Sunday Brew — January 16, 2022
Richard Currie

A Cabinet shuffle that wounded Jamaica

It took me two days for the foolishness that Prime Minister Holness did last Monday to sink in.

And even at this point, I am hoping that someone will step forward and say, it was all a dream.

I even had to ask myself whether or not the prime minister's action was not equivalent to him offering the people of this country a certain finger like his colleague Everald Warmington did, and saying alongside it, 'I run things. Oonu caa chat to me.'

The Cabinet shuffle (not reshuffle as some people have been describing it) was a flop. Many of the Jamaica Labour Party people that the prime minister leads have also expressed that view to me.

Any Cabinet shuffle must involve shaking up Jamaica's two main challenges – health care, and national security. Is the prime minister too blind to see that he continues to have the worst health minister in Jamaica's history in charge of that important assignment? How could there have been a shuffle and Christopher Tufton is not shifted from health? Were big business and other powerful interests at work in this determination?

And as for security, instead of placing more emphasis on the lead challenge, it has now been diluted to one Cabinet minister, down from two, yet, crime continues to rage like a tiger without food for several days, and 'experts' continue to think that the size of the police force is the real problem.

There are some people who won in last Monday's poker game, among them Audley Shaw, who has moved on from being saddled with too many portfolio responsibilities, to transport and mining; Pearnel Charles Jr, whose move to agriculture and fisheries is a major one, as Jamaica needs someone to drive that area of its development to meaningful levels, pushing Jamaica's contribution from the sector to at least 15 per cent of gross domestic product, instead of a ministry that he once held that was woefully underfunded; Robert Morgan, a minister without portfolio, who will likely be fully in charge of information, though he has some kinks, including an oversized ego to iron out; and the return of Floyd Green, albeit to an assignment that he could find confusing as the days tick off.

The prime minister's insistence on giving Aubyn Hill something to do – this time at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Investment – could backfire. Be warned: Do not expect much positives in that area from the individual now in charge.

Teachers have complained to me that Education Minister Fayval Williams should be moved, but in fairness to her, what is really clogging the veins of education in an atmosphere of COVID-19 challenges, is connectivity – the inefficiency of Internet suppliers. Even if all students and pupils get devices – laptops, tablets, phones, etc, what can they achieve without adequate Internet supply?

There has still been no improvement by the providers, so the greater part of Mrs Williams' job will remain under the spotlight until that is rectified, or face-to-face school is back to where it was in March 2020. Even then, she could easily have fitted into the ministry that Hill has been shifted to, as one who has a strong business and finance background, having worked on Wall Street.

As for the others, if I were in Bobby Montague's shoes I would be hopping mad that I was shifted to the non-existent Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, to be in charge, I am told, of housing and urban renewal. Now, anyone who gets the housing portfolio and does not have the National Housing Trust under his control is wasting his time in that office.

Holness saved this country from a bungling attorney general in Marlene Malahoo Forte, but will the lady be able to guide the Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs into swimmable waters, or will it have to be subsumed into the Ministry of Justice, as it ought to have been?

And what about the finance minister's role? Can we say 'job well done' as far as he is concerned, when the Jamaica dollar is sliding all over the place and is at its lowest value against all of the major trading currencies? The domino effect of that drunken dollar can be crippling, and it will be interesting to see how the economy will stand up six months from now. I do not believe that efforts are being made to ensure that the Jamaica dollar can wake up from the coma that it finds itself in.

Naturally, more can be said, but the prime minister has also suggested that there is more to come. Maybe by next time we will see an almost completely new slate of members of the Executive.

Argument on lockdown 'caa' done

Even as the prime minister boldly speaks, some even suggesting with a forked tongue, that there will be no lockdown in future, I wonder what will happen if cases of COVID-19 keep rising, and the hospitals start to burst at the seams.

The issue of a lockdown is something that some great nations of the world have resorted to. Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, France, and more, went that route only recently. Why then has Jamaica's prime minister moved to place himself in an awkward position that could backfire without notice?

The business community will be jumping and shouting in uncontrolled excitement that such a pronouncement has been made by Jamaica's senior politician. But such a decision would rest entirely on the situation with infections and hospitalisations. Holness knows that even if people are fully vaccinated, they can still catch the novel coronavirus, so why the attitude in respect of lockdowns?

Let us suppose that another wave hits Jamaica, caused by the reckless approach of the Ministry of Health, and fuelled by the indiscipline of our people. Would the prime minister not consider a lockdown?

The advice in this case to the prime minister, is never to make such pronouncements without leaving room for adjustments. He should refrain from uttering words that could return and haunt him, when it appears that he is angry, like what we saw at last Sunday's news conference.

Argument not done!

Can someone wake up the Maroons, please?

The year seemed to have started out groggily, highlighted by a surprise dilution of the Cabinet, and a fight that does not warrant a punch, being promoted by the Maroon community.

The battle between Prime Minister Holness and the Accompong Maroons in St Elizabeth intensified with the election of Richard Currie as chief of that outdated and irrelevant group of people whose only claim to fame is the sellout of their brothers and sisters to English mercenaries centuries ago.

Maybe a psychiatrist should be the man at the centre of the dispute, because it seems like the Maroons have hit their heads against the wall again.

This suggestion that the Maroons are a sovereign people, living in their own sovereign State, is the kind of hogwash that this country can do without. Legally, the Maroons have no standing. Even if some idiotic treaty was signed long after Columbus's visit, it is irrelevant today. How do the people of Accompong and their apparently disturbed chief expect the rest of the nation to accept that they represent a nation within a nation?

A Maroon in Jamaica is defined as a descendant of a runaway slave. It would mean that around 90 per cent of Jamaicans are Maroons. Except for those in St Elizabeth, I do not hear the others huffing and puffing about their standing.

In a seeming free country, people are allowed to say whatever they want, confined, of course, by certain legal hurdles, like the penalty for defamation, and security threat to individuals.

Each individual has an opinion, but when that opinion is being foisted upon a majority in a package wrapped as 'fact', then the line must be drawn.

Overblown sportsman, woman of the year

There is always excitement when Jamaicans are asked to speculate on which personalities will be named sportsman and sportswoman of the year, especially when the performances are outstanding and close in value.

This year, for example, when the RJR Gleaner Sports Foundation holds its event, the people are being asked to hold their collective breath as to which man and woman will triumph. But is it close at all for anyone to think that the top two prizes will not go to the most outstanding male and female of 2021? In this case, the Americans would say 'big deal.'

If there is someone out there who can beat Hansle Parchment for sportsman of the year; and Elaine Thompson Herah for the women's title, then they can step forward and be recognised right away.

It is meaningless to be promoting this thing about who the RJR Gleaner national sportsman and sportswoman of the year will be, when it is clear that it must be the two aforementioned. The foundation should henceforth, when the winners are clear cut, announce them right away, and build up a promotion around the secondary and special awards. To continue with wanting people to believe that a man who won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games can win over a gold medallist at the same event, is kindergarten thinking.

Would the selection committee choose fellow athlete Shelly Fraser-Pryce, or cricketer Stafanie Taylor over Thompson-Herah who won three gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics? No…unless the members require mental examinations.

The RJR Gleaner team needs to get things right. When obvious decisions are to be made, they ought to be made with minimum excitement and fuss.

Andrew Holness
with HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

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