Andrew Holness and the destruction of trust

Canute Thompson

Sunday, January 06, 2019

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IT is impossible to keep pace with Prime Minister Andrew Holness's breakneck pace of creating news worthy of worry and analysis. Journalists and analysts in the United States of America face the same challenge with President Donald Trump. In any given day there could be five or six different issues related to Trump or his Administration, each of which, by itself, could make a full news cycle. In many cases anchors report that at the last minute they have had to change their script because of late breaking news. Trump had promised to give Americans a head spin, and he certainly has delivered. I do recall Holness making a similar promise. What I recall is that he would not tolerate corruption in his Government, but he is doing the very opposite.

At the time of writing the year was barely three days old and Holness had created at least three major stories, each of which, on its own, would make for a full analytical column. It is likely, therefore, that by the time this piece gets published other actions worthy of analysis would have been done by the prime minister.

Though varied in content, the actions of the prime minister are characterised by a major central theme, namely the loss, and continuing decimation, of trust. Given the extent to which Holness has barefacedly and, with seeming impunity, violated trust, it is ironic and laughable that he had promised to be a transformational leader.

According to James Burns (1978), transformational leadership is a process whereby leaders and followers engage in a mutual process of 'raising one another to higher levels of morality and motivation'. In my view, none of Holness's recent actions can count as raising levels of morality and motivation.


On November 8, 2018, the Jamaica Observer published my article entitled 'Aiming for higher... and the return of Dr Andrew Wheatley'. In the piece I argued that an interview which Wheatley had given a few days before, in which he proclaimed his innocence of wrongdoing in relation to the Petrojam scandal, had likely been pre-approved by the prime minister, and was the testing of the waters for his return. The piece received a number of reactions, which I place in three categories. In the first were the realists, who agreed that the interview was just the testing of the waters. A senior player in the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) shared this concern. In the second category were the purists, who argued that Holness could not be so barefaced. A senior member of the People's National Party (PNP) told me that Wheatley was “so damaged politically” that Holness would dare not go there. This view was supported by a senior government official, who suggested that I should “…give the PM the benefit of the doubt…with multiple agencies looking on (my) fear is unfounded”. The administration official went on to say “…this is the first time we have these independent agencies with their current powers”. Alongside the realists and purist, there are the pragmatists. One Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporter, a good friend, told me that Holness cannot afford to lose Wheatley, given the latter's base in the party.

The pragmatists and realists were right, and the purists were wrong. Wheatley has returned, and will head a committee aligned to Cabinet, though (theoretically) outside of the Cabinet. This committee will deal with poverty reduction. If this matter were not so much a threat to good governance I would burst out laughing at how cunning a move it is.

It is to be recalled that when the contractor general had made damaging findings about Wheatley (and two other ministers — both of whom are still in the Cabinet), Holness's conclusion was basically “a nuh nutten dat”. Strategically, Holness had signalled at the press conference on Petrojam that he had forgiven Wheatley. According to the prime minister, Wheatley deserved a second chance. This is the same prime minister who had said he would not tolerate even the hint of corruption in his Cabinet. I am dizzy.

Holness may well have done what politics and personal considerations dictated, namely that to keep Wheatley quiet or in camp, he must bring him back. But in so doing, he has, in the assessment of many who have shared their views on social media, and elsewhere, ruined any hope of trust in his morals or commitment to fight corruption.


While I believe that any prime minister would want to see murders brought under control, and given the prime minister's “under 500 target”, I believe he truly wants to bring down murders. But I equally believe that if a high murder rate could be blamed on one's political opponents, a prime minister would have no compunction in keeping the murder rate high.

I also believe that the PNP would want to see murders brought under control, but I also believe that no political Opposition would be in a hurry to do something that would give advantage to a Government unless it is also likely to benefit politically. In this regard, I submit that the back and forth about the meeting to discuss what to do with enhanced security measures (in light of the vote not to extend the states of emergency) is more a fight over crime, than a fight against crime. Thankfully, a semblance of good sense has returned and a meeting is set for January 7.

