The writing is on the wall

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, November 03, 2019

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When the shepherd comes home in peace, the milk is sweet. — Ovambo proverb, Ethiopia

“Make sure you are prepared before the Lignum Vitae blossoms have peaked.” This bit of advice was given to all first-year students by seniors very early during the informal, but richly rewarding orientation process at the Mico Teachers' College (now Mico University College). The flowering Lignum Vitae (Guiacum Officinale), lasted for just over a month, and peaked somewhere between March and May. The purplish-blue blooms, birthed by the splitting of pods, was a sign of considerable apprehension for sluggards.

Signs, as in gestures, symbols, actions, etc, convey important information. At their own peril, some assign only qualitative and not quantitative weighting to them. On that score, even those with a perfunctory interest in our politics would have seen the abundant signs of an impending general election. I believe our 18th parliamentary election will be held in April 2020.

I believe if the elections were held today the People's National Party (PNP) would lose nine of the seats they now have, and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) three. Politically, I believe, Dr Peter Phillips has been “weighed on the scales and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27). The writing has been on the wall for just under three years. On March 11, 2017, for example, I stated the following beliefs, among other things, in this space: “Phillips is yesterday's man, leading the political party of last week.” In an article a few months after, I noted, inter alia: “Dr Phillips will be the first head of one of our two major political parties/Opposition leader not to become prime minister.” One does not need to be a political clairvoyant to see the signs. The political Lignum Vitae is getting ready to blossom, and 89 Old Hope Road is trapped in a state of chronic befuddlement.

Dr Phillips and acolytes of the One PNP faction are evidently preoccupied with running off the caterpillars and butterflies that help to cause the paired orange dehiscent fruits of the “wood of life” to achieve its majesty. I referenced recent evidence in this space last week. “It's like déjà vu all over again,” like Yogi Berra, famously said. I have seen this move before.

Calling it right!

In October 2015 I said the PNP would lose the then imminent general election. I also noted that the general election would be called in February 2016. “Whether the People's National Party (PNP) president and the country's prime minister calls the general and/or local government election in November, as some pundits predict and sections of the private sector are demanding; February 2016, as my sources insist; any time on or before December 29, 2016; or enter into a realm that no other political party has gone before — those additional three months allowed by the Jamaican Constitution — I sense that the PNP is headed for a crushing defeat similar to October 30, 1980.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 25, 2015)

I was proved right.

Even political neophytes of local politics know that between 1989-2007 the PNP increased its garrisons from eight to 15. The JLP has five garrisons. The JLP went into the February 25, 2016 national plebiscite with 21 seats and the PNP 42. The JLP did not lose any, and simultaneously gained 11 of the PNP's. It's not rocket science!

On June 4, 2016 I wrote, among other things: “The PNP will lose the upcoming local government election. They will get a trouncing greater than Edward Seaga gave P J Patterson in 2003. My sources, those reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, John Chewits and Bananaquits, tell me that it would not be an exaggeration to compare the current state of the PNP's political machinery to a toothless dog which has been abandoned by its master.” ( Jamaica Observer, June 4, 2016)

I was proved right!

On October 8, 2017 I said, “Dr Norman Dunn will win the by-election in St Mary South Eastern.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 8, 2017)

On October 22, 2017 I said: “The by-election in St Mary South Eastern is eight days from today. Two weeks ago I predicted a win for the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Dr Norman Dunn. Then, I based my prediction on poll findings of a credible pollster as told to me. I did not indicate what size of a win. Given information which I gathered last Saturday, and on National Heroes' Day, in the constituency, and findings from credible polls which a very kind soul put under my door, plus a well-oiled Jamaica Labour Party machine that has covered St Mary South Eastern from end to end, I can now say Dr Dunn will cross the finish line very comfortably ahead of the People's National Party's (PNP) Dr Shane Alexis.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 22, 2017)

On October 30, Dr Dunn trounced his opponent by over 900 votes.

On February 24, 2019 I said in this space that the PNP would lose the by-election in Portland Eastern. I gave reasons.

On March 31, 2019 I wrote: “Given information which I gathered on three visits to Portland Eastern and the findings of the Jamaica Observer/Bill Johnson polls, plus a well-oiled JLP machine that has engaged Portland Eastern from end to end, I am predicting that the JLP will overturn the sizeable winning margin which Dr Lynvale Bloomfield registered in 2016. I am calling the by-election in Portland Eastern for the JLP's Ann-Marie Vaz. She will cross the finish line before Senator Damion Crawford and she won't be spent from the sprint.”

I was confident in the data I had collected so much so that, while journeying back to Kingston, after my third visit to East Portland, I telephoned someone and told them: “Vaz will win by just over 300 votes.” She won by 319.

I am careful not to trespass, so I declare that I am not a pollster. I leave professional polling to illustrious folks like Don Anderson, the reputed 'Don Gorgon' (read reigning king); Professor Herbert Gayle, sociologist, The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona; Bill Johnson, professional pollster; Dr Christopher Charles, senior lecturer in political psychology, The UWI, Mona; and Trinidadian Derek Ramsamooj. I am sure my readers are acquainted with the track records of these acclaimed individuals.

My 'methodology' — if you can call it that — is unorthodox. In summary, I, use the mechanism of road trips. I informally chat with folks, in their natural states, in marginal and non-garrison seats.

Recall that some months ago I wrote, among other things: “In the last several months I had reason to visit parts of deep-rural St Thomas, St Ann, Trelawny, and St Elizabeth.” ( Jamaica Observer, June 9, 2019) Since that time, I have visited parts of rural St James, Clarendon, Manchester, Westmoreland, and I again made visits to sections of Portland and my beloved St Mary.

