Portia’s Cabinet? Closet? Wardrobe
The new Prime Minister, The Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, has appointed the largest executive branch in recent history; naming a stunning 19 Ministers and 8 Ministers of State. This is surprising considering Mrs. Simpson Miller, then Opposition Leader, had blasted Bruce Golding for naming an 18 member Cabinet. Even more curious is the reasoning behind the large executive.
According to the Prime Minister, her party is in “succession planning” and therefore many of the young parliamentarians are being made to understudy their more experienced colleagues. Needless to say this excuse has found no favour with me; it is unacceptable for the PNP to undergo succession planning at the expense of taxpayers. That is entirely a party matter and the country should not be made to pick up the tab. Naming a Cabinet is not a cheap undertaking and considering the fiscal constraints of the country, Mrs. Simpson Miller should have been less extravagant. She needed to have been mindful of her own commitment to the Jamaican people that she would not lead a large Cabinet, but rather one that was lean and succinct. This is a clear violation of that promise. It curiously goes against the idea of honouring and respecting the people, something we’ve heard the new Prime Minister speak a lot about.
Now the actual portfolio assignments. I’ve taken serious issue with a few appointments.
Firstly, the appointment of AJ Nicholson as Foreign Minister and Roger Clarke as Agriculture Minister is unacceptable. The PNP needs to demonstrate, by action, it’s commitment to youth and renewal. The very reasons I objected to Mike Henry and Pearnel Charles being in the former administration’s Cabinet stands here. These political fossils must relinquish their vice like grip on our political system. Senator Nicholson has had his day, it is time for him to step aside. Lord knows Roger Clarke can retire now. The honourable thing to do would have been to decline the post of Minister, but I suppose that’s asking too much of a politicians who believe they have some right to be in office for life.
Secondly, there is a Ministry of Youth & Culture. This again is wasteful spending. While I laud the Prime Minister for appointing Lisa Hanna a full Minister, the Ministry itself is imprudent. Youth and Culture are not portfolios that need to be alone. The two could have been properly affixed to Education or Information; thus removing and cutting back on the need for 19 Ministers. Sandrea Falconer, the current Information Minister, need only be a Senator. Lisa Hanna could have handled Information, Youth & Culture just fine. What this tells me is that the Prime Minister wasn’t appointing a Cabinet being mindful of our financial constraints, but rather, she was appointing one to reward every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane who helped her win the election. This is grossly unacceptable. The size of the Government should reflect the current financial situation of the country.
The Ministry of Local Government & Community Development is another act of extravagance and waste. Mrs. Simpson Miller could have assumed this portfolio under the Office of the Prime Minister and assigned one of the 4 Minister without portfolios to it. That immediately cuts one more Cabinet post, taking the Cabinet down to 17. The super Ministry of Water, Lands, Environment and Climate Change is also curious. Lands could have been attached to Agriculture, Environment attached to Health; Water placed with Housing, considering there is a Junior Minister for Housing, and Climate Change placed in the OPM. This takes the Cabinet down to 16 Ministers, a far more tolerable number.
That said, there are positives. Peter Bunting as National Security Minister is a wise move. Bunting was particularly vocal during the shameful Manatt/Dudus affair. The Rev. Ronnie Thwaites is Education Minister, I’ve always admired Deacon Thwaites for his forceful and outspoken attitude in the House of Representatives. He has been a good Member of Parliament and I anticipate he will take that attitude to Education. Dr. Phillips as Finance Minister is also commendable. I anticipate that Dr. Phillips will perform well in his new capacity, being open and honest about the state of the Jamaican economy. I am also happy Dr. Omar Davies is no where near the Finance Ministry, but instead has been given Transport, Works and Housing. He can continue his crusade against the alleged mismanagement of JDIP. Arnaldo Brown as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Damion Crawford as Deputy Minister of Tourism. These are progressive and commendable steps.
This is a rather large and extravagant Cabinet. It is my considered opinion that it could do well with some trimming. The proof will be in the performance, we wait to see how that goes.