Golding's repetitive waltz
Opposition Leader Mark Golding makes his presentation in the 2023/24 Budget Debate in Parliament, Tuesday. Beside him is Julian Robinson, the spokesman on finance. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

The position of Opposition Leader is a ladder to either a transit camp to potential political glory, the top elected job in the country, or oblivion. Having watched and listened to Mark Golding's, leader of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition, presentation in the budget debate last Tuesday, I am doubly convinced that the peak of his political ambition will not advance beyond 1 West King's House Road.

Golding's presentation struck me as a sort of repetitive waltz, rather than a rational roadmap to a new direction for Jamaicans to achieve sustained growth and development.

The red flags obvious in his presentation should frighten all well-thinking Jamaicans. Indeed we are still paying for the grievous errors of the redistribution of resources minus a prerequisite focus on the creation of wealth through increased production of good and services that ravaged this country in the 1970s, 90s, and early 2000s.

Golding's two hours and 40-minute presentation, in summary, promised to resurrect that unusable past in all its glory. This is a harbinger, a dangerous one.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding greets supporters outside Parliament after making his presentation in the 2023/24 Budget Debate, Tuesday. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

How, please?

Said Golding: "I will stand in defence of every Jamaican who is now languishing on a hospital bench or chair when they should be resting in a hospital bed, every Jamaican who has to be making hard choices every morning between having breakfast and giving the children lunch money to go to school, every student who is second-guessing the path they have chosen because they aren't confident that when they complete their education they will be able to find a meaningful job to make a good quality of life for themselves."

This sounds wonderful. I have absolutely no objections with Golding's way of thinking here. In fact, I have adumbrated on numerous occasions in this space many of the egregious ills in our society and will continue to do so.

I will not be duped, however, into thinking that the simple utterance of often-repeated words and/or slogans expressing a wish or shouting abracadabra will positively cause miserable conditions affecting hundreds of Jamaicans to disappear. In 'fairy-stale' politics and economics, lollipops are free, people ride on unicorns in the sky, innate human nature is suspended, gravity does not exist, and elephants dangle over giant precipices on the tip of a thread. In fantasy politics and fantasy economics, anything and everything is possible at the snap of a finger or the wave of a magic wand. We earthlings, however, live in a world that is the exact opposite of fantasy. Reality is our mortal ruler.

Opposition leader and president of the People's National Party Mark Golding (third right) is flanked by councillors and members of the party in touring the Mandeville Market recently.(Photo: Kasey Williams)

And because I believe in reality not fantasy, I, like most well-thinking Jamaicans, want to know how Golding's promises will be operationalised and funded.

He spent the majority of his presentation last Tuesday rolling off dozens of promises. He promised to fix the ills of education. He promised to solve the crime problem. He promised to remedy the problems in health, commerce, agriculture, energy, the creative industries, sports, the environment, and related sectors. As I watched and listened to Golding's presentation, I kept hoping, and praying, for him to surprise me with the details of how he would deliver his promises. He, instead, delivered another promise.

Said Golding: "The Jamaican people need not worry; when the time is right our full plan will be revealed as to the positive new direction in which we will take Jamaica when the People's National Party [PNP] forms the next Government."

The PNP does not seem to get it that Jamaicans are no longer prepared to buy the proverbial "puss inna bag". The country needs to know where the money will come from to fund its trailerload of promises.

Supporters of the People's National Party protest with placards at Cross Roads recently.(Photo: Joseph Wellington)

"Higgins, come now, it is way too early for the PNP to do that," some will bellow. I disagree. As a matter of fact, with just about two and half years before the next general election, now is an opportune time to show the people of Jamaica the money. This nonsense about at the "right time" all will be revealed is the very kind of politics which has repeatedly set back this country time and time again.

I do not trust anyone who attempts to sell me goods and services but insists that I will only see them when "the time is right". I believe Golding has not just a responsibility, he has a duty to show us the money. If he cannot satisfy that basic standard his promises should dismissed as mere 'samfie'.

It is unwise to suspend reality as regard a basic orientation of socialist parties like the PNP. They are notorious for taxing and spending, and borrowing and spending, in order to satisfy the voracious animal called redistribution of wealth, minus its creation, to which leftist politics is a slave.

The bad ole days, when the country held out the begging bowl to all and sundry, and every budget was sure to unleash new, higher and more painful taxes with a kind of predetermined surety akin to how night follows day, have been silenced for the last seven years. Like thousands of other Jamaicans, I have no wish to see the resurrection of the beast of more taxes which Golding's promises will doubtless cause.

In his presentation last Tuesday, Golding mentioned the word productivity only twice. I am suspicious that an awful story is in the making; one in which an orgy of spending and borrowing leads to the squandering of our sacrifices of blood, sweat, and tears over the last 14 years.

Lest we forget!

Three times in Golding's presentation he said the PNP is responsibility for rescuing Jamaica from the brink of economic disaster 14 years ago. No matter how many times he repeats this massive inaccuracy to himself and spews it into the public domain that will not change verifiable facts.

