Dr Haughton, dissenting political thought and a fresh breeze in the Senate


Dr Haughton, dissenting political thought and a fresh breeze in the Senate

Thursday, December 12, 2019

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The spirit, if not the objective, of a Senate or Upper House, was to have an additional layer of independent, democratic thought, unencumbered by blind or sycophantic political party loyalty.

Over the years, regrettably, the Jamaican Senate has functioned as little more than a rubber stamp for legislation passed in the House of Representatives, or Lower House, with the occasional dissenting voice being a clear outlier.

We are therefore not surprised at the frenzy whipped up by Opposition Senator Dr Andre Haughton's criticism last week of his party leader, Dr Peter Phillips's call on the Government to reduce the General Consumption Tax (GCT) by two percentage points.

Dr Haughton, a university lecturer in economics, argued that reducing the GCT by two percentage points would cost the country $25 billion to $26 billion annually, with negligible benefit to the average Jamaican consumer.

“We have to think more carefully about what our objectives are. I have never been the advocate for the fiddling of numbers. I believe that whatever the cost we incur as a nation it must be to the full benefit of the country,” the young economist said in his maiden contribution to the Senate's annual State of the Nation Debate.

He prefaced his remarks by saying: “Our party leader tossed out a bait about reducing GCT by two percentage points, and I heard Senator Charles Sinclair, as well as Audley Shaw [suggesting that it should be taken into consideration] without breaking down the numbers.”

While his choice of language might have been jarring on the nerves, what surprised us was that even people who like to posit themselves as being at the vanguard of new, progressive economic and political thought missed the real significance by a mile.

Dr Haughton, whether it was inadvertent or not, pointed the Senate back to its original role as a chamber that should dispassionately examine proposed legislation or policy ideas with the objective of making them better, no matter from which party they originate.

We in this space have not been shy about chastising Dr Haughton in the past for his very insensitive and sexualised remarks on breast cancer in women and how much of a breast man he was, ignoring the pain of women who had lost their breasts. (See 'The humblest calf drinks the most milk, Dr Haughton', editorial October 8, 2019).

But we never sought to straightjacket the mental faculties of a young man who everyone describes as “very bright” and who was clearly thinking outside the proverbial box while reaching for something better in his comments on the GCT proposal.

The Senate has often been a joke of late, and a place to park political losers who have been good to the party. It is much like an appendage to the House of Representatives and not a place which sheds a light on the excessiveness or exhuberance of Members of Parliament.

One swallow doth not a summer make, but Dr Haughton, and senators like Mr Damion Crawford — whom we have also criticised for his loose lips — can represent fresh breeze in the Senate.

What they need is to be nurtured and not to be used as mere fodder to stir up notions of collective responsibility in the abstract.

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