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Shane Alexis wanted to just slide into home base

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, October 15, 2017

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When a great truth once gets abroad in the world, no power on Earth can imprison it, or prescribe its limits, or suppress it. — F Douglass

You see how my shirt clean, and my hands dem clean, these are safe hands for South East St Mary. I don't carry nuh baggage, I don't; have nuh secret for nobody, and I have integrity.” These words were spoken by Dr Shane Alexis minutes after he was formally introduced as the standard-bearer for St Mary South Eastern at the 79th Annual Conference of Norman Manley's party.

Alexis was assisted to the podium by the then party chairman, Robert “Bobby” Pickersgill, who told the country some time ago: “We believe it is best for us to form the Government; therefore, anything that will lead us or cause us to be in power is best for the PNP and best for the country.”

Alexis's baggage

When Dr Shane Alexis spoke at the 79th Annual Conference of the People's National Party (PNP) he knew he was not born in Jamaica. He knew he had not even bothered to begin the process to become a Jamaican citizen. Shane Alexis knew he was a Canadian citizen. Why did Alexis not take the opportunity to tell even the captive audience of the arena what he knew?

What was his great fear? Dr Alexis has participated in several media interviews since his party's annual conference. Why did he not tell the people of St Mary South Eastern and the wider Jamaica what he knew? The country only became aware that Dr Alexis was a Canadian citizen when the proverbial 'puss was let out of the bag' on Nationwide News Network's Cliff Hughes On Line, last Tuesday.

The fact that Alexis did not disclose his Canadian citizenship status to the general citizenry of Jamaica does not pass the new-car smell test. Alexis trumpets that Jamaica deserves a new kind of politician, not just a new kind of politics. His words, however, seem at clear variance with his actions. American novelist Ernest Hemingway warned, “Never mistake motion for action.” And William Shakespeare said, “Action is eloquence.” I agree.

Dr Alexis said on radio last Tuesday that he told the PNP and the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) about his Canadian citizenship. I would not have expected the EOJ to broadcast that information. To some, who have their heads buried miles in political quicksand, it might seem more than a little curious that the PNP, which challenged the legitimacy of five Jamaica Labour Party Members of Parliament in bruising dual citizenship court cases only 10 years ago, could have been so politically brazen to allow a non-Jamaican citizen to be nominated as their standard-bearer.

I am not surprised. The PNP today is a ragtag team. It lacks real talent and a moral compass of any size. Its members' battle with Jamaica House Withdrawal Syndrome is now at stage four.

Kellier's harbinger

Recall that Derrick Kellier, former agriculture minister, summed up the rickety state of his party, inter alia: “ 'Our political machinery has broken down badly, and that's why we are where we are today… We will have to climb Mount Everest to get back to where we were,' Kellier told delegates at the party's regional executive council of Region Six meeting at John Rollins Success Primary School in Rose Hall, St James.

“ 'Going forward is not going to be easy… we are in a state of flux, we are all about power, personal power, and personal aggrandisement and one-upmanship, that is what we are about. We are no longer a cohesive force that can deliver the knockout punch to the Opposition and can spread the word of hope and progress to the people,' he said.” ( Jamaica Observer, May 30, 2016)

The PNP is a rudderless ship

The PNP of today is fuelled by a Hobbesian type of personal aggrandisement. Its descent became an adolescent during the tenure of former Prime Minister P J Patterson, and achieved adulthood by the time Portia Simpson Miller was booted from the presidential perch shortly after she was defeated on February 25, 2016. The numerous money scandals of the PNP in office showed that the party reached the midpoint of decline from the 1990s.

Recall a front-page story in The Gleaner, on Tuesday, February 9, 2002, which listed major money scandals that have occurred under the watch of PNP administrations:

1. Shell waiver (1991) - $29.5 million; approximately $560 million in today's terms

2. Zinc (1989) - $500 million; approx $22 billion today

3. Furniture (1991) - $10.6 million; approx $ 200 million today

4. Public sector salaries (1998) - $60 million; approx $287 million today

5. NetServ (2001) - $220 million; approx $ 856 million today

6. Operation Pride/NHDC (1997-present) - $5.5 billion projected; approx $20 billion today

TOTAL: $6.320 billion; approx $44 billion today

Peter Phillips is no 'Mr Fix-it'

The mis-leadership of Dr Peter Phillips has further plunged the PNP into political recession. Recall this putrid statement by Phillips while addressing the constituency conference of St Ann North Western in August? “Make sure, Comrades, that the People's National Party is ready to become the Government of Jamaica. Remember is only one [seat] separate us in Parliament and we don't know is which one, whether is one weh a go prison, or is a sick one, or a crazy one, but is one, and any number can play, so get yuhself ready.” I believe these were sentiments from the deep recesses of Dr Phillips's mind.

Shame brought to Manley's party

Norman Manley must have had repeated convulsions when he saw this screaming headline: 'PNP defends nomination of Canadian in St Mary SE', in the Jamaica Observer, of last Tuesday. The story said among other things:

“The People's National Party (PNP), in responding to concerns raised by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) over the citizenship of Dr Shane Alexis – who was yesterday nominated to represent the Opposition in St Mary South Eastern — said its candidate is committed to Jamaica's development.”

