Month: October 2017

Andrew Holness, the consummate politician

Andrew Holness, the consummate politician

Andrew Holness one has to admit it is a damn good politician. That I can say that would, of course, stun those who know me, but one has to pay the devil his due, and Andrew Holness in spite of what I and others may think of him has shown himself to be a first-rate politician. People see him as pompous, as a man in love with himself or as a man who is so power hungry that he will stab anyone in the back, but that couldn’t be further from what I see.

I see a man who was handed the mantle of power in a most precarious time (and that is putting it in such airy words it is not funny) for both his part and his nation and was tasked with ensuring it didn’t sink. Now when faced with the options of either 1. maintaining power and then dealing (in the short time) with the economic issue that had to be addressed and then lose your (personal) shine, or 2. call an early election, tell the nation of the inevitable suffering that will be done by whoever wins and lose (shunting the unpopular reform burden onto the PNP). He chose the bold move, lost the general election (as expected) and then faced what seemed to be a long political exile.

With knives out for him and his position he walked a tightrope and manoeuvred some tight corners, he was roundly embarrassed and scandalized by the resignation letters scandal but even that scenario showed a man who in political terms anyway is always trying to be a step ahead of his opponents, for by demanding that type of action demonstrates that 1. you and you alone run that show, and 2. total fealty is a must and anyone who runs afoul of you will suffer the consequences (ala Arthur Williams or Dr Tuffton). Then when Mr Shaw challenged for the JLP leadership it was thought by many that Andrew was done. Instead, he won that internal battle, and he won convincingly silencing Audley Shaw and his acolytes for now.

That, however, pales in comparison to what must surely be called one of the most unexpected electoral results in any nation recently. The election of 2016 was amazing, this was a man who managed to reduce the PNP to a mere shell, an embarrassment of its former self. This was a campaign that saw the then governing party (PNP) that not only righted the economy, brought actual investment and liberalized the ganja policy getting trounced (and yes the PNP bears some blame for the defeat but that doesn’t take away from Andrews shine) in such  manner that they still haven’t found their bearings after almost two years.

He has shown himself to be an excellent campaigner, he has a campaign machine that is always in action and humming, a machine that I am sure one PJ Patterson would even begrudgingly admit is in tip-top shape. This can be seen in the way that the party trumpets any and all achievements (even ones that are not even half met), how often, for example, has one seen an advert in the paper with the JLP banner talking up their policy achievements, how often has one gone online and been bombarded with the ‘prosperity gospel’ of the JLP?  He has simply revolutionised the way campaigns are done in Jamaica with the way his party used technology and social media in the last campaign, and this by-election shows that. A surprisingly (if you have awakened from a slumber that began in the early 2000’s) large amount of this key by-election (SE St Mary) fight is being done online. Canvassing groups, discussion groups, groups that look to get the party talking points in order are all to be found online as well as the lengthy and (sometimes) witty statements that emanate from the campaign trail, all of this is as a direct result of the way in which Andrew Holness and his JLP team went about campaigning during the general and local government elections.

The composition of his cabinet also showed a man who has come far in terms of political growth. Take the positions of Bobby and Chris at MoH and National Security, now to some these ‘high profile’ positions show how much faith and trust he has in these people, and that may be so, but those appointments coupled with his (Andrew) statements on nonperformers and the positions (or lack thereof) they took during the internal election, one can also see these placements as nothing short of punishment. For realistically, who in their right mind would want the National Security portfolio, one that is almost always bound to leave your political reputation in tatters? Which sane person would want to manage our health ministry with its anaemic budget and its dilapidated or nonexistent infrastructure? This is a man who clearly while not discarding of his political opponents (as they all have their uses) is going to punish them and ensure that any route to his throne is fraught with obstacles.

