The road to redemption is never paved with gold, Paulwell


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

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With all the tragic events taking place in Jamaica and the world any reader of this column can be easily excused for wondering about the need to waste precious column space on the predilections of Jamaican politicians. Yet, it is a duty that one cannot escape from as politicians do exercise a great deal of power over our lives. It is my profound belief that power at any level must be vigorously critiqued, whether it is at the level of the home, Church, school, business, the halls of parliament, or the political executive.

In this vein, I would like to make something abundantly clear — as one's critique of political power has often lead to the charge of one's affiliation with one political party or the other. I have been writing columns, letters and articles in the local media from as far back as 1975. Over that period, both sides of the political divide have labelled me a JLP and PNP sympathiser. I have, in fact, voted for both political parties over the years.

I have never felt nor considered myself beholden to any political party, despite my detractors' sentiments to the contrary. I do not offer uncritical or unqualified support to any politician. For deeply held philosophical reasons I have never given financial support to any political party. Consequently, I do not look to politicians for any personal help and get none outside of that which is available to any Jamaican. What I have achieved in life today is largely the result of the grace of God, buttressed and supported by a wife who has critically supported me over the years and loved me despite whatever failings I may have. And God knows I have many.

Having said that, let me turn to a critique of Phillip Paulwell, Member of Parliament for Kingston East and Port Royal and a prominent member of the People's National Party (PNP), presently aspiring to become one of that party's vice-presidents. From his aspiration it is clear that he has his eyes set on greater leadership in the PNP. Invariably, his name comes up whenever there is any serious discussion about the leadership of the party.

Paulwell clearly believes that he has it in him to lead Norman Manley's party and will no doubt get engaged in that process when the time comes. If the time does come and Paulwell is successful in his aspirations he could very well be pole-vaulted to Jamaica House as prime minister. What seems clear is that the constituents of Kingston East and Port Royal and the larger PNP seem irredeemably committed to him. It does not appear that he will lose his seat any time soon, having won it repeatedly over the years. If I were a betting man I would place a bet that he will win one of the vice-presidential slots. If this should be so, then more power to him.

But Paulwell has placed himself in a spot of bother arising from his virulent attack on the managing director of the National Energy Solutions Limited (NESOL), Carolyn Warren. When she applied for the job Warren did not reveal that she had a drug conviction over 25 years ago. It was not mentioned on the application for the job and neither was she asked about it at the interview. Paulwell believes that she should have confessed it and now believes she is not worthy of the job she holds. He believes she is to be fired immediately.

Paulwell appeared with Mark Wignall on Nationwide last Friday. Despite the host's repeated attempts to give Paulwell an opportunity to apologise for the harm that he might have done to Warren and her family, he steadfastly refused to do so. Incredulously, he asserted that he did not know that the conviction was over 25 years ago. But if he had known this would he have refrained from pulling the lady's name in the public with the obvious desire to do her reputational damage and score one for the PNP?

The shame about all this is that the PNP is desperate to score any point it can on the Government, and Warren seems to have become a pawn in a PNP chess game of ingratiating itself with the public.

But this will not wash with a public that has become more discerning. Warren has spoken of the pain she has had to endure since her conviction. Her family, especially her mother, has suffered the pain and anguish of a child who ends up on the wrong side of the law. But she has worked hard at self-rehabilitation in more than a subliminal way of trying to atone for the wrong and place her life on a path of sustained progress. Now Paulwell has thrown a spanner in the works of that steady progress she has been making.

He will score points with PNP diehards with this revelation, but the majority of the people of Jamaica will see the need for empathy, something that is clearly lacking in Paulwell's broadside against her. Jamaicans can be hard on themselves and others, but any human interest story of fall, rehabilitation and redemption sells well with them.

What many are seeing is that Paulwell's blistering attacks on her are so incongruous with the many troubles that have plagued him in his long career in Government. They find it difficult if not despicable to understand that one to whom so much grace has been shown should be so empty of grace for someone who fell from grace 25 years ago. Although he has not been charged with anything criminal, Paulwell has made enough mistakes in government to have been shown the exit a long time ago. But he has shown a dexterity to keep alive his prospects often by a supine and morally bankrupt PNP that has bought him passes when he needed it.

There are a number of sackable offences or pitfalls that should or could have sent him packing. Prominent among these are Solutrea, the Cuban light bulb scandal, the defective cement affair, NetServ — which was shrugged off at the time by then Prime Minister P J Patterson as “youthful exuberance” on his part. Then there was the mother of them all — the 381 megawatt power plant licence to Energy World Solutions (EWI) in which Paulwell, as minister in charge of energy, intervened and overruled the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR). The contractor general at the time was perturbed by this intervention as he thought it was unfair and compromised the integrity of the bidding process.

To be fair, any criticism of Paulwell in his public life must be balanced by the notable things he achieved. One of those is in the area of telecommunications, where with great zeal he undertook the dismantling of the monopoly that existed in this sector. I well recall his steadfastness in doing so. It was soon after this that firms like Digicel entered the Jamaican telecommunication space. It was also under his watch that the PetroCaribe arrangement was undertaken. This has been good for Jamaica. The reason that we are seeing difficulties now in the arrangement must not dampen the significance of what PetroCaribe has meant to Jamaica.

In his stint in government Paulwell has been a tireless and passionate minister of which youthful exuberance is not necessarily a bad sobriquet. The truth is that Paulwell's longevity in government under the PNP is a function of the road of redemption on which he has been placed by prime ministers under whom he served. He more than anyone else should understand the power of redemption having been forgiven for errors and actions that could have cost him dearly. He must now summon up within himself the requisite humility that will appreciate the pain he has caused Warren and her family and apologise to her. Fidelity to stubbornness when you are clearly wrong is the ultimate stupidity.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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