The reality of the Holness Administration — Part 1

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The reality of the Holness Administration — Part 1

Canute
Thompson

Thursday, December 05, 2019

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We are approaching the end of another calendar year and then in another two months from the end of the year we would have completed four full years of the Andrew Holness-led Government. It is, therefore, good time to evaluate the performance of the Government, given the additional fact that it is widely expected that the next general election will be held early into the fifth year of this Administration.

For devotees of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the prime minister, who take umbrage at any criticism and whose natural response is to deflect and attack, let me remind you what the word evaluation means. It means that a measurement or assessment is being done of actual performance or outcomes, relative to planned performance. In this regard it is facts and data which matter, not public relations.

I think most people will agree that the Government is doing a masterful job of masking the realities and giving the impression that it is doing an excellent job managing the affairs of the country, but the hard, cold facts will show otherwise as I outline below.

Key metrics of Government's performance

Both general public expectation and the grand promises of the JLP make at least six items top of the agenda for performance assessment. These are: the economy, crime, job creation, corruption, health, and education. Below those top six items are some other operational items, such as accountability (via performance management, aka job descriptions), taxes, minimum wage, poverty, the environment (including garbage collection), public order, justice administration, inflation, the exchange rate.

The economy

I submit that among the top items the data show that, in all, but one area the Government's performance has been dismal. The facts show that this Government inherited an economy that was stable and had begun to grow by about one per cent per annum after a period of missed opportunities, broken international relations, a pariah State label, and a global recession between 2007 and 2011. Starting in 2013, the economy found a good footing and by 2016 the economy was set for a take-off. The data show that, despite a promise of five per cent growth per year, there has been one per cent, on average, or a 20 per cent performance. Faced with the realisation that five per cent was not attainable, the prime minister, somewhat secretly, reduced the target by 60 per cent, setting two per cent as the new target. But, even so, growth has been at about the same one per cent.

The inescapable conclusion is that, given that the Government cannot claim credit for stabilising the economy, and given that it should not be expected to be praised for not ruining it, the ultimate measure of how it performed, that is, in the area of growth, has been barely far (on the revised targets) to dismal (on the original targets).

Crime

Holness's profound assessment in 2015 was that there was a lot that could be done about crime and he had the elixir to bring down crime so drastically that we would be able to “sleep with our windows and doors open at nights”. This audacious promise cannot be dismissed as youthful exuberance. For during 2017, in the face of sky-rocketing murders and pleas to the prime minister to back away from such wild promises, he continued to repeat it. What is the evidence?

With 1,641 murders, the year 2017 was the bloodiest year since the year before the capture and extradition of Dudus, when there were 1,680 murders, in 2009. Despite a 22 per cent reduction in 2018, compared to 2017, the 1,287 murders in 2018 were higher than all the years between 2011 and 2015. In 2015, the year before the JLP assumed office, the murder tally was 1,192, and in 2016 jumped to 1,350.

Despite at least three zones of special operations (ZOSOs) and about seven limited states of emergency (SOEs) — could be more, but it is hard to keep up — murders, having fallen in 2018 relative to 2017, there is an increase year-to-date in 2019 compared to 2018. The ultimate measure of the effectiveness of the crime measures would be continuous reductions in major crimes, particularly murders and shootings, but the data show that these are up overall in the country.

How then should we assess the performance of the Government on crime? I suggest two ways:

(i) Movements in the crime stats: A few months before assuming office murders were under 1,200. In the nearly four years since being in office murders have been above 1,200, in some cases by as much as 38 per cent when 2015 is compared with 2017.

(ii) Evidence of proactive intelligence-led security measures: The year 2016 saw a 13 per cent increase in murders over 2015. Given the Government's claim of having a large tool box of strategies to deal with crime, it ought to have taken steps in late 2016, or early 2017, to staunch the bloodletting. Instead, it waited until 2018, after massive and near unprecedented killing during all of 2017, to impose emergency powers in St James. These measures have now lost their shock and awe effect, given that overall 2019 is ahead of 2018.

Thus, if we separate the data from the optics and facts, we must conclude that in the area of crime the Government's performance is dismal. But what is worse is that it is hell-bent on continuing failed measures, which the People's National Party (PNP), to its discredit, has voted in Parliament to support.

Job Creation

With Audley Shaw as then finance spokesman promising 250,000 jobs — a figure which, like many others, was seemingly pulled out of the hat — the performance of the Government cannot be based, at least in the first place, on any other figure. At best, 250,000 would translate to 50,000 per year. We are nowhere near having created 200,000 jobs in the last four years. But if we take the more realistic approach, it is to be acknowledged that employment is at an all-time high. This, on the face of it would be praiseworthy, but when we peel away at the quality of job themselves we see that most are low-skilled, low-paying jobs which can hardly move people out of poverty. For, as the data show, poverty increased by 12.8 per cent in 2017.

Thus, in this area of job creation, the performance of the Government is mixed, namely:

(a) nowhere near the original amount projected, but

(b) unprecedented people employed, but

(c) most jobs created are low-end and low-skilled.

The correction to this requires structural changes.

Corruption

I have addressed this matter ad nauseam, but it warrants more attention. It is like the hurricane still bearing down on an island. Here are the facts:

The PM promised not to tolerate corruption. He spoke, then – at his swearing in and subsequently – with authority and conviction. He promised to do the right thing. In a July 20, 2018 tweet he said:

“Our Government must stand visibly and demonstrably in support of transparency, good governance and with a firm stance against corruption. I will make it a standing practice that all members of the Cabinet are exposed to good governance training and practices.”

To date we have not seen any of the promised action on corruption and there is widespread agreement that the culture of corruption has worsened, not improved, under Holness, such that 33 per cent of people believe the Government is “very corrupt”, 34 per cent believe the prime minister is corrupt, and 49 per cent say corruption has worsened in the last 12 months.

Against that background, the only fair assessment of the performance of the Government on corruption is to call it staggeringly dismal. Claiming that the PNP was also corrupt is not exculpatory, for the promise was to do better than the PNP. That half of the people believe that corruption has worsened in the last year, and a third saying the prime minister is corrupt is a definitive judgement.

I invite debate on the facts, not optics.

Later I will look at health and education, as well as issues such as poverty, taxation, and the environment.

Canute Thompson is chair of the People's National Party's Policy Commission, as well as head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning and lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of four books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.


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