The policies he has implemented or carried on with since taking office have also been rather impressive. I know I’m not the first, and I surely won’t be the last to make a comment on it, but the way that he has stolen some critical (really the only ones they spoke of anymore) left-wing policy pieces from the PNP (such as the free health care and education) coupled with his thrust at the housing question has left the opposition reeling and unsure of just how to tackle this administration when it comes to ideology (though the PNP seem to be re-aligning and regaining their socialist core). That march has been impressive to watch and watching how he handles the captains of industry within his party will be key, it will be an interesting balancing act and a most impressive feat if he can pull it off.

One doesn’t have to like Andrew Holness personally, or even his political policies, lord knows I don’t (policy-wise that is). But for me to say that I am not impressed by how he has operated in the past few years would be a barefaced lie, by all accounts he should be dead and buried, instead he is sitting pretty as PM and is looking to extend his parliamentary majority. I don’t like his policies, but he has some while the opposition dithers, I don’t like the roadmap to the national vision, but at least after nearly three decades of going around in ever decreasing circles at least, we have a roadmap. He may not be my cup of tea or even the majorities cup of tea, but he is no fool, he is very adept and is a survivor, love him or loathe him he is the most complete politician in the island at the moment, time will tell if the PNP can dislodge what is fast looking like a titan in a field of shrinking violets (see Peter Bunting et al in the PNP front-running).

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Regional integration could mean moving to Guyana and Suriname

Regional integration could mean moving to Guyana and Suriname

CARICOM, as is, is dead. It is going nowhere fast, what with all the dick-swinging, animosity, regional tension, economic tension and social tensions, CARICOM as is, is dead as it relates to harmonising and developing relationships throughout the region. The sad reality is that in spite of our common history and shared culture the distance is too great to overcome along with the population and economic disparities.

Trinidad & Tobago along with Barbados (despite the latter’s recent malaise) are streets ahead of every other nation in this bloc in terms of economics, and they flex their muscles much to the chagrin of the other nations in the regional bloc. Jamaica and Trinidad dominate in terms of population size (and therefore have a large labour pool) and we see where their nationals make up a large portion of the workforce in the other nations in the grouping, pressuring wages of the locals downwards (in some cases) while alienating/forcing out of work quite a few of the local populace.

The CSME (Caribbean Single Market & Economy) is non-existent, the ‘freedom of movement’ that CARICOM was supposed to have afforded us is nowhere to be found and ideas of political/legal integration seem to have been strangled in its crib if the CCJ is anything to go by. CARICOM it must be said again as is is dead in the water unless something drastic and earth-shaking takes place, and that event may very well have taken place (or is slowly taking place).

Global warming and the tectonic movements in my mind are going to be the driving force behind the region finally integrating, climate change may very well be the thing that saves this bloc. As seen with the recent hurricanes this season along with the precarious fault line that is between Jamaica and Haiti, the nations of this bloc could literally at any moment face a crisis that would bankrupt any one of the individual nations that make up CARICOM. Rivers and streams are drying up and islands that are used to importing water are now paying through the nose for the same commodity as a result, it cant continue, something must change.

The time for doing nothing has ended, that door slammed shut the minute Dominica got battered by the third category 4 hurricane of what has been a hellish nightmare that is this years hurricane season. Frankly, the door started closing during the five minutes of hell that Haiti endured (the 2010 earthquake). Simply put, stagnation at this point in time is akin to willfully signing our death warrants, the only way out of this mess is with true unification and integration.

CARICOM as a bloc has a population of just under eighteen million persons, almost all of them living on islands, except two. Guyana and Belize are on the continent and are (wait for it) actually underpopulated. If we as a regional bloc were serious about not only political integration but most importantly our peoples survival, then we would look into setting up a plan to get off the islands and move to the continent, the mainland which happens to be CARICOM members as well as being underpopulated and underdeveloped (like all of CARICOM in that regard).

