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What a difference real leadership makes

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, August 13, 2017

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Proverb: No wait till drum beat before you grine you axe

Translation: Do not wait until the drum beats before you grind your axe.

Explanation: Be prepared for all eventualities.

The man who led Singapore for 31 years, Lee Kuan Yew, is credited with turning a “resource-poor, malarial island into a modern financial centre” [BBC Radio , February, 2015] with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. He famously said that: “If things go wrong, do not sweep them aside. Confront the problems, get to the root of the difficulties, and wrestle with these resolutely. Go for long-term success, and do not be deterred by criticisms.”

Government administrations are made up of fallible human beings. I would not be guilty of hyperbole when I say that People's National Party administrations have tended to have ministers who are more fallible than normal. I have presented incontrovertible evidence in previous articles to demonstrate the hugely damaging economic effect, particularly in the 70s and 90s, of the PNP at bat.

Administrations will invariably make mistakes. It is better to prevent errors, especially those that result in sizeable monetary consequences to taxpayers. What differentiates a responsive and caring Administration from a sedentary and moribund one is quick and corrective actions that cauterise problems and set in motion strategies and guidelines which, as far as humanly possible, prevent repeats.

“Inaction is the worst action of human beings,” said Turkish writer Mehmet Murat ildan. I agree.

The action approach is a primary point of contrast between the present Administration led by Prime Minister Andrew Holness and that of ex-Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

Simpson Miller was a sitting duck prime minister and People's National Party president.

Some days ago the local media were again inundated with reports, innuendos and allegations of matters having to do with the operations of the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA). I say 'again', because this was not the first time in recent years that there were reports of great concern about this critical organisation.

Recall this screaming headline carried by The Gleaner on September 1, 2015, 'Director resigns following probe at Firearm Licensing Authority'. This story said, among other things: “The National Security Minister Peter Bunting says the head of the Applications Department at the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) has resigned following an investigation into its operations.

“Bunting made the disclosure this afternoon in the House of Representatives while responding to questions from his Opposition counterpart, Derrick Smith.

“The national security minister did not reveal why the probe was ordered or the results of the investigation.

“Meanwhile, Bunting said the FLA has improved the processing applications for firearm licences.

“He said the agency has moved from a backlog of 6,000 applications in 2012 to about 2,500 at present.

“The national security minister said enhanced transparency and responsiveness in the application process has resulted in a surge in interest by Jamaicans.”

I believe that, like Caesar's wife, the operations of the FLA need to be above reproach. Former political consultant and Republican Party strategist, Harvey LeRoy “Lee” Atwater, said: “Perception is reality.” I agree.

This headline on July 29, 2017 — 'FLA explains - says it revoked gun licence after receiving info from police' — did not inspire public confidence with regard to the FLA's operations. The story said, inter alia: “The Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) board yesterday sought to counter news reports that it had granted licences to individuals of questionable character, saying that it had actually revoked the licence of a gun owner just over two weeks ago after receiving information it had requested from the police.

“According to the FLA, it raised questions about the licensed firearm holder during a meeting with the police high command in early February 2017.

“ 'It is to be noted that this person had a case in court which was tried and discharged. A request was made for further information which was provided by the police on June 29, 2017, following which the licence was revoked on July 13, 2017,' the FLA stated in a news release following a meeting with National Security Minister Robert Montague yesterday afternoon.

“Montague had summoned the board after news emerged that it had granted a firearm licence to an individual whose application was denied by the previous board.

“The news reports also stated that other individuals with unsavoury backgrounds were granted firearm licences.

“Yesterday, the FLA said that, during the meeting with Montague, reference was also made to the case of an applicant who was convicted of fraud overseas, served 17 months in prison, and was then deported to Jamaica.

“ 'He applied and was denied a firearm licence on November 13, 2014. However, he wrote the then board appealing the decision,' the authority said, adding that the man was subsequently granted a firearm licence on February 12, 2015.

“The FLA said that in May this year the board met with the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) and asked the agency to be a part of the vetting process for applicants. 'In addition, the FLA has initiated a system to refer to MOCA more than 100 files of persons previously granted firearms. This action is as a result of information the new board has found that persons whose files were subject to the appeals process were being granted firearms before the appeal was heard,' the FLA said.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 29, 2017)

“The prime minister certainly was monitoring this matter when he was in Singapore [and] on his return he dealt with it immediately and decisively, Francis said.” ( Observer, August 3, 2017). One does not need a degree in rocket science to figure out what Press Secretary Naomi Francis meant. The firing of the FLA board, in my view, was a necessary action.

