The eminently qualified Juliet Holness
Juliet Holness, Member of Parliament for St Andrew East Rural and former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, has been elevated to the post of House speaker.
This has rattled the feathers of the uninformed who smell nepotism in the appointment. For detractors and the uninformed, it seemed okay for her to be deputy speaker, but not speaker. I do not believe that misogyny is at work here, given that she is replacing another female, Marisa Dalrymple-Philibert, for the post. The most obvious reason for the opposition is that she is the wife of the prime minister and such proximity should preclude her from holding sensitive positions in the Government.
Insofar as this is the dominant position, a number of things need to be distilled here. To begin with, Holness is an elected Member of Parliament and as such she has the sovereign right as any other member to be the speaker of the House.
Let me spell it out in granular details for those who find it difficult to understand. She got to the House because a group of people in a defined geographical political boundary called a constituency, in this case St Andrew East Rural, thought that she was the best person to represent them in the people’s Parliament. She did so with a laudable majority of votes. Some might have decided to do so because they considered her to be the prime minister’s wife. But to believe that this was the dominant thinking in her election is to belittle the intelligence of her constituents and to pour scorn on the integrity of the process that got her elected.
Furthermore, it impugns her integrity as Holness has demonstrated since being elected that she has handled herself well as Member of Parliament. As one of the young shoots in the party she represents, she has demonstrated a capacity for hard work and has stuck tenaciously to the task of representing her constituents with fairness and probity. Very few in the constituency can gainsay her desire to work hard for them and to do so while recognising that she is the Member of Parliament for people on both sides of the political fence.
I am not aware of any instance in which she has overtly or publicly abused her connection with her husband to unduly influence how she does her work, although I would be foolish to ignore pillow talk between couples as a factor in decision-making. In fact, it is this desire to be careful, not to appear to be indulging nepotism, that has kept her, unfortunately, in my view, out of the Cabinet. I hope that this will change if the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) should prevail in the next general election. It might be too late now and perhaps imprudent for such an appointment this late in the term.
But make no mistake about it, Holness is eminently qualified for any post to which she could be appointed in any Cabinet. She stands heads and shoulders with any of her colleagues to be a minister of Government. I believe as speaker she will equip herself well and I look forward to her expert handling of the gavel and the new communications system that has been installed in the House. I believe she will use it deftly to restrain the appetites of those on either side of the political fence who believe that verbal diarrhoea is a virtue.
It is pedantic and foolish to think that she should have been denied the post based on her proximity to the prime minister. She must be allowed to stand in her own right and judged within the context of her own competence and integrity as a person. On that note, this column wishes her well in her tenure, guarded optimism notwithstanding.
Abka Fitz-Henley, wherefore
Which brings us to another matter regarding politicians. At a recent JLP conference in Junction St Elizabeth, Abka Fitz-Henley, newly minted JLP senator, acclaimed journalist and now politician, suffered a case of foot in mouth disease when he referred to Senator Donna Scott-Mottley as having a twisted mouth. This is in reference to comments she purportedly made in characterising his role as a JLP senator. Fitz-Henley, to his credit, has apologised for what he considered an offensive remark on his part.
I find it ridiculous if not insincere when apologies are preceded by words that say, in effect, “If Mr or Mrs so and so are offended by the comment”. In my view, such a preface nullifies the effectiveness and sincerity of the apology. The mere fact that you have come to the conclusion that an apology is warranted is the very reason you should be forthright with the person who you believe you have hurt.
Without ambiguity or prevarication, you should let the person know that you are indeed sorry. To couch it in a language of doubt, as the word “if” suggests, is to give the impression that you are not quite ready to apologise, even though you know you might have hurt the person’s feelings. You should know that the remark or action for which you wish to apologise has been harmful to the person you are directing it to. It is the hurt that is the basis of your apology. You should know when your remarks are harmful and offensive. When you come to apologise, there should be no “if” there.
Fitz-Henley, in his inaugural address to the Senate, indicated that he would want to be a politician who is new and different. He is a bright man, so I am sure that he will learn very fast that the adrenaline flow when you are in your “elements” on a political platform, when you are being urged on and encouraged by an adoring crowd, are the moments when you are most likely to make intemperate, injudicious, and even libellous remarks. He and other young politicians like himself would be well advised to stay within a boundary of decency, calling people names or commenting on their physical anatomy is the lowest you can go in platform punditry.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life’s Storms; The Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life, and Beyond Petulance: Republican Politics and the Future of America. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.