Editor’s Note : The views expressed below are not my own. Javed Jaghai returns to Veritas with his take on Jamaica’s current political realities. Read. Reflect. Comment.
Jamaican politicians may be terrible leaders, but they are masters of political strategy. They understand our culture very well. They know how to appease us, they know how to mistreat us (and get away with it), and they know that we are familiar enough with each other to privilege loyalty and character over intellect and effectiveness.
Our past and present politicians must be held responsible for the state of Jamaica today. By the time the stalwarts who have served since my birth die, their obituaries will tell of how long they served and how dedicated they were to public service but will say nothing of how poorly they governed.
Jamaica is a very small island with a correspondingly small population. The interconnected webs of social and familial ties breeds familiarity, which, I believe, violates and degrades traditional means of guaranteeing accountability. We trust our elected representatives and we continue ‘fi gi dem a bly’ even though their record of accomplishment speaks volumes to their incompetency. When they consistently perform less than satisfactorily and especially when they fuck up, we excuse their ineptitude with superficial considerations like their so-called ‘good moral character’ and ‘commitment to the community’.
If ever a straw broke a camel’s back, that straw fell this afternoon. The Office of the Prime Minister of Jamaica released what may go down in Commonwealth history as the most unfortunate statement on behalf of a Head of Government; the office of Mrs. Simpson Miller purported to be “concerned” for the safety of the Prime Minister. Fair enough. The worrying aspect of this development is that there is no security threat, in the standard sense, to the Prime Minister. Instead, the OPM released this dubious statement after members of the media sought a response from an ever evasive Simpson Miller. In her now characteristic attempt to dodge the media, and their relentless pursuit of information, the Prime Minister was apparently struck by a microphone. It is regrettable that the PM was struck, but the real issue is why was she running? The real issue is why hasn’t she consented to sit for an interview having taken office 15 months ago? When one considers the PM’s abject refusal to face the press, it leads to one devastating conclusion. If a leader cannot face the country unscripted, or by some accounts not even scripted, it brings the competence of the leader into serious question. The Prime Minister has now resorted to the lowest possible denominator, hiding. It is shameful and unacceptable. Since taking office, the PM has repeatedly told the nation that “time come”, time come for removing the Queen as Head of State, time come to take appeals to the Caribbean Court of Justice, time come to put country above party etc. I think the Prime Minister must now reflect on her own inability to lead the government, indeed the country; time come to step aside. Time come Portia, time come.
JA$99.57 to US$1.00. This is the talk of the town in Jamaica, the death of the Jamaican dollar. As the dollar veered dangerously close to the cliff, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller, has generally remained silent. Taking her 19 member Cabinet with her, the PM has frequently retreated, to find solutions – presenting little results. The country waited for 14 months for an IMF agreement, public sector workers saw their salaries frozen, parliament has failed to act on important pieces of legislation, the national debt continues to hit breathtaking highs, while the standard of living continues to hit devastating lows, crime continues to pose a significant threat, with even the Security Minister allegedly being robbed – just to name a few of our challenges. As Jamaicans grow restless and the calls echo louder for the PM to either resign, take a salary cut, cut the size of the Cabinet or simply practice what she preaches, one young Jamaican, Nick Cobran, has come to the defence of the woman many call “Mama”. He cries foul, dismissing the criticism as unfair and “severely partisan”. He has agreed to share his thoughts with Veritas. Here he is, in defence of Portia.
The Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller, recently came under fire for implying that the Leader of the Opposition is an enemy of the state. Many felt the PM displayed poor judgement and reckless abandon by likening a creature of the Constitution of Jamaica to a terrorist. In her characteristic arrogance, the PM refused to recant – maintaining that she simply posed a question and the Opposition Leader need only answer. As I reflected on the incident, I couldn’t help but set the comment against the backdrop of the current state of Jamaica – an exchange rate of $JMD95 to $USD1, 14.1% unemployment, a broke Students’ Loan Bureau, the 9th year of public sector wage freezes while the PM maintains a 20 member Cabinet – the second largest in the history of Jamaica (Michael Manley named 23 Ministers in 1976) , a near $3 million salary increase for herself, numerous consultants and advisors to the tune of $100 million, brand spanking new SUVs for her ministers, IMF negotiations in shambles and I could go on and on – I can’t help but ask, who is the true enemy of the state?
At 67 years old, the current Prime Minister of Jamaica, Portia Simpson Miller, is undoubtedly on the final leg of what has been an extraordinary political career. This quaint girl from Wood Hall, St. Catherine has defied all odds and now holds the highest political office in the land, complete with the styles and privileges. However, the career spanning some 30 years is fast drawing to a close, and political watchers and those in the People’s National Party are most certainly keenly interested in who will replace Mama P. Some conservative estimates venture that the Prime Minister will leave office as soon as 2014, perhaps sooner. The question then is, who will succeed Mrs. Simpson Miller as leader of the PNP? It’s not the ‘P’ you might think, at least I don’t think so anymore.
It has been 100 days since Portia Simpson Miller took the reins of Government here in Jamaica; and as is customary across the world after 100 days, the new Prime Minister and her government are being graded on their performance thus far. I wish to lend my voice to the assessment of what I consider to be the most important areas the new government should be focused on and record my comments on the Prime Minister’s report card.
