Heat on Vaz pick

Heat on Vaz pick

More voices lash selection of embattled Portland Western MP in new Holness Cabinet

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, September 13, 2020

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THE heat is on Minister of Energy, Science and Technology Daryl Vaz, who is seen by commentators interviewed by the Jamaica Observer as a bad choice to be appointed to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Holness on Friday completed the announcement of his 19-member team, which included four named days earlier, following his Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) resounding victory over the People's National Party (PNP) in the September 3 General Election.

Vaz, who was embroiled in a land acquisition controversy months before the general election, emerged as a surprise choice for the portfolios outlined.

“It is no surprise that most of the people have been kept from the last Cabinet. Overall, I would say it is pretty much in line with what I would have expected. The one surprise I think is Daryl Vaz in energy, science and technology,” businessman Kevin O'Brien Chang told the Jamaica Observer.

“That is the most controversial ministry, perhaps the controversy with Dr Andrew Wheatley and before that you had controversies with Phillip Paulwell but Vaz's name has been called quite a bit in controversial circumstances. You did have the instance where the visas were revoked [and] Mr Vaz said he would resign if he didn't get his visa back. We don't know if he got his visa back...so you wonder what the US would think about that, but then you think Mr Holness would surely have checked with the US... so there is a curiosity cloud around that. It is no personal animosity, [I'm] just going by what was said and following up,” O'Brien Chang stated.

Attorney-at-law Michelle Thomas shared similar sentiments saying, “Daryl Vaz should not be in the Cabinet. His name is not squeaky clean and to put him in the Cabinet is a bit worrying.”

Political scientist at New Jersey City University and former University of the West Indies lecturer Dr Jermaine McCalpin agreed that controversy surrounding Vaz makes him a misfit for a controversial ministry.

“The important omission and maybe the most egregious, for obvious reasons is Andrew Wheatley, right? He's not there. Some persons perceived that Vaz should have equally not been there. Obviously he was recused or relieved of the environment (portfolio). I'm not sure that he's a good fit there for energy, you know, when the PM promised that he will allow persons to run the ministries, but he would still have oversight. I'm not sure that energy, science and technology fits Daryl Vaz, honestly. And so, I think they could have gone another way in terms of maybe looking at one of the other persons within the Cabinet. I think in my mind someone like Norman Dunn could be useful there. There are other persons, but he comes to mind in terms of a fit for for that ministry,” Dr McCalpin said.

He added that Everald Warmington was also a surprising appointment.

“In terms Everald Warmington, I thought that several of these persons essentially would not have offered themselves to be members of the Cabinet just in relation to maybe an eventual departure from politics. I know Warmington's combativeness [and] I think it is strategic because he is to be thought of as you know, someone who could rock the boat. And so, I think giving him a Cabinet portfolio is also an attempt, I won't say, to muzzle the ox, but an attempt to ensure he's neutralised in one sense. I will say that is strategic in terms of Warmington being part of the Cabinet.”

Former Senator Delano Franklyn said given the context of the prime minister saying that his Government will operate in an open, transparent, accountable fashion, he believes persons who “hitherto found themselves in a spot of bother during the course of his Government would not have been seated in the Cabinet”.

“I'm talking about Daryl Vaz, for example, and JC Hutchinson. I was a bit surprised to see Vaz being renamed in the Cabinet. Daryl Vaz has been assigned a critical portfolio which is energy, science and technology. That ministry, particularly energy, has been fraught with problems and challenges over the last few years because Petrojam is a State agency under that ministry and the public will be watching very, very keenly how that assignment will be handled by a person who himself is no stranger to being seen by the public as a person to be watched very carefully,” Franklyn told the Sunday Observer.

There is also much discussion around the ratio of men to women in the Cabinet, with many arguing that there could have been better gender balance regardless of many of the elected women being first0time parliamentarians.

“If we are counting we have Olivia “Babsy” Grange, Fayval Williams and Marlene Malahoo Forte. Those are essentially the persons in the Cabinet. In the 19 ministries we only have two women as state ministers. We have Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn in health and wellness and also Marsha Smith in finance and public service. So if we are counting as 19 and nine that's 28, in the Cabinet— counting the state ministers [and] the attorney general —29 — and we have what five women? So I expected a greater measure of gender representation. I know some persons are going to talk about many first time MPs, but the reality of that is not unusual to apply first time MPs in a Cabinet, state minister or otherwise. I mean, obviously to give them a ministry, I wouldn't think it prudent. But certainly, I think they could have been represented in the state ministries. I expected Kerensia Morrison to be a state minister and I would have had her in education. So, I think the gender imbalance is very egregious in terms of the representation in the Cabinet,” Dr McCalpin said.

Dr McCalpin added that given much of the rhetoric surrounding representation of women in the Jamaica Labour Party's victory and the party's manifesto on gender he expected an independent ministry of gender affairs and that omission was disappointing.

Thomas shared similar sentiments regarding women representation and said an approach of having parliamentary secretaries in addition to state ministers could have helped in that regard and also cut expenditure.

“The ratio of women in the Cabinet is low. I think given the amount of women MPs he has, more women could have been appointed in the Cabinet despite the fact that there are many new faces. Women like Rhoda Crawford and Kerensia Morrison are not at the Cabinet level yet, but they could have gotten minister of state or parliamentary secretary. So, instead of appointing nine ministers of state, the PM could have had 11 parliamentary secretaries and four state ministers for the super ministries and this would cut significant costs,” Thomas said.

Meanwhile, there was also talks that the Cabinet could have been smaller as now was not the time to be creating new ministries.

“I'm also disappointed that the PM created a new ministry. In this time when we know we are in a recession, we shouldn't be expanding Government with three new ministries at that. He should have kept the ministries the same from last term but bring a different mix,” Thomas said.

“I was expecting a smaller and leaner Cabinet. Nineteen is a bit over the top when one puts it in the context of the prime minister having said that he would be expecting and anticipating a Government that is leaner and leaner in terms of how public funds are spent. If you look at the Cabinet, you are talking about 19 persons and if you look at the ministers of state it's another nine, that's 28. If you were to add to that the attorney general and also the Speaker of the House you will be up to 30. So, the Prime Minister has assigned 30 persons out of 48 MPs some form of assignment in his Government. That 30 of the 48 accounts for 62 per cent of those who were elected MPs being assigned some portfolio. I think that's on the large side,” Franklyn said.

“My estimation was between 15 and no more than 20 in the Cabinet and I think this is a reasonably-sized Cabinet, though it could be trimmer. The super ministries, therefore, in light of the larger number of elected representatives from the JLP means the super ministries were not necessary. I also expect that there will be less under the immediate supervision and management of the prime minister, because there are several ministries without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, and under his supervision,” McCalpin said.

Added McCalpin: “I expect that though we move more to business as usual, or to remain as we are, I'm expecting that there will be some significant change in terms of how the country is administered and the responsiveness of Government to not just the electorate, but to the entire Jamaica. So for me, I think the Cabinet reflects an attempt at unity.”

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