In March I raised very strong concerns about the historical and the present neglect of many rural towns and districts across Jamaica. I take no personal credit, but I am glad that the Andrew Holness-led Administration is increasing its focus on several long-standing rural concerns. Much more needs to be done, and urgently.

I believe rural concerns, particularly how they have or have not been addressed, will be a crucial deciding factor in the outcome of the next general election. Based on unscientific data that I have collected on the ground, the JLP, at present, is appreciably ahead in party favourability among rural voters. While the strength of a party's organisation on the ground is key on the day, and weather is important, my hunch is, if an election were called today, the JLP would win 40 seats.

Those who are figuring that bombast, generational party loyalty and/or mobile ATMs will be sufficient to bring home the bacon will discover, as rural folks say, “how water walk guh a pumpkin belly”. They will get a rude political awakening.

Dark clouds of political defeat are gathering over 89 Old Hope Road. On February 27, 2016, I said in this space that the JLP was playing chess while the PNP played checkers. The JLP has moved up in the chess rankings, while the PNP is still stuck with checkers.

Next week, I will outline five major factors of the PNP's political trajectory which I believe will lead to defeat for Dr Phillips and the PNP again.

Again? Yes, Phillips was the de facto prime minister in 2012-2016 and campaign director for the February 25, 2016 defeat.

 

It's the rural seats, stupid!

On February 27, 2016, I wrote in this newspaper that the incoming JLP Administration should set up a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Rural Development. I maintain that this is absolutely necessary.

I maintain that a national development plan for rural Jamaica that has specific timelines for implementation and matching resources is needed urgently.

I believe such a plan should focus on these and other areas:

• dedicated incentives for the setting up of businesses in rural districts and towns;

• improvements in housing stocks;

• social isolation-mitigation strategies;

• increased training opportunities for folks working in agriculture and other industries; and

• high-speed broadband and cellular services.

 

The Gleaner in its editorial on Saturday, October 26, 2019, entitled 'Our Withering Villages' said among other things: “Policymakers often talk about the importance of rural development. However, both public and private sectors seem unable to come up with the kinds of creative initiatives that would drive this development. In rural Jamaica, where agriculture thrives, there is already a high network of self-employment, which could increase if boosted by human and development capital.” Well said!

I grew up in deep-rural St Mary. I love rural Jamaica. I am pretty familiar with many of the nooks and crannies of Jamaica. I can say, with assured confidence, that the majority of our rural/deep-rural towns and districts have been left largely underdeveloped for donkey's years. Some have been ignored, as a matter of fact.

I am happy, the PNP has, again — they first did so in 2017 — included in its shadow Cabinet agriculture and rural development. Good move! But, where are the ingenious policy ideas, specific timetable for implementation, and resources to make it real.

 

Outameni again

Check this! '$106 million upkeep for shuttered Outameni property' ( The Gleaner, October 30, 2019)

When this scandal broke our country was told that Outameni was “a great buy”. Two administrations, JLP and PNP, have tried to sell/lease this “great buy”, and no one will touch it with a long stick.

Last Wednesday's report read: “In fact, the property has been advertised for sale five times, the agency revealed: on August 23, 2015; August 21 to September 16, 2016; December 10, 2017 to January 28, 2018; April 1 to 30, 2018; and, most recently, on October 23, 2019 when it was advertised in national newspapers and listed on the NHT's [National Housing Trust] website.”

It continued: “For more than a year after the NHT's purchase of the property became public in 2014, the then People's National Party Administration came in for heavy criticisms of the transaction. The NHT board approved and went ahead with the purchase of the property from Orange Valley Holdings Limited (OVHL), which was headed by film-maker Lenbert 'Lennie' Little White.”

Was the country misled?

While at university I took a course in literary criticism. I thought it would prove useful with my major in journalism. I did a bit of Greek mythology. I loved it. I remember learning about a character called Sinon. He was a Greek spy who, by his false tale, persuaded the Trojans into taking the wooden horse inside Troy. Sinon gave the Trojans a fanciful story about being abandoned by his colleagues because of his rivalry with Odysseus.

Sinon concocted a tale that the Greeks had made the wooden horse as an offering to the gods to ensure they had a safe journey home. Sinon said the Greeks made the horse deliberately big so Trojans couldn't take it inside the city. The Trojans fell for Sinon's terminological inexactitudes, hook, line and sinker. They dragged the horse inside. That was the end of them.

All kinds of stories were retailed to the public as to why Outameni was bought. Recall that in October 2013 the country found out that some $180 million of National Housing Trust funds had been used to purchase the Outameni property, ostensibly to establish a kind of 'Emancipation Park' in the west — at least that is one of several explanations the country got. The prime minister said she had heard about the matter in the media.

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis later delivered a body blow to the wavering stories by the then board: “The Auditor General's Department says that the National Housing Trust's (NHT) purchase of the Orange Grove/Outameni property in Trelawny in 2013 was a buyout of a bad debt owed by the owners of the property to a local merchant bank.

“The decision to purchase the property followed a letter from the owners, Orange Valley Holdings Limited (OVHL), in November 2012, bringing to the attention of the NHT board its indebtedness and urging it to negotiate a buyout of the bank loan covering the realty.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 22, 2015)

Outameni is now the local white elephant of white elephants, surpassing the Trelawny Stadium and the former Goodyear plant in St Thomas that once held that unenviable status.

The property was bought notwithstanding that a technical committee of the National Housing Trust advised the then board not to make the purchase. “The purchase was consummated, although a site assessment of the property conducted by the NHT's Construction and Development Unit had indicated 'that the property does not appear to facilitate the NHT's mandate for affordable housing solutions and is more suited for recreational/heritage-type facility'.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 22, 2015)

Dr Phillips is silent like a mouse on this. Why?

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

 


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