Some people, for reasons best known to them, shy away from admitting it, but there was a time when Jamaica was so indebted we were branded a pariah. Our chronic indebtedness caused us to be relegated among countries regarded as mere mendicants. We were the laughing stock of the Caribbean and were legitimately tagged with the ignominious nomenclature, 'Poor Man of the Caribbean'.

Jamaica was referred to as an economic basket case and a model of underachievement by credible international publications. To make matters worse, Jamaica received a gut punch from the 2007/8 global economic crisis. This global tectonic shock exacerbated Jamaica's fiscal situation. It became unsustainable. The reality that the economy was on the brink of capsizing, and palpable national shame, however, helped to cause a sea change in how we structured and managed our national economic affairs.

Starting in 2010, the Bruce Golding-led Administration, with Audley Shaw as the finance minister, began decisive actions, including two domestic debt exchanges, to put Jamaica's debt trajectory on a more sustainable path.

The Portia Simpson Miller-led Administration, with Dr Peter Phillips as the man in charge of the national purse, also deserves a tremendous amount of credit for continuing and strengthening the tough economic reforms during 2011-2016.

I recall Dr Phillips revealing in an interview that he had to put up with a lot of disrespect from individuals and entities in the international negotiating space, who reasoned that Jamaica's economy was unsalvageable. Some, doubtless, will declare, how dare they treat Jamaica with such disdain? Well, the reality is we had placed ourselves in a position for them to "tek step wid wi" [to be humiliated].

No amount of bluster and what a former aide to US President Donald J Trump called "alternative facts" can alter the reality that it was the PNP's catastrophic mismanagement during the 70s, 90s and the early part of the 2000s which brought this country to the brink of bankruptcy.

I am very suspicion of Golding's fact aversion and or fact avoidance on this important national fact. I also very alarmed at Golding's dismissive attitude of the fact that for the last six budget cycles no new taxes have been placed on the Jamaican people.

Said Golding: "The massive increase in the amount of taxes collected from the people over the past two years brings to light just how hollow is the refrain of 'no new taxes' that was bellowed in this House, to the predictable but fundamentally empty beating of tables, last week Tuesday."

This is lethal nonsense!

The branding of this important national achievement as samfie; it is to be frowned upon by all well-thinking Jamaicans. It is not a kind of statement befitting of Jamaica's prime minister-in-waiting.

Stale sloganeering

Golding, in his presentation last Tuesday, did not say a single thing that was markedly different to his previous budget presentations.

He may well have connected with his party's base which recent scientific polls have found is dwelling, but in my estimation he certainly did not connect with the uncommitted and voters in marginal seats, the majority of seats, which I have said before will decide who wins the next general election.

What Golding did a lot of last Tuesday was regurgitate stale sloganeering from the British Labour Party, its fraternal kin.

For example, "A Jamaica that works for the many and not just a few," is political pinching from the British Labour Party's "power wealth and opportunity for the many and not just a few", and "a Britain that works for the many and not just a few". Of course, political borrowing from like-minded parties is quite common the world over. What I find ironic, though, is that the current PNP is relentless that we must divorce ourselves from all vestiges of colonialism, but at the same time 89 Old Hope Road is busy copying three-decade-old slogans from the British Labour Party.

Surely there must be creative persons in Norman Manley's party who can develop some home-grown slogans reminiscent of the PNP in the 1970s.

Consider this loud irony too: "Over 40 years have passed in which we have accepted the view that the role of the State is merely to facilitate the private sector, who will then lead growth, and growth will trickle down to the people.

I suspect most Jamaicans no longer accept this," Golding remarked.

Continuing, he said: "We have to look around us and assess what is happening in our nation. We have to ask: What does the state of the nation have to do with the Government that we have? Who is the Government serving? Is it serving the broad base of the people?" (Jamaica Observer, March 14, 2023)

So where is Golding's new model, new thinking, new proposal for how our Government should be tailored to meet the needs of the Jamaican people?

Struggling in the polls

The PNP is in need of a powerful counter-puncher at the helm. Golding is not it.

Like his predecessor, Dr Peter Phillips, Golding continues to be in free fall as regard his political favourability. Recent scientific polls say the PNP is carrying Golding on its shoulders. Jamaicans are accustomed to the party leader carrying the party. The PNP says it is banking on a team approach.

I do not believe that will substantially move the needle of our political culture any time soon. I believe the PNP is suffering from a famine of good ideas. A purported spokesperson at a demonstration organised by the PNP recently warned of more demonstrations on the first Monday of each month. This does not augur well for the country or the PNP. It seems the PNP does not realise that folks are tired of the antiquated strategy of creating public dislocation.

The 'sky is falling' addicts in the PNP and its surrogates by now are likely covered from head to toe in political sackcloth and ashes. Comments in the media, especially during the last three weeks, made it obvious that many with umbilical attachments to 89 Old Hope Road were salivating at the prospect of a national strike by public sector workers last month. The PNP evidently drew another political 'bad card'.

Golding speaks of a new direction for Jamaica, but I hardly think that is even remotely possible with the present old PNP.

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

GARFIELD HIGGINS

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