You were wrong, Prime Minister!
Holness cannot kick the blame can after relaxing restrictionsSunday, August 01, 2021
According to reports in sections of the media, Prime Minister Andrew Holness at his Jamaica House press conference last Monday, insisted that his decision to reopen the entertainment and creative sectors a little under a month ago was correctly timed. Holness can continue to think so, until the cows come home, but objective reality does not align with his judgement on the matter.
Consider this: “The country averaged 52 daily new cases of COVID-19 in June followed by an uptick, which saw the daily average increased to 62 per day in the first two weeks of July. For two straight months from May 20, the country did not record a daily caseload of new infections above 100.
“However, all that changed on July 20, when 132 new cases of the coronavirus were recorded. This was followed by five more days that recorded numbers above 100. During this period the positivity rate has been as high as 16.8 per cent.
“Scientists have said that a positivity rate of five per cent or less is more acceptable.
“The country is now averaging 135 new cases per day and total cases recorded in July so far is 1,818. The transmission rate has moved from medium to very high in a matter of days, said the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 26. 2021)
Last Monday Holness told the country: “What we are seeing [now], in two weeks' time it will probably be worse.”
At the time of writing, there were 181 new novel coronavirus cases, and three additional deaths.
There is no sin or shame, Prime Minister, in saying, I got it wrong; I made an error. I apologise.
Holness, understandably, does not want to be seen eating crow. That might be the explanation for this own goal last Monday.
This newspaper noted these and other details last Tuesday: “Prime Minister Andrew Holness was in no mood to accept blame when he was asked by a reporter on Monday whether his announced retightening of the COVID-19 measures was an admission that he was wrong when he relaxed the measures in June.
“ 'No, we [the Government] were not wrong. We sat [and] deliberated very carefully, which is what you hired us to do as your Government to take these decisions. You hired us as your Government to listen to the people,' said Holness in his response.
“Continuing, the prime minister said he would encourage everyone to be careful about the blame game.
“ 'We all have to live, and everyone doesn't see things always in the same way and, as much as possible, we should try not to make the pandemic a political issue,' Holness added.
“He pointed out that when the matter was debated in the Parliament, before the measures were relaxed in June, “everyone agreed, including journalists and pastors. Not to mention people who supported entertainment. It was generally agreed that we [the country] had gone through a very difficult period...”
Not so, Prime Minister!
I am convinced that the prime minister is wrong on many fronts here. Firstly, blame has to be apportioned to those with whom the buck stops when matters of national importance go awry. We have a tendency in this country to hug and hog credit when things go right, but “tek bush”, that is, hide away from legitimate public questioning, or push others out in front as fall guys, when things go wrong. This is sunshine leadership. Those who have taken on the challenged to manage, especially our national affairs, must lead in all weather.
The fact is, the management of the pandemic, among other things, centres on politics. Politics is in everything and everything is politics, whether we accept that reality or not. It is a fact, too, that some did warn the Holness Administration not to reopen the entertainment and creative sectors last month.
Recall the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association (JMDA) and the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) publicly registered that the Holness Administration's decision to reopen the entertainment and creative sectors on July 1, 2021 was an unwise move given, among other factors, our worryingly low rate of inoculation.
Recall also that on June 27, 2021 I said, among other things, in this space: “I think Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a very injudicious decision. Why? We are nowhere near herd immunity. Our health system wobbles too often. The uncertainties with regard to timely arrival of additional supplies of vaccines are pronounced, and the general uncooperative propensities of too many of our people are an open secret. Large gatherings, at this time, do not make sense.”
Several individuals had also indicated that a phased or pilot approach was a more sensible pathway.
In my The Agenda piece on June 27, 2021 I also opined that, “Those who are shouting 'Hosanna' now will as easily shout 'Crucify him' tomorrow.” Well, tomorrow is here. The backlash has been palpable, particularly on social media — a major barometer of public sentiment.
Some who had openly supported Holness's decision are now backtracking. As we say in local parlance, they are “changing colour like green lizard”. Their transience is easy to explain: Some among us will always find plausible reasons to support the buttering of the two sides and the crust of their bread, irrespective of whatever grave national consequences exist. These types are often quite happy to be tossed about like an empty CheeseTrix bag (popular snack at primary school) once their immediate ends are being served.
Recall that the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition Mark Golding wholeheartedly supported the lifting of the restrictions which facilitated the reopening of the entertainment and creative sectors. Here is Golding's endorsement. It was delivered on June 22, 2021 in our Parliament, right after Prime Minister Holness had elaborated on the relaxation of the restrictions.
“Thank you for your presentation. I think that many people will be relieved to see and hear some easing of some of the restrictions under which all of us have been living for a very long time now. The adjustment of the curfew hours — I think it's effective July 1 — I know many people will feel that it's overdue, but it's very welcome.