His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, commonly known as Prince Harry, is scheduled to visit Jamaica from March 5 – 8. The Prince will be here representing Her Majesty Elizabeth II as part of the international commemoration of the 60th year of her coronation. This visit comes in Jamaica’s jubilee year of independence and creates quite a contrast. On one hand we celebrate 50 years as an independent nation, and on the other hand we celebrate 60 years of our association with a foreign monarch. I believe it brings the issue of becoming a republic back to the fore.
“You would not have 18. I will not give the country a breakfront.” – Portia Simpson Miller (May 2011)
This was the response given by then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, when asked whether she would appoint 18 members to a Cabinet, should she form the next government. Only a few months later, the Prime Minister has named a 19 member Cabinet (20 including her) with an accompanying price tag of $111, 349, 381; that does not include the salary of the Attorney General. This is according to figures released by The Sunday Gleaner.
The polls said it would be close, the pundits opined that it was anybody’s race to win; but when the dust settled on Thursday night, Jamaicans made one thing explicitly clear, this is PNP country. In what was a stunning electoral upset, the Opposition People’s National swept the ruling Jamaica Labour Party from power in spectacular style, winning 42 of the 63 seats in the House of Representatives.
Portia Simpson Miller’s assurance that she would not bar homosexuals from her Cabinet, should she form a government, has ignited a firestorm of controversy over the issue of homosexuality. From a widespread condemnation of her comments by the church, to alleged threats to the life of a JLP candidate; the issue of homosexuality has been put squarely before the electorate ahead of Thursday’s general election. As I read the comments posted to the Jamaica Observer’s website it occurred to me that Mrs. Simpson Miller has made homosexuality and gay rights a political issue, reminiscent of American Presidential politics. I now believe my commendations for Simpson Miller’s brave answer was premature; I had not anticipated the massive fall out that this has resulted in. The issue now is, has the Opposition Leader secured the “gay vote”? Will Christians punish the PNP at the polls? Is the PNP politicising homosexuality for political mileage?
It was perhaps the most anticipated of Jamaica’s three political debates; staged at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies, this instalment featured the Prime Minister, The Hon. Andrew Holness facing the Most Hon. Leader of the Opposition Portia Simpson Miller. However, this was not the knock out that many predicted. While we can agree that the Prime Minister prevailed slightly, the real story here is the performance of Mrs. Simpson Miller.
The first of Jamaica’s three political debates is over. The dust has now settled. Who is still standing? This writer says #TeamPNP. Tonight’s round saw the PNP’s Lisa Hanna, Dr. Dayton Campbell and Raymond Pryce up against the JLP’s Sen. Warren Newby, Sen. Marlene Malahoo-Forte and Dr. Sapphire Longmore. The country was to have been treated to a battle of wit highlighting issues of a socio-economic nature from the youth perspective; unfortunately the “young” debaters betrayed that they are well schooled in the old style of politics; combative and nakedly partisan.
In the last three months, Jamaica’s political landscape has undergone a dramatic overhaul; engineered and led largely by the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). From the resignation of Prime Minister Bruce Golding to the ascension of a 39 year old to the top job; the message is clear, Jamaica’s politics is changing.
However, one cannot help but wonder if all this is simply flash and no substance. What I mean is, does all of this amount to a brilliantly crafted strategy by the JLP to retain state power amid unprecedented economic challenges? Former Prime Minister Golding said as much at the 68th conference of the JLP. He likened the move to a game of football, he had called the play. What this all amounts to is perception. How is it perceived? The polls give the answer, the JLP is ahead.
Prime Minister of Jamaica and Leader of the Jamaica Labour Party, The Hon. Bruce Golding, has made known his intention to step down at the party’s November conference. In a statement to the party, Golding revealed that he will not seek re-election as JLP leader and will step down as PM once a new leader is chosen. Mr. Golding revealed that the challenges of the last four years have taken a toll on him and he considers it prudent to now step aside and pave the way for new leadership. While the news has stunned several sections of the society; one thing is clear, this is a political strategy at it’s best.
The latest polls commissioned by RJR/TVJ and conducted by veteran pollster, Professor Ian Boxil, show Jamaica’s parliamentary opposition, the PNP, several percentage points ahead of the governing Labour party; and apparently poised to form the next government. As we reflect on the poll numbers we must question how well the PNP has performed in it’s present capacity as opposition and if they have proven themselves incompetent in opposing weak policies, can we trust them to propose strong ones should they form our government again?
From my perspective, the PNP has been an absolute failure at being a credible or even meaningful opposition. The first challenge the PNP has in adequately carrying out it’s present function is the slate of spokespersons. Omar Davies? Robert Pickersgill? Roger Clarke? Can we honestly say this slate of opposition spokespersons have been adequate? No. No, we cannot. With the exception of Lisa Hanna, Fenton Ferguson and Peter Bunting; who else do we know? This is excepting the old faces mentioned above. The PNP should be thankful for Dr. Peter Phillips. Though twice rejected by the delegates, he has been the most effective opposition parliamentarian to date. Is the Opposition Leader even aware of the fact that most of the gentlemen she has appointed to shadow the government are associated with some of the greatest failures of the Patterson administration and then eventually hers?