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The rise and stall of Bruce Golding

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, May 16, 2010    

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Orette Bruce Golding is fighting for his political life.

Golding, 62, is at an age where Jamaican prime ministers are like roses in the garden, just getting ready to bloom. However, events of the past week have had a razor-like effect on the member of parliament for West Kingston, regarded by many as among the brightest and most articulate leaders to have emerged from this country.

Perhaps the two things that Golding and his main rival, Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, have in common are their love for people and the sharing of December as their birth month, he on the fifth and she on the 12th.

The Opposition, like many other social and political groups across Jamaica, has sought to tighten the noose around Golding's neck that could have far-reaching effects in the short and long terms.

Golding forced the nation to sit up and take note after his startling revelation in Parliament last Tuesday that he knew about and sanctioned a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) initiative to retain the services of US law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to assist it with extradition matters.

A month ago he had vehemently denied that the Government had engaged the law firm after the question was posed in the Parliament by Opposition member Dr Peter Phillips.

But as controversy over the issue continued to swirl, Golding asked JLP General Secretary Karl Samuda to probe the matter. Samuda eventually reported that persons within the JLP had approached attorney Harold Brady to assist in facilitating the opening of discussions between the US authorities and the Government of Jamaica, over a treaty dispute.

That treaty problem concerned Jamaica's refusal so far to process the American Government's extradition request for reputed Tivoli Gardens don and JLP supporter Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

Golding's effort last Tuesday to separate the functions and role of party leader and prime minister in this matter resulted in widespread criticism, calls for his resignation, and the adoption of a damage control plan by the party to try to achieve some amount of redemption.

Golding's life has been a mixed bag of success and failure laced with sheer excitement throughout.

The third of four children for Tacius and Enid Golding, his early education at Alpha Primary School, St George's College and Jamaica College, where he became head boy, gave him a solid start to take on the rigours of life.

He grew up in an era in which academic and sports standards in the high school system were exceedingly high and had to live in the shadows of classroom gurus like Ronnie Thwaites and Trevor Munroe of St George's, who both went on to become Rhodes Scholars and the latter also a track star of merit.

It was the golden era for boys' schools like St George's and JC, Kingston College, Wolmer's, Cornwall College and Munro to maintain their dominance over their rivals in academic performance and sports, topped during the period by Kingston College's fantastic schoolboy football successes of 1964 and 1965 at a time when Golding transferred to JC.

Having achieved a Bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of the West Indies in 1969, Golding -- at age 21 -- started his long political race when the JLP's Central Executive, which will play a role in deciding his fate at today's special meeting, elected him to serve. Three years later, at the time of the next general election that swept the People's National Party into power after a 10-year absence, Golding got the approval from the people of West St Catherine to become the youngest member of the House of Representatives at age 24, and thus confirmed his status as a second-generation politician, picking up the baton from his father.

Following a loss in West St Catherine in 1976, adjustments in constituency boundaries and names, Clarendon-born Golding was to later become a fixture for the JLP in Central St Catherine, being a part of the team that succeeded in convincing a majority of Jamaicans that the Cuban threat that emerged in the 1970s was real.

Michael Manley's Democratic Socialism philosophy had taken on new dimensions and in the eyes of his critics inside and outside of the PNP, had become so threatening to life that something should be done about it.

The JLP, inspired by its leader Edward Seaga, and backed by bright individuals like Golding, who was in charge of the campaign, Errol Anderson, and others, successfully managed to tell the nation that Cuba's influence on Manley, and by extension the island, was too much of a risk. It worked, and resulted in a big 51-9 seat victory for the JLP. Golding, who had been appointed JLP general secretary in 1974, went on to become the first minister of construction, a combination of the previous two ministries of housing and works. He served until the 1989 general election when the JLP was swept from office.

Such was his effect on the JLP and the promise that he showed, that Labourites promoted Golding from a decade of work as general secretary in 1984 to the powerful and influential position of party chairman and obvious heir apparent to Seaga. He served as chairman until 1995, a most crucial time in his life when he resigned from the party over a fuss that also engulfed the now infamous 'Gang of Five' issue, a claim that influential party members had teamed up to topple Seaga as party leader.

Several years of work as a party functionary had seemingly gone up in smoke. Golding had, at the time, not only served the House of Representatives as the member for West St Catherine and Central St Catherine for a combined 19 years, but the Upper House as a senator for nine years.

