Promises vs performance

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Promises vs performance

The Andrew Holness Administration 2016 to 2020

Canute Thompson

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

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Some of my Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) friends do not like when I write about the issue of the performance of the Andrew Holness-led Administration. They suggest that I am 'bad mind' and point me to Holness's popularity poll numbers and contend that his popularity settles the question of his performance. But it does not; they are two separate and distinct issues.

In this assessment, I wish to do a compressed analysis of the actual performance of the Administration sans the rhetoric and the public relations.

It is clear to me that my friends who are so ill-at-ease about discussion of the performance of the Administration recognise that the performance is well below expectations and, as such, would prefer not to talk about that. But it is a discussion we must have.

As I have said, repeatedly, the fuel on which political parties (and individuals seeking any office) must run is their track record of performance, and, more specifically, how well they did in their last job, or how well they are doing in their current job.

I will review the performance of the Administration in 10 areas. The analysis updates previous publications, but also add new areas of assessment. The areas to be addressed are:

1) economic growth

2) crime management

3) corruption containment

4) law and order

5) water supply

6) productivity and innovation

7) quality education

8) health care

9) the minimum wage

10) regional and global reputation

Economic growth

The JLP promised that it would have grown the economy by five per cent in each year for four years. That was not merely an aspirational assertion, as some tried to argue. It was a clear commitment. The Jamaica Information Service (JIS) in a November 9, 2016 report — with pics showing 5 + 4 fingers, of the Prime Minister, Michael-Lee Chin, Minister Nigel Clarke, who was not yet Minister of Finance — quotes the prime minister as saying he was “confident” about the “5 in 4” plan and that “…the country is already reaping the rewards of the discipline from various sectors to maintain social order and cohesion as well as to improve the macroeconomic environment of the country”.

But the evidence shows that, with growth averaging about one per cent in the first year or so, gaining traction from the momentum of 2012- 2016, a pattern slow and declining growth set resulted in an overall growth of 0.1 per cent (that is one-tenth of one per cent) for the last 11 quarters ending in the last quarter of the 2019/20 fiscal year as shown in Table 1.

A growth of 0.1 per cent — all pre-COVID-19 — translates one-fiftieth of five per cent. It is like a child getting one out of 50 for an examination. That is a dismal failure.

In the upcoming elections we should watch out for mischaracterisations of these facts and demand of all parties seeking office that they present credible plans for economic truth and do not fete us with false promises.

Crime management

Let us use murders as the chief reference. Table 2 shows the murder tally 2015 to 2019.

Expressed differently, in 2015 the murder rate per 100,000 population was 45 in 2015 (up from a record low of 36.4 in 2014), moving to 50 in 2016 and jumping by over 10 per cent to 55.7 in 2017, falling to 47 in 2018, and ticking upwards to 47.4 in 2019. At 47.4, the best year for the Holness Administration, this is worse that the PNP's last year in office, which was 45 per 100,000.

This outturn is despite 10 state's of emergency (up to 2019) and now about a dozen, plus two zones of special operations (ZOSO).

Based on those numbers, the Government has failed in this area as well.

I have repeatedly argued that containing crime will take long-term action which begins with drastically improving the quality of family life and our education system. Any political party which is not prepared to invest in improving support for vulnerable families and in education does not understand the fundamentals of sustainable development.

Corruption containment

In his swearing-in speech, Prime Minister Andrew Holness promised not to tolerate corruption. The record shows, on the contrary, that corruption is endemic in the Holness Administration and, at last count, almost 90 per cent of government ministries had been affected by corruption or impropriety, with allegations coming to the fore in 12 of the 14 ministries as shown below, viz:

1) Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment, and Sport

2) Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation

3) Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information

4) Ministry of Finance and Public Service

5) Ministry of Health and Wellness

6) Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries

7) Ministry of Labour and Social Security

8) Ministry of Local Government and Community Development

9) Ministry of National Security

10) Ministry of Science, Energy, and Technology

11) Ministry of Tourism

12) Ministry of Transport and Works

The record further shows that at least seven ministers have been fingered, but hardly any consequence. Karl Samuda's involvement in the mombassa grass matter did not prevent him from being promoted to minister of education. Daryl Vaz was moved laterally after his ethically questionable acts in relation to the Holywell lands after which he called civil servants, who were just doing their jobs, hypocrites. J C Hutchinson was moved laterally to the Office of the Prime Minister after conceding he was wrong. Before them Robert “Bobby” Montague, Robinson, and Andrew Wheatley had zero sanctions for their involvement in the de-bushing matter. And Audley Shaw suffered no consequence for his $8-million phone bill. Despite Petrojam, Wheatley may well return to a JLP Cabinet and, at the time of writing, the prime minister had said nothing about Christopher Tufton and the MarketMe questionable contracts. Only the former Senator Ruel Reid, minister of education, has really faced consequence. That is only one minister out of at least seven whose conduct has either been found to be corrupt or criminal or potentially criminal or highly unethical.

Law and order

Columnist Dennis Chung, in a November 3, 2017 piece in the Jamaica Observer, entitled 'Jamaica, no problem or land of lawlessness' contrasts the orderliness he witnesses overseas with the morass and disorder on Jamaica, citing the state of shacks which have been put up without order or approval. Chung's sentiments are shared by Richard Blackford, who cites other pieces of evidence, particularly breaches of the road code, writing in a January 10, 2018 piece entitled, 'A case study of lawlessness in Jamaica'.

On June 14, 2019, Leighton Levy pleads that we do something about the lawlessness in Jamaica, and his sentiments are shared by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, which on September 25, 2019 called for action to arrest the “pervasive culture of lawlessness”.

Of note is that when I Googled the words “lawlessness in Jamaica” I received 589,000 results in 0.47 seconds. Former Contractor General Greg Christie, now the head of Integrity Commission, in one of his tweets, noted that lawmakers who act lawlessly will have great difficulty promoting lawful conduct among citizens. The problem of lawlessness in Jamaica did not begin in 2016, but the real question is what has the Holness Administration done to stem this major problem?

Given the pleas as shown above, I think we can all agree that this problem remains a major one and in this regard the Government has failed in my view.

Water

Both the JLP and the PNP have failed to deal in a substantive and sustainable manner with the problem of water management and distribution across the country over several decades. While the island has suffered major droughts on a frequent basis, the potential sources of water remain good. What we lack is the will to develop the harvesting and distribution mechanisms as an expert at the Water Resources Authority contends.

But I submit that, in addition to underground water, sea water is a vast resource. In Israel, 80 per cent of water for domestic use comes from desalination plants The little island of Antigua has three desalination plants. There is no reason an island like Jamaica cannot fix the problem of reliable water supply. If we have the will we can.

While the Holness Administration has taken steps to improve the supply of water in sections of the Corporate Area with the new Ferry system, residents of the areas slated to benefit continue to experience lock-offs and other interruptions. The results of recent investments are yet to prove their value but, in this area, I would give the Government a passing grade for the effort in the Corporate Area, but this area is not Jamaica, and what is needed is a bold plan which contemplates the provision of a reliable water management and distribution system for the entire island.

With the level of unplanned development in the Corporate Area with high-risers the problem of distribution will likely get worse. Only a comprehensive visionary plan which focuses on both urban and rural areas, and which includes business and household harvesting rainwater as part of the solution, will solve the problem.

Water is vital to health and well-being, as well as to the expansion of agriculture. It is therefore a major pillar of national development.

These are the first five areas. Let the debate begin...

Dr Canute Thompson is chair of the People's National Party's Policy Commission, as well as a senior lecturer in educational policy, planning, and leadership at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of six books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.


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