Now, as I have pointed out, these nations are actually pretty underpopulated. Guyana with a land mass of 83,000 sq mi (making it number 83 in terms of country size) has a population of 773,303 as of 2016 (making it number 165 for population size) and therefore one of the least dense places on earth (ranked at number 8). Suriname is a bit smaller but still again a massive nation with a land mass of 63,252 sq mi (ranked at number 90) and with a population just above half a million. These are nations roughly the size of Great Britan (in the case of Guyana) and Greece (in the case of Suriname) and with a fraction of their population, in other words, there is ample room for population expansion. As it relates to the environment (which should be at the forefront of our minds if we even begin to plan this out), I believe that we (at least in this region anyway) have learnt our lessons and would look to do as little damage as possible to the magnificent beauties that make up Guyana-Suriname hinterland, forests and waterways, we wont be doing concrete jungles anymore I believe.

I am not pretending that this is either a roadmap or a policy piece on how to achieve this, that is for persons in a much bigger pay bracket than I can imagine. But it is something that we must at the very least be thinking about and hopefully, this will spark some stimulating conversation on the topic along with concrete actions. The way has already been somewhat paved by the  Guna people of Panama, these people live on the Caribbean side of Panama and as such are seeing their land slowly swallowed up by the ocean as the climate becomes more hostile. As a solution, they are all (within a specified timeline) moving to the mainland of Panama, showing that a solution is out there.

This type of regional cooperation and integration I admit is at this moment very much a pipe dream and honestly seems laughably impossible, however, the alternatives are also just as, if not more so, impossible. Option one is, hope, pray and cajole the nations of the world to meet and surpass (because the current targets will mean the regions extinction) the goals set at the Paris climate talks (a tall order especially with the US pulling out). Option two is, we as individual nations try and make the best of it, build dykes as tall as skyscrapers to keep the water out (see King Canute) and then die (not very pleasant what with these hurricanes, heat etc). Option three is, we all vacate the region and go to the former colonial masters, something that just sounds mad when one looks at current events (see Trump and all of Europe). None of these options are likely or realistic, the truth is we in the region have been left to fend for ourselves, to act as the test case in how well/long humans will live in the front lines in the era of global warming, at this point it is really either swim together or die a slow death for the nations of this region because we are not going to get any outside help.

It’s high time we audited Jamaica’s debt

It’s high time we audited Jamaica’s debt

Jamaica has a high level of debt, pardon me for stating the blatantly obvious, but just to hammer home that point let me state that Jamaica’s debt to GDP ratio is at the rate of %115, in other words, each Jamaican citizen owes an individual total of roughly $800,000 (JMD). This level of indebtedness has had a massive toll on the nation, be it the fact that we have to take on stringent IMF regulations in order to get by, the fact that borrowing on the international stage is now rather taxing, but the most damning thing about all of our debt is that we really have nothing to show for it.

The billions in debt that the state (and as such we individuals) have to repay and honour is in need of auditing. The fact of the matter is that (and I’m only speaking of the 80’s onwards) for all of the billions we owe the nation (to use a technical term) looks like a piece of crap. Monies that was borrowed for bridge building in Parish X disappears and the bridge is not there, money borrowed for road repairs vanishes and the roads are left to further cave in. Money that we cant afford to pay back is borrowed to upgrade jail cells to move them out of the mid 19th Century is not accounted for and the jails remain like dungeons.

A majority of the money owed was borrowed because the state wished to ‘improve the lives of its citizens’, and yet here we are, 37 years after the economy was returned to pure capitalism and a willing credit market (the little democratic-socialist initiatives initiated by Manley were almost all killed off by the successive administrations) with nothing to show for it except an ungodly level of debt, nothing relating to infrastructure, and a sick joke when it comes to social services. Along with politicians and certain well-connected individuals getting rich coincidentally of course.

The people have not benefited, we as a society have received no gains from this borrowed money and instead, are left to foot the bill, that is utter madness (to put it politely) and should not be allowed to pass unchallenged. We should demand a forensic audit of this debt (or as much of it that can be audited) so we can find out just where the money went and most importantly, who has/had it. Now I’m not of the opinion that the guilty parties once found out would (or even could) pay back the money, but it would be a massive start, it would show that theft from the state is no longer something to turn a blind eye to and it would also send a strong message to those who wish to dip into the public purse for their own benefits.

