Some people should stay retired!
We must not forget
A folded flag tells the mood of the Opposition People's National Party at the end of the last general election.

Human memory is often a hostage to elasticity. Gladly there is technology for preserving the human voice in permanent form. Some folks seem not to know this — or do they, but simply do not care?

Here is something else that many seem not to know. There is a profound difference between a person who decides to live in the Blue Mountains as a hermit and a politician or retired politician who deliberately and consciously places himself on the political hustings in furtherance of overt political objectives which include, among other things, the acquisition of State power and/or assisting in said acquisition.

I maintain that folks have not just a responsibility, but a duty to interrogate the present and past utterances of individuals who place themselves in the public square. Failure to do so facilitates the undermining of critical guard rails of democracy, and the very purpose of knowledge.

The purpose of knowledge is action, not knowledge, said Aristotle. Instigators of immense sufferings on Jamaica must not be allowed to forget this reality.

Frightening and costly

Consider this: "Last year, on the road to the fourth term, there was no way I was going to stop any project which we had on the ground. I don't have to say nutten more to Comrades. Even with the floods, even with the other tings dem, there was no way I was going to stop nuh project. Some people say I am not fiscally responsible. Is alright, dem can talk. Roger Clarke have an expression. Him say, "Is better for us to be inside here a try to puzzle how to solve the next problem than to be outside here wondering how [Edward] Seaga ah solve the problem. So, Comrades, if it was another time, probably I woulda hold back on certain other tings and deal with the flood damage. But last year — and I make no apologies for it... No Government anywhere fighting an election campaign going against the Opposition is cutting back on a critical project. So whatever! The Highway 2000 gwaan still. Old Harbour bypass, mi seh run wid it still. North… highway, I not stopping the progress. So, Comrades, the question we face now... now that we reach, we have to correct it."

These are the words of former Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Omar Davies. The country must never forget these infamous "run wid it" words after the 2002 General Election, in which he essentially admitted to fiscally imprudent spending decisions to bolster the election campaign of the People's National Party (PNP) to reclaim office.

I do not believe the country should forget that, according to figures by the Planning Institute of Jamaica, in 1971 the Jamaican economy grew by almost 12 per cent in that one single year. This is equivalent to the cumulative growth under Dr Omar Davies' entire 14 years as minister of finance between 1993 and 2007. Why?

Davies' high interest rate policy crippled local entrepreneurship. Some 45,000 small- and medium-sized businesses went under during the 1990s.

Our black entrepreneurial class was almost decimated in the 90s by the suicidal high interest rate policies of the P J Patterson-led Administration and with Dr Omar Davies as the finance minister. I still believe he may well be our worst-performing finance minister to date.

Thousands of honest businessmen and women were ruined. Many have migrated. The association that represents Finsac'd entrepreneurs says 20 people committed suicide. Scores of Jamaicans have not lived to tell the tale of the severely debilitating financial and emotional damage done by the disastrous policies of the 1990s.

Last Sunday, Dr Omar Davies appeared on a political platform at a divisional conference in the constituency of St Andrew Southern. He had been the Member of Parliament for the constituency for 21 years.

Davies sought to lecture the Andrew Holness-led Administration on matters of fiscal responsibility and corruption: "I have never seen so much corruption," said Davies.

"You can't make this stuff up," a news anchor on CNN once said. Believe it!

That aside, though, I wonder where this inclusion of Davies in matters of fiscal responsibility and corruption figure, even slightly, in sensible political strategising, common sense, or just common decent regard for the thousands of the Jamaicans who are still suffering the hellish impact of being Finsac'd [think the Financial Sector Adjustment Company]?"

I believe that, outside of Jungle, St Andrew Southern, Dr Omar Davies could be one of the most disliked politicians in Jamaica.

On June 29, 2017 Parliament convened a special session to heap accolades on Davies for what some called his sterling contribution to national development. Davies waved "ta-ta" and many, including me, had hoped that his 14 years of nightmarish management of the nation's purse had come to an end.

Some, doubtless, will shout, "Oh, come on, Higgins, surely Davies has done some good."

I am sure he has. The fact is, the minuscule good he has done has been cancelled several times over by his monumental economic failures. I have provided copious evidence in previous columns.

I had hoped that Davies would use his retirement, all of it, to steadfastly examine how his actions have caused weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth in this country. But he re-emerged last Sunday, flashed off a 'righteous cloak', and launched into a tirade about the Andrew Holness Administration being the most corrupt ever.

Some years ago I wrote in this space that: "I believe Davies would have served this country better if he had stayed in academia." I stand by that.

Recall that he came to representational politics from a background in academia. He signalled his interest in public affairs through a series of columns in the Jamaica Daily News, then the Portmore-based community newspaper Twin City Sun, and finally on Radio Jamaica (RJR). He gave up his lecturing job at The University of the West Indies (UWI) to manage the Government's Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ). (Jamaica Observer, September 4, 2015)

Like so many other Jamaicans, Davies made the fatal error of assuming that because he was good in his field of academic training he would make a great politician and policymaker. Several people close to Dr Davies say that he is quite an affable man on a personal level. They say he is a great fan of Peter Tosh, reggae music, and research in it. I can vouch for that. I once saw him deliver a fine lecture on Peter Tosh at The UWI. I really think Davies should stick to those projects.