Golding's decision to form a third party, the National Democratic Movement (NDM) in 1995, had a resounding effect on the island's political landscape. As the NDM's first president, it was primarily left up to him to try to reshape the way Jamaicans saw politics and the work of political parties.

The party did not win a single seat in the 1997 general election, taken again in style by the PNP, but some of its candidates, like Golding who secured over 2,000 votes to trail JLP winner Olivia 'Babsy' Grange in Central St Catherine, Brascoe Lee in South Trelawny and Wayne Chen in North East Manchester, left telling impressions on the electorate.

The NDM also lost a by-election in the North East St Ann seat in 2001, forcing Golding to quit and start a fledging talk show called Disclosure on Hot 102 FM. When news started swirling about his imminent return to the JLP, Golding, up to his last day on air, kept denying any such move.

The NDM before that had powerful and influential supporters and sympathisers, among them the present principal of the Norman Manley Law School, Professor Stephen Vasciannie, who had a not-to-be-healed falling out with Golding when he returned to the JLP camp weeks before the 2002 general election. Vasciannie and Golding met the day before Golding went back to the JLP, at which point Vasciannie asked him about the rumours circulating about his return. Golding flatly denied that any such move was imminent.

The two, who had not exchanged a word since that time, broke the ice earlier this year when they met at a function at the law school. Before that, Golding moved decisively to block a decision by the Public Service Commission to appoint Vasciannie as solicitor general when the JLP assumed power in September 2007.

Vasciannie had won considerable respect in legal circles while he served as deputy solicitor general in the previous administration. He had left an indelible mark at Oxford University where he studied law and earned the distinction as the Jamaican Rhodes Scholar with the best overall academic performance in the history of the Rhodes Scholarship programme.

Golding won out in the end by firing the members of the commission, appointing a new one and having his preferred choice, Douglas Leys become solicitor general.

But Golding's second coming in the JLP was not as smooth as that of the Prodigal Son of biblical fame. Some of the party's stalwarts saw him as a direct threat. Others, particularly the younger group, embraced him wholeheartedly.

His previous post of chairman was again thrown into his lap in 2003, along with the appointment of senator and Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and foreign trade.

Seaga's decision to accept a senior appointment at the University of the West Indies paved the way for Golding to position himself to become JLP leader and later member of parliament for West Kingston.

All that had to be achieved amid a potentially bruising challenge for the leadership from his brother-in-law Pearnel Charles, who backed out at the last minute when it was felt that his chances of survival were akin to a drowning man grabbing at the last available straw.

Golding's return in November 2003, his appointment as leader of the opposition on February 20, 2005, and subsequent election as MP for West Kingston on April 13 that same year, put him in pole position for another grand takeoff toward the political Promised Land.

Having taken the Oath of Office as Prime Minister on September 11, 2007, following his party's narrow victory at the polls, Golding pledged to be the change that Jamaicans had been clamouring for. He had laid out new standards and styles in his party's manifesto and championed the cause of ushering in a new era of statesmen, whose hands would be free of corruption, whose primary aim would be the upliftment of all Jamaicans, and making integrity the centrepiece of leadership.

Now facing the challenge of his life, Golding is also confronted by the now popular Jamaican saying of 'cock mouth kill cock'.

He had promised many things when he became prime minister. However, his critics have noted that since holding the highest political office in the land, he seems either reluctant or does not have the stomach to make the changes that he so forcefully mooted.

His utterances in regard to the Manatt, Phelps & Phillips issue, in which he revealed to Parliament last Tuesday his knowledge of a move to retain the US law firm to assist the JLP with extradition matters, after originally denying knowing anything about it, again threw the spotlight on him.

Golding, in his defence, said that he was connected to the matter in his capacity as JLP leader and not as prime minister. He had forgotten that in 2006 at the height of the decision by the Dutch firm Trafigura to give US$30,000 to the PNP to assist with its campaign for the 2007 general election, he had vigorously dispatched a suggestion that the PNP point man in that matter, Colin Campbell, then a Cabinet minister, was acting on behalf of the party and not the Government.

"You can't be one and not be the other," Golding had said then, a statement that has now returned to haunt him.

According to some political analysts, those words may be the most telling in Golding's dramatic political career.

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