Were in over our heads when it comes to this debt, full repayment is simply not an option if we wish to live in a nation resembling anything near half decent, it is a massive handicap. The audit of our borrowed money (who got it, what was it used for and the terms of the loan) would be a most important step in either wiping away our debt (something we should be heavily lobbying for) or at the very least in getting a haircut on the debt, that is only possible with an audit. I say again the people have not benefited from this borrowed money, and unless and until a full forensic audit is done on our debt, quite frankly we shouldn’t (as citizens) pay our taxes (which only go to debt service) and demand that a closer look at our debt is carried out.

P.S. I’d like to thank Mr Lloyd D’Aguilar for providing the seed for this bit of commentary, if it weren’t for his posts on twitter I’m not sure that this process would have crossed my mind.

The JLP’s to lose now

The JLP’s to lose now

Political soldiers are on the move, all over St Mary one will be greeted with bunting, placards, billboards and of course, flags representing the opposing parties and their respective candidates, its by-election time in South East St. Mary. But this was to be expected, with the slim margins of victory coupled with the unfortunate and unexpected passing of Dr Green (and the sticky issue that was the election petition) the campaign never really ended in this part of Jamaica, and I believe that will be to the JLP’s great benefit.

Anywhere one goes in that part of the world, from Castleton all the way to the border of Portland as I said earlier, one will see campaign paraphernalia all over the place. But just a look at them will tell you which party is ‘rolling in it’ and which party ‘cant afford a pot to piss in’. Placards bearing the image of the PNP candidate (Dr Shane Alexis) are there and in numbers too, probably outnumbering those of his opponent (Dr Norman Dunn), however (and I may be reading a lot into this but not too much) they are not of the same quality and make of Dr Dunn’s placards. A small thing, but this is just one indicator of a party flush with cash (and using it strategically) and one that is running on fumes as it relates to finances.

SE ST MARY

Dr Alexis, it is true has been trodding earth, going to many communities and reaching out to many persons, and it is true that he has brought a vim back to the PNP cadre in that constituency who have been afflicted by the broader party malaise, but that is no surprise. The simple fact is that he has to go door to door and drum up support and name recognition because he is a totally unknown quantity in the regional party and politics in general, as a result he has to ingratiate himself with the constituents, a long and arduous process as he will also if he has sense be looking for the ‘swing’ voter. The fact again is that Dr Shane Alexis has his work cut out for him if only for that one fact, though I do believe that he does stand a fighters chance and could very well be the MP after the next general election, he faces a likely (not certain but likely) defeat this time around.

Dr Dunn has no such worries as it relates to name recognition and has no nagging questions about what his message is (he is a known quantity). Having run, and only just lost in the last general election (with such a narrow margin that a petition was working its way through the courts) and being born in the region, people know him. Couple those with the facts that both the JLP (with its very good marketing) and most importantly he himself has never left campaign mode (by all accounts he has been operating as if an election could have been called their ever since he lost). They have the ground covered, they have the people canvassed, they know the local issues already, they understand the local mentality as it relates to politics. The JLP is in a nutshell well oiled and prepared for this election and personally, it would be bordering on an upset (I’m sure Belmont Road would be fuming) if the JLP lost.

I don’t feel this is a referendum on the Andrew Holness administration, in spite of what Dr Phillips of the PNP would want us to believe. This is, however, a serious test for the PNP and could be the beginning of an Indian Summer for the JLP. If the PNP lose and give the JLP, even more, breathing space (they already act at times like its a parliament of 53-10rather than one of 32-31) then Andrew Holness would have a green light to either destroy them with policy measures that ‘no well thinking Jamaican could oppose’ such as ZOSO, or if he is wise (and he strikes me as politically adept) call a snap election whenever things bump back up and further weaken a PNP that is only now bearly showing signs of stemming the cannibalization.