To be clear, I place a greater duty for the management of this matter at the feet of the prime minister. He is the one elected to lead. But the handling of the role of leadership by the prime minister is an example of how trust is undermined. Sometime about December 11, the prime minister issued an invitation for a meeting to the leader of the Opposition to discuss the crime situation, but that letter, which was ostensibly “private and confidential”, was released to the media by the Office of the Prime Minister within hours after it was sent to the leader of the Opposition, and possibly before he had seen it, and definitely before he would have had a chance to respond. The leader of the Opposition responded the same day he received it, but by that time the letter to him was all over social media. Thus, Phillips's decision to respond publicly was completely justified given the improper act of releasing the letter to Phillips.

But, in the same way the prime minister doubled down on the Wheatley matter and has remained tone deaf to the public's concerns, he doubled down in the face of public consternation about writing to the Opposition leader under private and confidential heading but in fact not doing so. Thus, consistent with what appears to be a clear pattern of one-upmanship, Holness again wrote to Phillips on December 31 inviting him to a meeting on January 2, but releases his communication to the media simultaneously. This kind of conduct is as silly as it is outrageous and does nothing more than destroy any hope of trust one can have in the actions or motives of the prime minister. I regard the conduct of the prime minister as being more about a fight for ascendency than about advancing the interest of the country.

The JLP, while in Opposition, announced in 2015 that its crime plan was ready, but on assuming office in 2016 the Government demanded of the then Commissioner of Police Carl Williams that he produces a crime plan. There was a back and forth over this and soon Williams retired. His successor, George Quallo, was placed under even greater pressure to produce a crime plan, and with murders running at a breakneck pace in 2017, particularly in St James, the commissioner was in the hot spot.

While the two commissioners were being pressured to produce a crime plan, the Government appointed a National Security Advisor (NSA) in the person of Major General Antony Anderson, former Jamaica Defence Force chief of defence staff. He was the first person to be named NSA and took up office on December 1, 2016. On March 19, 2018 Anderson moved to the office of police commissioner. He has been under no pressure to produce a crime plan and would have advised the Government on the zones of special operations (ZOSO) and the states of emergency (SOE) that were declared in 2017 and 2018.

Anderson has also come out in defence of the use of SOEs arguing that it gives the police greater tools. But we know of at least two telling statistics:

(i) Despite nearly 4,000 arrests, less than 150 people have been charged, and

(ii) With all of three SOEs in place and two ZOSOs, the murder rate in 2018 was worse than a number of years in which there were no SOE. We may thus conclude that the effectiveness of SOEs as a crime-fighting tool is limited, and if this measure upon which the Government seems to have stumbled is its crime plan, then the Government would not only have displayed rank incompetence but would also have misled the country when it said it had a crime plan ready. This reality also raises serious questions of trust.


Anderson's appointment as national security advisor, the first in Jamaica, was explained by the prime minister as being “consistent with international best practices in other jurisdictions such as United Kingdom, Canada, United States, India, Australia, and in the pursuance of strategic national security management”, as reported by the Jamaica Observer on March 25, 2018. But while explaining the importance of an NSA, the prime minister stated, as reported by the Observer of the same date, that he was in no hurry to appoint a replacement for Anderson. Now, if having an NSA was a global best practice, how is that that nearly a year later the post has not been filled? This issue also feeds mistrust.

The justification advanced by Holness for not naming a new national security advisor to replace Anderson was that he wanted to make sure that he finds the right person. Understood, but Holness goes on to say that “the person has to have a broad grasp of Government”. What exactly does that mean, and is it that there is no one in the senior ranks of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) who possess such a grasp?

I received a WhatsApp message from a senior JCF official which was attached to the news story about the assignment of a JDF colonel to coordinate the new version of intensified crime measures. The message read: “I count three JDF personnel…no faith in the JCF.”

Holness's indifference to corruption and his various acts of undermining trust should not be tolerated by us. I call on the Church, the academic community, civil society, and the private sector to rise up, object, and resist.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, 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

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