'When yuh salt, yuh salt,' but... — Part 2

'When yuh salt, yuh salt,' but... — Part 2

Is it Patterson, Simpson Miller, Golding, or Holness?

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, January 24, 2021

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The big game often appears when the hunter has given up the hunt for the day. — Igbo proverb, Nigeria

Last week we started a discussion based on the thesis of veteran Coronation Market businesswoman Miss Pam: “Every time the JLP [Jamaica Labour Party] come inna office, pure crosses reach dem.” We looked then at the Hugh Shearer, Michael Manley, Edward Seaga, and P J Patterson administrations and determined that, all told, Seaga had to surmount the tallest hurdles, Manley the tallest social hurdle, and Shearer the tallest political hurdle.

We continue the ratiocination from the Patterson Administration onwards to test Miss P's postulation.

After the JLP's Edward Seaga delivered a political body blow to Patterson in the local government elections of June 19, 2003, some in the People's National Party (PNP) were hit with a political reality like a ton of bricks: “Portia is our only hope.”

Thereafter, even some of the most rabid members of the PNP began to accept, albeit reluctantly, that Patterson had lost his political salt.

The JLP's 2003 parish council victory turned out to be Seaga's political last lick. By very early 2004, several credible polls had found that the JLP did not stand a snowball's chance in hell of being elected to form the Government as long as Seaga was its leader.

Seaga was forced to accept that his political shelf-life had been exhausted and he retired in January 2005.

With no Edward Seaga to demonise, a critical ingredient disappeared from the recipe which the PNP had used to help them win four consecutive general elections. At the same time, the JLP had started to bake a new cake using a tested and proven method. The aroma from 20 Belmont Road had started to spread, and fast.

One does not need to be the equivalent of a political Einstein to realise that the ascendency of Portia Simpson Miller to the presidency of the PNP on February 25, 2006 and then prime minister of Jamaica in March 2006, was a political godsend for the PNP. Safeguarding the electoral marketability of Norman Manley's party, doubtless, was at the top of her agenda.

By December 2005, the JLP — under the leadership of Orette Bruce Golding, who had taken over the reins of Alexander Bustamante's party in February 2005 — had dispensed with its political self-immolation fixation and had begun to nip at the political heels of the PNP.

Simpson Miller's favourability rating was 78 per cent at the time she was handed the leadership baton by P J Patterson. The late Michael Manley, at his zenith, had a 75 per cent favourability.

Simpson Miller's grass roots appeal was an obvious political ace. She was viewed by many as the real McCoy, because of a knack for making folks feel that they were near and dear to her. Understandably, she received a rapturous welcome from the masses.

Academia, in general, and popular culture, specifically, rolled out the red carpet for her. However, some, including a few in her own party, were outraged that she had ascended to the top of the political ladder. Recall the overt references to Simpson Miller's supposed lack of intelligence, absence of affinity to a name-brand university, and connections to the intelligentsia.

Like her predecessor, Simpson Miller assumed the office of prime minister while the economy was on a growth path — 3.5 per cent in 2003; 1.4 per cent in 2004; and 1.1 per cent in 2005, according to Planning Institute of Jamaica's (PIOJ) figures. Of course, the economy she inherited was not near as robust as the one Patterson inherited from Seaga in 1989.

When Simpson Miller took up the mantle of prime minister there was considerable buoyancy in the economies of our major trading partners — Britain, the United States of America, and Canada. As a matter of fact, the world economy had been experiencing an unprecedented boom. Consider this, 125 countries achieved economic growth of three per cent in 2005/6 (Fareed Zakaria, CNN's GPS).

I recall ace broadcaster the late Ian Boyne, in a conversation with Simpson Miller during the transition of leadership, asking her what she intended to do differently. She promised to put a human face on the policies and programmes bequeathed by Patterson. Social, political, and economic conditions were ripe for her to plant the foundations to achieve this objective.

I believe Simpson Miller did not achieve that objective because the necessary foundations to facilitate a game-changing shift were not planted by her from the get-go. There are, doubtless, many other reasons for that failure. Prominent among them is copious evidence in newspaper reportage that points to Simpson Miller's relegation to little more than a political figurehead during her time in the highest elected position in our land. I don't believe that constant references in media and elsewhere to Dr Peter Phillips, then finance minister, as the de facto prime minister of Jamaica were without foundation.

'Driver'

Bruce Golding returned from the political cold, not with a whimper but a bang. On February 20, 2005 he was elected leader of the JLP. On April 13, 2005 he was elected Member of Parliament for Kingston Western. He was leader of the Opposition from April 21, 2005 to September 10, 2007. He was sworn in as Jamaica's eighth prime minister on September 11, 2007.

Golding won the September 2007 General Election with a razor-thin majority, taking 32 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives. The PNP won 28 seats.

He took office just about when the world economy started to nosedive. The troubles of a global financial crisis were quickly at Jamaica's doorstep and Golding needed to assure Jamaicans that he was the most able 'driver'. His Administration had no time to celebrate the JLP's escape from 18 years in the political wilderness.

Jamaica received a gut punch from the 2007/8 global economic crisis. At the time, we were already wobbling from painful uppercuts — the result of many years of weak economic performance as well as high and increasing debt levels. The severe body blows from the 2007/8 global financial crisis exacerbated Jamaica's fiscal situation. It became unsustainable.

Starting in 2010 the Golding Administration, with Audley Shaw as the finance minister, began decisive actions, including two domestic debt exchanges, to bring its debt trajectory on a more sustainable path.

Golding, though, had trouble on all fronts.