The ball is in the court of the JLP, with the councils under their control and with a candidate who has never stopped campaigning the election is the JLP’s to lose. They must avoid blunder, walk on eggshells and stay far from a scandal at this point in time and if they do that then they have a hand on the trophy already. The PNP must be in a frantic mad dash at the moment as they aim to retain the seat and continue to ‘bite at the heels’ of the government, however they shouldn’t be too down if they lose and that shouldn’t herald the resumption of the civil war. They should instead take stock, try to retain Dr Alexis as the caretaker for the seat (as he has built up some rapport and is very young) and aim for the long run, that is the only way that they can hope of having a permanent chance in that seat.

Is Jamaica serious about tackling crime?

Is Jamaica serious about tackling crime?

The JCF has killed Duppy Film! Let us break out in song and dance and let us breathe easy, the JCF has it seemed to found their aim again. Over the past two weeks, the JCF has been on a roll, killing up to a dozen dangerous wanted men and having one turn himself in. Some would see this as Jamaica finally taking crime seriously, taking it hard to the criminals and ensuring that they hurt no one else, and while I am elated that these persons can no longer cause such harm to society as they have been alleged to (yes almost none were tried and found guilty so alleged), I can’t help but wonder if by the recent actions of the JCF and the majority of our reactions are we serious about tackling crime or do we only like the idea?

Now before one gets to thinking that this is some piece crying over the ‘fallen soldier’ that is Duppy Film, let me say again no it is not, persons who commit crimes, and persons who commit violent crimes deserve prison, and in some cases a bit more than that. However, that does not blind me to the fact that something is fundamentally wrong with a crime strategy that entails simply ‘kill anything that moves’, or worse still ‘shoot first and questions be damned’, a strategy that totally ignores key questions and a society that seems willfully blind to them.

Now it is not a secret (or maybe an open one) that Duppy Film was well connected, a hired gun he was in hot demand for a time and used by quite a few influential persons. It is also not a secret (again maybe another open one) that he was paid to take out an influential individual. He was found in a part of the island (his home parish admittedly) where the guns for drugs trade and the import/export of drugs is home, and just like that, after seven years on the run, eluding a dragnet of 180 joint JCF-JDF, was found and gunned down out of the blue… does that not strike anyone else as strange? That this man who had answers so so many pertinent and pressing issues, was gunned down just so, after seven years of eluding everyone? To me, something smells fishy about that whole incident.

That is really the point that I am really trying to make here, this not so much to mourn the life that was wasted because the system was set up in such a way that the young man faced a choice of the gun (with its pros and inevitable cons) or play by the rules and be shafted (as is the everyday reality in this nation), no, it is to simply state that as a nation with crime and criminal elements roosted and having taken deep roots in the society and state apparatus, how can we be pleased with the killing of a person who held such key information?

Yes, in all likelihood he was the bloodthirsty killer that we read about in the papers, and that may have been the case with the countless others, but is it any real surprise that after destroying the criminal element without getting the necessary information (for which man living in West Street working as a day labourer can afford a brand new AK-47?) as to who funded him/her, or who their boss is, has only resulted in us looking to smash the 1300 mark for murders this year? Catch them, hold them, convict them, wring the information out of them and then go after the big fishes, that is one of the fastest ways to put a dent in crime.

Let’s not remain the same society that we have been for so long happy with half measures and actions that in the long run will only lead to the national harm. Let’s demand that instead of killing every suspected SOB on site and in every shootout, the JCF instead shoot to wound, say a gut or knee shot, painful but not necessarily lethal, that way we can get the relevant information, lock up the actual power players and truly start ending this crime scourge.