“I want to say how much I appreciate the gestures that are being made towards the entertainment sector, which has been really very, very hard hit by this pandemic. Many of them, the practitioners, people who depend on entertainment, and you alluded to some of the different industries, subsectors that depend on it, from the fashion industry right round to security and so many other things, food and beverage. The idea of giving them a break with the 50 per cent discount on some of the statutory fees that are payable in applying for events. Minister McKenzie, I think you have a role in that, and I think that is a very good thing.”
Last week Golding did an about-turn. The reasons for his political 'swing-song' action is obvious. He doubtless figures that the political pendulum might swing against the Administration now that there is a spike in coronavirus cases.
On the heels of Holness' back-pedalling last Monday, Golding said this among other things:
“The prime minister decided to open up while the rest of the world was already reeling from another wave of the pandemic due to the highly infectious Delta variant, which we can be sure will be on our shores soon.
“We warned him then that this was risky, given the openness of our borders and the very low level of vaccine penetration achieved today in our country. We are now seeing signs of another spike as positivity rates of COVID are trending up, and the number of hospitalisations and critically ill patients are again rising. The Government is once again backtracking on its earlier position.”
Talk about flaccid convictions — pardon the oxymoron. Like his predecessor, Dr Peter Phillips, Golding is flipping and flopping worse than a busted gasket. This propensity to be carried by the wind, hither and thither, does not augur well for the Opposition People's National Party (PNP). Will the real Mark Golding please stand up?
To his credit…
Let us not fool ourselves for a second, Prime Minister Holness was, among other things, trying to increase his political stocks when he relaxed the COVID-19 restrictions and reopened the entertainment and creative sectors. That gamble has clearly backfired.
To his credit, though, Holness has stepped back, from a dangerous gravitational pull — a political instinct which compels many politicians to stay the course even when the nation is heading for a precipice. Instead of remaining wrong and strong, like so many before him, Holness has changed course.
I have presented copious evidence in previous my The Agenda pieces on how some of our political leaders have sacrificed many hard-won victories of our people and have squandered the blood, sweat and tears of generations for no other reason than to satisfy their lust for personal political glory and, by extension, the preservation of their party in power by near any means necessary.
Wrong... and socialism
Incidentally, on the matter of wrong and strong, this gem caught my eye.
“Meanwhile, Opposition leader and PNP President Mark Golding told the meeting that the party was revisiting its expression of the philosophy of democratic socialism.
“ 'We need to take this opportunity, while we are in Opposition and early in the term, to revisit how we express our philosophy in 21st century terms as a democratic socialist party; what does that mean today and how we articulate that message in terms of the policy expressions that ought to emerge from that,' Golding said.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 25, 2021)
Golding was speaking during a virtual meeting, dubbed Conversation with the Diaspora on Thursday, July 22, 2021.
Recall that last month Golding declared in this newspaper his commitment to democratic socialism. In an interview with Editor-at-Large H G Helps, Golding said, among other things: “I never wore locks, but I was always a socialist, liberation person, always focused on freeing the people.” ( Jamaica Observer, June 6, 2021)
Golding, seems to be following his predecessor, Dr Peter Phillips, “pee pee, cluck cluck”, as we say in the rustic parts.
In my The Agenda column on June 13, 2021 I noted, among other things, in relation to Golding's pronouncement: “It is imperative, therefore, that Golding explains to the country where/what is the mainspring of his socialism. Why is that important?
“Golding is the de facto alternative prime minister, folks; therefore, we have a right to know the precise foundation upon which his socialist ideology is situated. Does he have sympathies with communism or totalitarian regimes? Are his socialist beliefs grounded in Marxist doctrinaire? Is he a Christian socialist? Or is he a devotee of Fabianism — the rotten dogma from which democratic socialism was hatched? Is he a libertarian socialist?
“Just what kind of socialist is Mark Golding? He has a duty to tell the country.
“We have a tendency in this country to wait until the horse has gone through the gate before we act. This malady is present in numerous aspects of how we have governed, or more so misgoverned, ourselves.” ( Jamaica Observer, June 13, 2021)
Based on Golding's restatement of his commitment to democratic socialism two Thursdays ago, it seems the PNP is planning to repackage the failed ideology, again, except this time a wolf in sheep's clothing approach will be employed. This should immediately set off many red flags in an era of open politics. It believe this stance will not augur well for the PNP.
Today we celebrate Emancipation and on Friday Jamaica's 59th anniversary of political independence.
One of the critical things I hope we pay much more attention to, going forward, is the care of the environment which sustains us. It is a matter of life and death, literally.
In recent years we have had several near-misses with hurricanes that could have significantly set us back infrastructurally, and otherwise. We have a lot to be thankful to God.
While we have not had a catastrophic hurricane since Gilbert landed on our shores on September 12, 1988, we have had very costly flood rains that have set us back by hundreds of millions of dollars.
Like rural folks are inclined to say, we need to “tek sleep and mark death”. At some point in time the 'big one', whether a hurricane or an earthquake, whatever, will hit us. We best prepare. That includes better care of our environment.
Happy Emancipation and Independence, everyone.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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