The Cabinet kerfuffleFriday, January 14, 2022
After much speculation and intense anticipation, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced his reshuffled Cabinet, which turned out to be more of a sideshow that the main event it was purported to be. In this regard, the public discourse has, for the most part, been lacking in praise and fulsome encomiums. Instead, it may well be said that what has emerged is a great deal of kerfuffle.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines kerfuffle as a commotion or fuss. Indeed, from an etymological standpoint, the word does intimate confusion and disorder.
Given this latest foray into deft politicking, for which the “Most Honourable Brogad” has been carving out an enviable reputation, the prime minister ought to be reminded of the pithy saying that, while a politician puts his party first, a statesman puts his country first.
For many decades, Jamaica, since attaining political Independence on August 6, 1962, has seen a paucity of statesmen but an overwhelming plethora of diehard politicians. In the overall scheme of things, it may be argued that the relatively young Holness is still undergoing a learning curve, so we hope that at some point in the not-too-distant future he will seek to court and exhibit those qualities of statesmanship that the nation continues to hanker after.
One of the more desirable qualities of a statesman is his willingness to make unpopular decisions which are in the best interest of the country. Another one is the need to step aside and let the technocrats and civil servants do their work while following government policies and guidelines, but not getting overly involved for purely public relations reasons or seeking to gain cheap political mileage.
In the former scenario, the prime minister made a fatal mistake when he went on the 'campaign trail', ostensibly setting out to convince Jamaicans to get vaccinated. And, to add fuel to the fire, his Administration sought to dangle the carrot of $10,000 to help persuade the sceptics to get the needle into their arms. Well, anecdotal as well research evidence has shown that there is a great deal of distrust in the public space and much of this is directed towards the political directorate.
Interestingly, he has now backtracked and, in essence, is saying to a cynical populace: Take the vaccine or face the consequences. You are on your own, baby.
He has gone further to insist that he will not be instituting any further lockdowns or introducing any new curfews, except for what is already in place.
The discerning political pundit would have surmised that the prime minister has been undergoing a great deal of stress and frustration. Such a pundit would also have realised that Holness and his party have been losing valuable political capital, and so he has chosen to appease an increasingly angry and fed up citizenry by acquiescing to one of their repeated requests, which is to shuffle his Cabinet.
In the meantime, the oddities continued with Holness's teary remarks at the National Day of Prayer, which was followed by him losing his cool while answering a question posed by a journalist with respect to the status of the Cockpit Maroons and their claim of sovereignty. His “Are you crazy?” outburst will remain for a long time as one of the most ill-advised reactions from a leader of Government.
In the meantime, while the bellicose mob was marching (figuratively, of course) towards the Bastille demanding “bread”, Brogad in true Marie Antoinette fashion declared, “Let them have cake!” The cake in this case is the resulting Cabinet kerfuffle…oops, I mean reshuffle.
Yes, there are some tasty elements in this hurriedly conceived concoction. The reassigning of Homer Davis to lead the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) West, as well as overseeing projects in the western region, particularly Montego Bay, is a political tour de force that is most welcome, but Davis must be cautioned not to turn a blind eye to any acts of corruption or dereliction of duty regarding the implementation of projects. He must ensure that he is not ultimately seen as simply presiding over a potential pork barrel situation.
Young Pearnel Charles Jr taking over the agriculture and fisheries ministry is a most welcome development. He, along with his sidekick state minister Frank Witter, both rural-based Members of Parliament, should not disappoint.
Placing Robert Morgan back in the Office of the Prime Minister as a minister of state, who will no doubt be overseeing the information portfolio, is a wise move because the Government's public relations efforts have so far, for the most part, been wet squibs. In partnership with another young Turk, Matthew Samuda, who is regarded as the Jamaica Labour Party's communications guru, we can expect some fireworks. And, with party Chairman Robert Montague now having a great deal of time on his hands to do party work, it is safe to say that ensconced in the OPM will be a veritable “war room”.
As for the rest of Cabinet reshuffle, which must be seen in the context of a game of musical chairs being played out, the only eyebrow-raising touches have been the return of Floyd Green to the Executive and the establishment of a Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs. I know many will disagree with me, but I do believe that Green should have been made to pay a longer period of penance for his indiscretion. His relatively quick return to the upper echelons of Government is sending mixed signals to a country that has been crying out for probity and integrity.
Marlene Malahoo Forte has been commandeered to oversee the Government's hefty legislative agenda, which should include the move towards republican status, which is going to take a lot of legal manoeuvrings and public involvement with the ultimate goal of having a referendum as is required by the Jamaican Constitution.
There is also the ongoing squabble between the Holness Administration and the Mark Golding-led Opposition with respect to the implementation of the states of public emergency and that critical two-thirds majority vote.
Of concern is how the ministry will relate to the national security and justice ministries. Will there be overlapping and other contentious outcomes? The prime minister needs to elucidate. Incidentally, is the new attorney general a member of the Cabinet? Methinks not! Let us hope that he can rise above the narrow partisan fray in his deliberations and advice.
Of note, too, is the overly populated Office of the Prime Minister, which begs the question of whether the prime minister is simply providing jobs for the boys? For a small country such as ours, this top-heavy Executive can only mean finding more resources, both human and financial, which does not augur well for responsible and responsive governance.
What is also worrying is that the prime minister has indicated that there is more reshuffling to come. What a kerfuffle!
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaica media for the past 45 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaican Observer or email@example.com.