, even those who doubted the validity of the plea or contended that the call was driven by partisan political motive, now openly admit its national urgency as our condition has deteriorated beyond belief.

"In spite of the efforts that began at that time, we have seen a massive increase in crime and violence; drug warfare is more rampant, the urban ghettos have spread across our countryside and our ethical standards have fallen.

"Today, there is a growing sense of alienation and greater distrust of leadership in politics, in our legal system, our national institutions, corporate business, the church. This means, ladies and gentlemen, we are at the extreme edge of the precipice."

Mr Patterson seemed to have suffered some kind of amnesia when he was 'struck'. Like a convert at Damascus, my memory is very much intact concerning Patterson's antecedents, political stewardship and the results upon this country.

Mr Patterson was prime minister for 14 years. He, more than any other prime minister, had the opportunity to turn this society around, upside down, inside out and then set it back again. He did not. The question is, why? The answer, to me, is straightforward enough. At the time it did not suit Mr Patterson to inspire and/or implement the real foundational and functional changes that were needed. The social revolution is yet to come. Was it that "the fight for scarce benefits and spoils carried on by hostile tribes that seem to be perpetually at war", held him hostage?

This was Patterson's description of politics in Jamaica, and by deduction from his speech to the Rotarians the 'fight for spoils' has now grown worse. It is now a Frankenstein. Was his political tongue conveniently paralysed, except for the making of convenient utterances that matched the objectives of 'spoils politics?' These are questions that Mr Patterson must answer.

During Mr Patterson's over three decades in Parliament and moreso during his party's unprecedented four terms in office, the Government was tainted by some of the most costly scandals since political independence in 1962.

Among the most publicised were the Shell waiver scandal; the zinc scandal; the public sector salaries scandal and the NetServ scandal.

The second conclusion that might be drawn is that Mr Patterson is playing the role of a kind of John the Baptist, whose job it was to prepare the way for Jesus. Is Patterson preparing or paving the way for something rather than for someone though?

According to Patterson, "Those for, and those against repealing the buggery law should find some common ground on which to resolve their differences in opinion." He said the society has to engage in a more meaningful conversation on the issue, which must take place in an environment that recognises and accepts that there will be differences in people's sexual preferences.

"It's an issue, I know, where people have very strong positions, but we have to find a way of moving away from polarised positions into one that accepts that differences of race or colour, differences of class, [and] differences even in terms of sexual preferences may have to be addressed in conformity with the prevailing global environment in which we live."

This pronouncement by Patterson was profound. Just as profound as when he suggested that his Government's policies in the 1990s made it possible for "more man" to have "more gal".

Is this the PNP's way of politically retabling the promise by present Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to repeal the Buggery Law? Mr Patterson will not have to face the electorate in 2015 or 2016, therefore, if anybody, he can light the political dynamite and 'run wid it'. He can galvanise the PNP elders, top rankings, hardliners and 'gineygogs' to rally to Portia's side during the inevitable tumult that will come.

Is it that Patterson will become the face of and take the political heat for the imminent move to repeal the Buggery Law? Why would he play the role of the political shock absorber? Maybe his undying love of the PNP is the answer.

The third conclusion that might be drawn is that Mr Patterson is playing the role of a kind of Roger Babson, the lone figure who was brave enough to say publicly that the United States Stock Market would crash and a Great Depression would follow.

"Sooner or later a crash is coming, and it may be terrific," Babson said, according to John Kenneth Galbraith in The Great Crash 1929. Babson also said that "factories will shut down, men will be thrown out of work, the vicious circle will get in full swing and the result will be a serious business depression."

"...There may be a stampede for selling, which will exceed anything that the Stock Exchange has ever witnessed," Babson warned, according to reports in the New York Times. "Wise are those investors who now get out of debt and reef their sails."

Babson made these remarks on September 5, 1929 during a speech to the Annual National Business Conference on Babson College campus. It was a time of plenty for many. Babson, like the biblical Noah, was branded a madman. His warnings were ridiculed by Wall Street millionaires, well, 'paper millionaires' were being created overnight, so how could his predictions be possible, many asked at

the time.

The market crash began on September 29, 1929. Babson had the credentials to make the predictions. He was a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and

an extremely successful engineer, businessman, financial theoretician and politician. Babson could have afforded to speak his mind.

Mr Patterson is one of the few people in Jamaica who has the local and international political credentials to state the truth about the state of Jamaica and those that dwell therein.

Additionally, his pension is safe. No one can fire PJ Patterson at this stage of his life.

The fourth conclusion that might be drawn is that Patterson is simply trying to 'play fool to catch wise'.

Patterson, it is well-known, plays an integral role in the internal organisational machinery of the PNP. He is known to have his hands on the political pulse of the nation.

He understands the beat of our 'magico political culture'. Politics in Jamaica is far less about critical reasoning and decision-making and more about perceptions and 'feel good'.

Is Patterson trying to upset the mood of the JLP? Is he trying to rile up the JLP into a phase of grand negative political campaigning -- a strategy that has often proven disadvantageous?

Whatever Mr Patterson's motivations for the statements he made to the Rotarians, I am glad he did. Jamaicans, like he said, need to "take a good look at where we are and where we want to go". The challenge is, does this Administration have the political cojones, currency and/or relevance to do either?

Contractor General Dirk Harrison

I believe this gentleman should be nominated for, Man of the Year. His public announcement that he will not kowtow to ministerial bluster, bombast and big stick is a breath of hope for Jamaica. We need more Jamaicans like him.

We all need to stop being cowards. The local belief that 'coward man keep sound bone' is rubbish and needs to be repudiated by more of us, as the contractor general has demonstrated. William Shakespeare said, "Cowards die many times before their

deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once."

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Comments to higgins160@yahoo.com

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