Immediately after the general election, the PNP's Abe Dabdoub dragged Daryl Vaz, who defeated him in the contest for the Portland Western seat, to court, claiming Vaz had dual citizenship and was not qualified to sit in the House. The court sided with Dabdoub and booted Vaz in 2008.

Gregory Mair, who had Venezuelan allegiance, resigned in 2009. They were both returned by way of a by-election after the necessary housekeeping.

In 2009 Michael Stern, and in 2010 Shahine Robinson were disqualified from sitting in the House of Representatives for contravening the Jamaican Constitution. Robinson later regained her seat in a by-election.

Golding also had a torrid time with the trade unions, who demanded their pound of flesh, seemingly, oblivious of the meagre state of the national purse.

Then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller and the PNP had promised Bruce Golding and the JLP “nightmares” during their time at Jamaica House. The PNP looked under every rock, dug up every old brooch, took a fine-tooth comb to every document and report coming from the Golding Administration, and niggled them in Parliament like a ballpoint needle. It was one of the most strategically efficient Oppositions in five decades.

Except for maybe the Great Depression of the 1930s, the global recession during 2007/8 was unparalleled. Nevertheless, Bruce Golding managed to captain Jamaica through some of the most treacherous economic waters seen over the last 60 years. He also spearheaded numerous precedent-setting legislation, one of which resulted in the game-changing organisation of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM). Consequently, a culture of our security forces killing poor, black, dispossessed Jamaicans with impunity has been critically wounded.

He is the only prime minister that has had the decency to resign when faced with consequences of national scandal — the “Dudus” debacle.

Return of Mama P

Upon the resignation of Bruce Golding, Andrew Holness, the then minister of education, ascended to the seat of party leader of the JLP and prime minister. He did not take the keys to Jamaica House in happy economic, social, or political circumstances. The severe consequences of the global financial recession left its damaging imprints on the major productive arteries of our economy.

Trust in the JLP Administration had plunged to an all-time low and the Opposition demanded that the people be consulted in a general election. On December 29, 2011, the Jamaican people voted in a general election.

The Andrew Holness-led JLP was booted from office in a landslide. Holness told the country that “bitter medicine” was in the offing. People seldom vote for a political party whose platform is 'Welcome to hard times'.

Simpson Miller took back the keys to Jamaica House on January 5, 2012. She had a simple majority and a second opportunity to make good on a solemn promise from 2006. Folks who waited to see a reconstitution/recasting of free market policies and programmes with Simpson Miller's “human face” did so in vain.

She ran into some serious headwinds. The economic fallout from the 2007/8 global financial meltdown were still reverberating throughout the Jamaican economy.

Matters were made worse when it took more than a year for her Administration to secure an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Recall that Simpson Miller, during the national leadership debate, had promised to secure an agreement with the IMF within two weeks upon taking office.

Her second term at Jamaica House was marred by numerous scandals that placed a damper on important achievements, like the many utilitarian legislations which her Administration spearheaded, infrastructural projects completed, and Dr Peter Phillips's commendable continuation of measures started by the Golding Administration to tame the debt monster.

Holness returns

No one can honestly say that Andrew Holness did not do a very creditable job when he got a second bite of the political cherry. I presented incontrovertible evidence on that score previously.

Very strong overall performance, political grit, superior party machinery, the rediscovery of a winning mentality, guided by a popular leader and the gift of a thoroughly divided PNP, resulted in a third bite of the political cherry for Holness. The JLP trounced the PNP in our 18th parliamentary election on September 3, 2020.

But, that was then!

This Holness Administration is in some extremely choppy waters. Added to the mountains of problems caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, primarily the fallout in our economy, the now metastasised monster of crime continues to ravenously eat away at the very fabric of our society. After 21 days in 2021, 81 people have been murdered. Twenty-five Jamaicans were murdered in less than 72 hours last weekend.

If the Holness-led Administration does not quickly cauterise the crime wave, in particular the spate of murders, the prime minister's popularity and that of his Administration will disappear like the air in a massive group of birthday balloons that have been punctured by push pins.

Some experts in virology forecast that the rapid spread of the coronavirus globally will be brought under control by late September 2021. I suspect that our economy will start to regain its mojo by around that time. Any meaningful recovery, however, will be stymied if runaway murders and related crimes are not halted.

Recall these frightening words from one of our former police commissioners: “The crime situation in Jamaica appeared to have a switch, where you can turn crime on or off, and this switch needed to be discovered.”

That switch is evidently on full throttle now.

Two weeks ago the country woke to the news that 19 guns and 470 rounds of ammunition had been seized at the Montego Bay wharf. Last Tuesday the police reported that they seized five more firearms, including three assault rifles, and around 100 assorted rounds of ammunition, again at the wharf in Montego Bay, St James. The merchants of death involved in this illicit and related 'trade' have very deep pockets and matching connections. They are making an investment with an expected return. Their ultimate objective is clear for those who have eyes to see.

Miss P's Theory

Has the JLP had to surmount taller social, economic, and political hurdles, compared to those of the People's National Party (PNP), whenever it forms the Government? Yes!

When the Simpson Miller, Golding, and the Holness administrations to the present are compared, which has had to surmount the tallest social, economic, and political hurdles? The evidence, all told, points to the Golding Administration.

Miss P's summation does seem to have a lot of weight. All told, with tough conditions at the start of a political term, fate — 'saltniss', if you will — has dealt JLP administrations an uneven hand far more times than the PNP.

When it comes, all told, to rough passages, JLP administrations have surmounted far more turbulent economic, political, and social currents, and they have fared far better in guiding the ship of Jamaica to safety.

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


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