Contrast Holness's approach with that of Portia Simpson Miller's treatment of the National Housing Trust (NHT) board in the Outameni scandal. She reappointed Lambert Brown, Sonia Hyman, Percival LaTouche, and Robert Budhan; four members of the board who presided over the cock-up.

The NHT falls under the responsibility of the prime minister. Simpson Miller said she heard about the matter in the media. “The Auditor General's Department says that the 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.” ( Observer, April 22, 2015)

The Outameni scandal came to public light in November 2013. The Government announced the appointment of a new board chairman, Dr Carlton Davis, former Cabinet press secretary, on the morning of April 22, 2015 at a Cabinet press briefing. You can do the math!

On October 19, 2016, an article in this newspaper told us, among other things: “The NHT's invitation for application for either lease or purchase of the property has dragged on for months. The then People's National Party Government bought the loss-making property from Orange Valley Holdings [OVHL] limited, owned by local film-maker Lennie Little-White, for $180 million. The NHT spends an estimated $900,000 per month to maintain the 9.1-acre property.” ( Observer, October 19, 2016)

Some months ago it became public knowledge that Karl Samuda, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, imprudently got himself mixed up in what was dubbed the Mombasa grass controversy. Soon after the matter came to public attention these, among other details, were revealed in an article in this newspaper:

“Karl Samuda informed the House of Representatives yesterday that he has now paid up $546,000 for the Mombasa grass planted on his property in Knollis, St Catherine, by the Jamaica Dairy Development Board (JDDB). Samuda also told the House that he has the names of other major farms, some politically linked, which have also benefited from the 500 acres of the grass already planted across the country to boost dairy production.” ( Observer, May 18, 2017)

Contrast that with the following outcomes:

• When Phillip Paulwell, minister of science, technology, energy, and mining, bungled and botched the 381-megawatt energy project, he was stoutly defended and embraced by then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in Parliament: “ 'Let me make it quite clear: I have a minister of energy in place. Unless he does something wrong that would affect and impact the Jamaican people in a serious way and the Government of Jamaica [he will not be fired],' Simpson Miller said, in responding to a question from Opposition Leader Andrew Holness.” ( Observer, June 4, 2014)

• When Dr Fenton Ferguson, minister of health, made little or no preparation for the arrival of chikungunya, his incompetence was subsequently defended by the then prime minister. Under Ferguson's watch there was country-wide suffering, which cost the economy, conservatively, $7 billion and 13 million lost man-hours of production time, according to data from the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

• Some weeks ago, Finance Minister Audley Shaw got himself into a pickle concerning exorbitant phone bills. The prime minister acted immediately and decisively as evidenced in these excerpts:

“ 'Coming from the meeting, it was acknowledged that there was no standard, clear and consistent policy being applied across government regarding the treatment of communication expenses for ministers and ministers of state,' the Office of the Prime Minister said in its statement.

“ 'The prime minister has, therefore, directed the Ministry of Finance to review and report on the respective policies for the provision of communication services including cellphones, operating in the various ministries. This is to allow Cabinet to make a comprehensive decision on how communication services and expenses for ministers are treated,' the statement said.

“During the meeting at Parliament, Prime Minister Holness ordered an audit of all cellphone bills of ministers and state ministers. This is to confirm the accuracy of information in the public domain. In the interim, the prime minister directed that cellular phone expenses be capped.” ( Observer, July 12, 2017)

At the beginning of August the promised actions by Holness were delivered. “Government has approved a cap of $40,000 on the monthly mobile and closed user group phone bills of Cabinet ministers as part of a new interim policy following public outcry after news broke last month that Finance Minister Audley Shaw had racked up an $8-million bill during the course of one year.” ( Observer, August 3, 2017)

Unlike the Simpson Miller Administration, which repeatedly mouthed corrective action for the hiccups and misdeeds of her ministers and never delivered, Holness has taken a new, fresh approach to holding members of his Cabinet accountable.

What a difference in administrations makes! And what a difference real leadership makes! We are beginning to see the end of 'squaddie' politics in Jamaica. This augurs well for our growth and development.

Proverb: Peacock hide him foot when him hear 'bout him tail.

Translation: The peacock hides his foot when he hears about his tail.

Explanation: A proud person does not like his little weaknesses exposed.

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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