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The tale of two Andrews

Lloyd B Smith

Sunday, July 15, 2018

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The controversies swirling around the scandal-hit State-owned oil refinery, Petrojam, have propelled Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his embattled Minister of Science and Technology (formerly energy as well) Dr Andrew Wheatley centre stage, under the glaring spotlight of public opinion — even as the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) jostles for a front seat perch to throw rotten tomatoes at what it hopes is a Government fast losing credibility among the country's major stakeholders.

The plot has thickened with the prime minister's seeming refusal to sack Minister Wheatley, which would mean removing him from the Cabinet, rather than just relieving him of the energy portfolio under which Petrojam functions. Several political pundits with their ears on the ground are fast coming to the conclusion that the Petrojam scandal — which does not appear to be a nine-day wonder, as is customary with most government-related scandals in the past — may have lasting negative effects on the ruling Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) with respect to its retaining State power whenever the next general election is called.

In this vein, both Andrews are being seen as the major fall guys in what could become an Achilles heel for the JLP for the remainder of its sojourn in office. The scenario becomes even more unsettling as the PNP is hell-bent on squeezing as much political mileage as it can get; already threatening not to co-operate with the Holness Administration on critical issues of governance. This could prove a nightmare for the JLP in Parliament, as it has been governing with a razor-thin majority margin. Against this background, a wily Dr Peter Phillips and his generals may want to push Holness to the limit so that he has to call an early election, which the PNP, no doubt, may feel that it could have the opportunity of ushering out of office what they have described as a Government plagued by corruption and an apparent inability or outright refusal to deal with this cancer that has ravaged the country's body politic for decades.

Of course, the many cynics among us have been posing the potent question as to whether not it is a classic case of the pot cussing the kettle. Be that as it may, the die is cast, and both Andrews have their work cut out for them in terms of dealing with their detractors, collectively and individually, as well as externally and internally.

In a deft move, Prime Minister Holness did not make a unilateral decision, but opted for a Cabinet 'edict', which would have brought to the fore the protective cloak of collective responsibility, thus quashing any likelihood of dissent among his ministers. After all, it is safe to assume that not all members of the Cabinet would have been happy with Minister Wheatley's stewardship and may have come to the conclusion that he was fast becoming a liability and should be let go.

One of the bar room questions that is being asked is whether or not Minister Wheatley is carrying any secret for Prime Minister Holness, which would make it somewhat difficult for him to summarily throw him out. Perhaps a more plausible explanation could be ensconced within the framework of Wheatley's unbridled loyalty to Holness as was evidenced in the bruising encounter for the leadership for the JLP when a sprightly Audley Shaw dared to challenge the man whom many Labourites felt was the “Chosen One”.

It is no secret that loyalty plays a very pivotal role in parliamentary politics, especially when the ruling party has a slim majority. Holness, from a pragmatic standpoint, may well be looking at the bigger picture of his continuing survival in a party that is known to have had “nights of long knives”.

It is arguable that Holness is more than acutely aware that there are some in the inner circle of the JLP who have always questioned his legitimacy as a 'dyed in the wool' Labourite. Indeed, those who oftentimes bring a classist tinge to their biases have sometimes wondered aloud if he has the right pedigree. Holness may well need the continued support of Wheatley, who has displayed much “energy” (no pun intended) in his fierce loyalty for the party leader.

When the late Prime Minister Michael Manley relieved P J Patterson of the finance portfolio in the wake of the Shell waiver scandal, there were those in the PNP who felt that the Comrade Leader should have stood by him and not throw him under bus.

However, the astute Patterson, while insisting that he did nothing wrong, gracefully stepped down and went into the field defying the political odds by declaring, “I shall return!” And he did, ending up being the longest-serving prime minister in Jamaica's history.

Ardent supporters of Andrew Holness may well ask whether or not he should put his neck on the block for the relatively young Turk Wheatley, who has had so far a relatively solid political career. A deputy general secretary of the JLP, Wheatley is in his second term as Member of Parliament for St Catherine South Central. He has served as councillor for the Naggo Head Division of the St Catherine Southern constituency for nine years. From 2005 to 2012, he was mayor of Spanish Town. He has excellent academic qualifications; holding a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and chemistry and a doctorate in basic medicine, having served as a senior lecturer and research scientist at The University of the West Indies. The 'man in the street' would opine, “But him a no idiot,” so what went so terribly wrong during his tenure as energy minister with responsibility for Petrojam? The jury is out — for now.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Holness, as the nation's CEO, must take some amount of blame for what has been transpiring in a number of his ministries. This against the backdrop that at the outset of his Administration he indicated that each minister would have been given a job description and he would hold them accountable in that regard. Was Minister Wheatley given such a job description? And, has he faithfully, and with due diligence, carried out his duties so far?

The tale of the two Andrews is not unlike a Grimm fairy tale. The ensuing days, and indeed months, will see whether or not they will live happily ever after.

From all indications, it is going to be a long, hot summer.

Lloyd B Smith is a veteran newspaper editor and publisher who has resided in Montego Bay for most of his life where he is popularly known as “The Governor”. Send comments to the Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

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