Member of Parliament for Portland Western, Daryl Vaz, is spot on when he said, “I find it hypocritical, I find it immoral that after the People's National Party made it a point of duty to carry five of us in our last term in office to court on a dual citizenship case that they would be so bold and brazen to confirm a candidate to run on their ticket...who is neither the holder of a Jamaican passport nor a Jamaican citizen.”

The PNP's defence of Dr Alexis is wishy-washy at best, and insipid at worst. “However, in defending its candidate, the PNP in a subsequent press release said: 'Having lived the majority of his life in Jamaica, Alexis is committed to service and the country's development. The PNP admitted that Alexis was born in Canada, but came to Jamaica as a young child and attended Saints Peter and Paul Preparatory School and Campion College in Jamaica. He completed his undergraduate education in Jamaica before receiving a scholarship to study medicine in Cuba. Alexis studied in one of the headquarters of socialism. Nonetheless, as president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association, he stoutly opposed the no-user-fee policy for basic health services.

Bruce Golding was right!

The finding of a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank showed that the policy was the right thing to do.

“The Government's no-user-fee policy in health care has contributed US$26.6 million (in purchasing power parity terms) worth of net real production to the Jamaican economy while adding 2.15 additional weekly hours to the labour market, according to a recent publication by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

“The publication, entitled Universal Public Health Insurance Adult Status and Labour Supply in Jamaica, revealed that the policy, which was passed in 2008 by then Prime Minister Bruce Golding, increased aggregate labour supply by 53.2 million hours each year between 2008 and 2012.

“The policy, which underwent much criticism both during and after its implementation, has had a positive effect on the overall health of Jamaicans as there was an 18.2 per cent reduction in the likelihood of people suffering any illness, the study said, whilst a significant reduction equivalent to 0.17 days (34 per cent) was reported for people who were unable to carry out normal activities due to illnesses.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 26, 2017)

Commitment should be made of sterner stuff

The kind of 'commitment' which the PNP ascribes to Alexis reminds me of the 'commitment' which two of its former high-ranking members surprised the public of this country with not so long ago.

Recall this story in The Gleaner of March 23, 2009:

“Kenneth Rowe, the PNP's contender for the Western Portland seat, says he intends to lick his wounds and rebound if he loses today's by-election against the Jamaica Labour Party's Daryl Vaz.

“ 'If I lose then I will do what losers do. You lick your wounds for a couple of days and then come again,' Rowe said.”

Kenneth Rowe was Jamaican and Canadian. Ten months after being whipped by Vaz, Rowe abandoned the caretaker post. Thereafter, he left Jamaica.

Maybe the kind of commitment the PNP ascribes to Alexis is more the Stanley Redwood brand. Remember him? He was given the post of president of the Senate in January 2012. Redwood did not stay very long in that post. Gordon Robinson on May 19, 2013 in an insightful piece entitled 'Of patriots and sellouts - Stanley Redwood's Lousy Leadership', wrote this: “Almost immediately it became known that Senate president, the Reverend Stanley Redwood, his wife and family were fleeing Jamaica, leaving the rest of us to scrub any mess they leave behind off the national deck. In defending his inalienable right to decide what's in his family's best interests, Stanley has relied on every man's prerogative to do what's necessary to protect his family. But, is Stanley “every man”?

'Tek sleep and mark death'

I cannot accept that Dr Alexis was so busy that he could not find the time to start and complete the process to become a Jamaican citizen. Alexis said on radio last Tuesday that he could not deal with standing in line over the years. That, for me, is a red-flag revelation. The process, as I understand it, is not near as arduous as climbing the Great Wall of China.

I personally would not cast a vote for someone who is not a Jamaican citizen. Dr Alexis said on radio last Tuesday that he cannot commit to getting Jamaican citizenship, then reversed himself on Wednesday, doubtless after being coached or scolded by the PNP's top brass. I believe Alexis has committed political suicide.

The PNP has been retailing the narrative that during their last term in office they resurrected the economy. This story in The Gleaner of October 8, 2017, entitled 'Poverty climbed back to 21% in 2015', delivered a body blow to that myth.

It said among other things:

“The prevalence of poverty in Jamaica, at 21.2 per cent, has reached its second-highest level in almost two decades, according to the 2015 Survey of Living Conditions, the latest such study conducted by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN).

“The poverty rate was estimated at 20 per cent in the previous survey in 2014 and is second only to the 24.6 per cent recorded in 2013.

“It means that about 593,600 persons among Jamaica's 2.8 million population have been classified as being at the poverty line based on household consumption expenditure.

“According to the survey tabled in Parliament at the end of September, Jamaica's adult equivalent poverty line increased by 3.7 per cent to $175,297. That increase represents the increased cost of maintaining a minimum standard of living and is the smallest increase since the beginning of nationally measured poverty rates in Jamaica.

“The report said that that increase was due to the level of inflation in 2015, which was the lowest recorded since 1967. For the reference family of five, the adult equivalency poverty line was $662,530.”

Rural folks say, “Tom drunk, but Tom nuh fool.” They are right!

Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom associated with true virtue. — Confucius

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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