PNP renewal, and so it begins

PNP renewal, and so it begins

It has been an eventful year and a bit for the PNP, having snatched electoral defeat from the jaws of victory in the general election, the disaster that was the local government election, the internal scandal that was the disappearing ‘donation’ or even the surprising (only because of timing) departure of the party president, it has been a chapter that the PNP must surely wish will be closing soon. The chapter looked to be coming to a close with the rise of ‘Team Renewal’, an ‘underground’ group of young PNP operatives who wished to shake up the party and move it from its current state of inertia, they started off well but by the end of it they looked to have been out of steam (see the race to replace Portia Simpson-Miller), a spent force beaten by the machine that is the PNP old guard,the renewal seemed to have been killed before it was even birthed.

That, however, seems to have changed in the past few weeks, and it seems that after much chatter and dilly-dallying, the new PNP seems to ready to be rolled off of the manufacturing floor and hit the road. The renewal process that the PNP is actually going through now is unexpected, it has come like a thunderbolt or lightning, and like sudden summer rains, it is most welcome. Dr Prter Phillips got the mantle of PNP president handed to him in something more reminiscent of a coronation of a monarch rather than a man who wished to lead the nation and his initial actions seemed to show that he was going to be more of the same. With the constant bickering, complaints about government policy without providing a credible (most times none at all) alternative and a coupled with a seeming inability to stem the purging in the party of those who wished to see a change, it seemed that Dr Phillips and team renewal was doomed.

Then came the past few weeks, ‘coincidentally’ a few weeks before a party conference which seemed set to be the most sombre conference since the parties founding. We got hit with a sledgehammer, from a party in stasis it has become one that seems to be getting back its agility. From a party that for decades lacked ideas they have suddenly become a party with quite a few good ideas albeit ideas that greatly need expanding on, and from a party that was ideologically bankrupt, a party that stuck its finger in the wind to determine their morals, they seem to have (tentatively ill admit) re-embraced their socialist (Fabian) origins.

No longer do we have a party that buys wholeheartedly into the neo-liberal agenda, who could imagine the PNP circa 2002 insisting that local companies be given preferential treatment for mega-construction projects for example? The party of the people after years of silence on the matter have rediscovered the urgent need for land reform in this nation, something that the man they hold in god-like status once realised was a must if we are to right the ship. The realizing that the crime bill (which they allowed to go through) is far from perfect and nowhere near enough to dent, let alone strangle crime is most welcome as is the zeal for further integration in the region.

Those, however, are words, and as we know all too well in this nation and especially as it relates to our politics, everyone knows what to say at what time to get what you need, hence our lovely phrase ‘action over word’. The PNP’s shuffled shadow cabinet is the first action that shows that something resembling a renewal process and that the small glimmer of socialism (of some sort anyway) is re-emerging in the party.

The shadow cabinet whatever one makes of the positioning of the personnel (and its current makeup does make one wonder what person X is doing in position Y) is a revelation. The influx of persons from ‘Team Renewal’ whom one could assume would have been thrown on the scrap heap have instead been brought firmly back into the fold (see Lisa Hannah and Damian Crawford). The shadow cabinet is an interesting mix of young and old, and putting aside the fact that it contains individuals who are toxic (but who do still hold massive internal sway), but more interesting still, is one that has ideas (whether one likes the ideas or not is a different matter) and a plan to implement them, is vocal on issues that really do affect the people on a daily basis and most importantly it is a group of individuals not blinkered in their thinking and are open to change so long as it reasons well.

cab17

The PNP still has a way to go as it relates to regaining the trust of the people that the took for granted, and though this may very well just be makeup on a pig it is a very solid start. More needs to be done, making the party transparent and accountable to its members and the nation is a must and in that stead, the donation scheme is most welcome but they have more to do. They seem to have the right team in place to steady the ship that is the PNP but they mustn’t expect miracles. Andrew Holness is very adept and savvy and baring any massive kerfuffle may very well have the next election under lock, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If they lose, but lose with grace, with ideas and policies, and with integrity then that would cement them for the following election, the renewal has begun, it will be slow and painful but the fruits will be worth it for both the party and the nation as a whole.