Bad judgement

Dr Davies grand appearance alongside Opposition Leader Mark Golding last Sunday begs an important question.

Again, Golding is our prime minister is waiting. All citizens have not just a responsibility, but a duty to interrogate his actions and how these reflect on good judgement or lack thereof.

I believe Golding showed very bad judgement when he decided to have Davies speak on the card of the PNP's divisional conference last Sunday.

"Higgins, that is PNP business," some will bellow. I, respectfully, beg to differ.

Separate and apart from the fact that these are matters in the public domain, the PNP's business is public business.

Golding continues to commit a comedy of errors. I heard him, for example, in Parliament last Tuesday referring to the Government's $2.7 billion in additional social intervention expenditure that was announced by Dr Nigel Clarke, the minister of finance, as "run wid it". Golding seems to have a tin ear for politics. As I pointed out here last Sunday, he is not attuned to the pulse and mood of the country and continues to be a throwback an usable past.

'Wrong Jungle'

Some years ago, then chairman of the PNP, Robert Pickersgill, made a faux pas which earned him the nickname "Wrong Jungle". As I see it, Dr Davies and the philosophical mindsets of those of his era, with all due respect, are antithetical to the direction in which this country needs to led. Some in the PNP say Golding is involved in a process of rebranding the party. Those efforts must be a very carefully guarded secret.

As it was conceived and constructed, the PNP served its purpose for a time and a season. That time and season has ended. Norman Manley's party needs a new focus, mission, and vision. It would do well to avoid going back to the worst inclinations of the far left. It should also stay far from the extremisms of the far right.

I get the sense that Golding believes that the biting economic hardships that are ripping deep into the innards of people's lives globally is his salvation to Jamaican House. Someone at 89 Old Hope Road needs to climb a tree and shout to him, "Wrong Jungle!"

Controlling inflation

"It is almost impossible to carry the torch of truth through a crowd without singeing somebody's beard," said Georg Lichtenberg, noted philosopher and scientist.

We have among us some who are glad to see the rising inflation and mounting crimes, especially murders. They pray for the receding economic pall over the country to reorganise and strengthen 100-fold.

Some are quite happy to see Jamaica ruined if ruination will help them to grab hold of State power. I heard a pastor on radio last week, one of those who introduces nearly every sentence with: "God told me to tell you..." adumbrating that COVID-19, monkeypox, and the economic difficulties are plagues upon Jamaica because of the wickedness of the people and the refusal of the Government [read Administration] to heed his warnings. What madness!

In recent weeks some have been pillorying governor of the Bank of Jamaica Richard Byles and noted financial analysts and economists for supporting/doubling down on the central bank's position to continue to push up interest rates.

There are those people with genuine concerns about the Bank of Jamaica's approach. Some lack information. I am not including these good folks among the ruination crew. I am talking about those who spew blatant lies about the approach being used by the central bank to help control inflation, and those who in turn ride on these lies like a witch on a broomstick. These individuals mean Jamaica no good.

Last Wednesday, The Gleaner quoted Byles inter alia: "There is a price to be paid at some point, but it is for the greater good. Until someone can convince me that, had we done nothing, had we left interest rates low, that we would be better off, then I believe we are in a better place than we may have been had we not pursued the policies that we have."

I am not an economist. But my layman's understanding of supply and demand tells me that Byles is talking common sense. The choices before us are clear. We can choose runaway devaluation or relative currency stability. To know what runaway inflation looks like one needs only Google what is happening in countries like Venezuela and Sri Lanka. We can either stick with the international best practice of an independent central bank which has the power to craft policies based on its priorities for the monetary system, or go back to a previous era where the minister of finance could play hopscotch with interest rates and related indicators.

I know some are going to catch an unnecessary fit and shout, "So you want a central bank that can do as it pleases?" These people should be comforted with the reassurances of Dr Nigel Clarke, whose credentials on economic matters are globally renowned.

Said Clarke: "Credibility of the central bank in its role to maintain low and stable inflation is critically important. That credibility is enhanced when all citizens know that the persons who are responsible for the conduct of monetary policy have independence in doing so. By operational independence, we don't mean unconditional independence. For central bank independence to have democratic legitimacy there must be an accountable, robust governance framework, and that framework must be transparent." (The Gleaner, April 18, 2021)

Dr Clarke's perspective was for donkey's years a minority position. Honest brokers will admit that we waited for far too long to change. We suffered for the delay.

History is littered with examples of how uncontrolled inflation has resulted in costly national social unrest and the overthrow of unresponsive governments.

The massive instability that uncontrolled inflation leads to is the nourishment of dictators and those who suffer with an unhealthy lust for power.

I believe the Bank of Jamaica is on the right track in its efforts to tame the monster of inflation.

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.

Omar Davis, former minister of finance and planning
People's National Party President Mark Golding.
PICKERSGILL...made a faux pas which earned him the nickname "Wrong Jungle"
Garfield Higgins

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