LAST Monday, it pained me to watch the television performance of our prime minister and her second-in-command, Dr Peter Phillips, the man who would never be deputy PM or indeed PM.
The prime minister’s face and her stance were that of a talking head, all mechanical and with hardly any meaning behind the words which she spoke. Apparently her brief introduction, meaningless as it was, was supposed to have been the pep for Peter’s delivery which carried the main part of the tale of woe.
The prime minister told us that things were rough, unlike the message she and her party preached when they hoodwinked gullible voters in 2011 and convinced them that a vote for the PNP would lead not only to a quick, two-week resolution of the IMF agreement, but to ‘nice times’. While she was doing that, then Prime Minister Andrew Holness was telling the nation that hard times would be ahead.
In December 2011, the nation rewarded the PNP for selling us an impeachable fable (if we had impeachment laws) and crucified the JLP for telling us the truth.
So there we had it. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, totally investing in the hope that she can sell the people anything, including poisonous hot air, telling us damn rubbish that ‘we are all in it together’.
Where was Simpson Miller in 2009 as opposition leader when PM Bruce Golding, at the height of the global recession, took more than a ‘haircut’ as he unilaterally shaved 15 per cent off his salary and got his MPs to accept 10 per cent off theirs? What was her stance when her party was asked to accept a 10 per cent pay cut? The PNP, led by a leader who ‘loves poor people’ more than anyone else, said hell no! Now, that is some love.
With the announcement of a JDX 2, that is, asking big holders of government paper to take another cut in their agreed on interest rates, we have to ask ourselves again, why did we vote for the PNP in 2011?
To this date, in 2013, what has the PNP Administration done better than or different to what the JLP Administration did in 2010? That is short of the JLP Administration making a slow creep to the realisation that the global recession would add pain to our already interred bones, plus that ‘little’ Dudus problem?
Big holders of government paper must realise that they have the power to make some demands on this Administration. With the announcement of a massive tax package and absolutely no plan for a growth strategy, notwithstanding Phillips’ talk of Jamaica’s planned logistics hub in about 2015, the country is heading down a dark path that very few us want to travel.
Peter Phillips and the leader whom he has consented to lead him must both leave the comforts of their sound-insulated, air-conditioned SUVs, hit the streets and hear what their own 2011 voters are saying about them.
Frankly, I believe Peter Phillips, once a Rastaman, is still attuned to the streets but, like a man on death row who has three months to live before his hanging, I honestly do not believe he would prefer to hear a slow, dreary hymn like Rock of Ages instead of, say, an early Marley and the Wailers Simmer Down. No one wants to be reminded of one’s lowest value to the general public.
Don’t get me wrong now. I am not saying that if the JLP was in power it would have been significantly different. My point is, as bad as thing were, the JLP had righted the ship in 2010/2011 and, apart from the very same IMF stalling problems, there was a sense that the JLP Administration was better at handling our macroeconomic problems.
We have to face the fact that our beloved country’s existence since the 1970s is based on a fable. We have been paying rent, sending the children to school, paying the light bill or stealing it, whichever one is socially safer, and eating our daily bread because we have been borrowing other people’s hard earned money. And while we were doing that, we had the temerity to convince ourselves that we were doing well.
We had good reason to do that simply because our politicians were the leaders in the pack of wolves promising us more warm meat and another kill and many more days of stuffing our bellies. They who were supposed to be leaders succumbed to the worst that their lumpen elements demanded and their puppet masters in big business extracted from them as payback for ownership of their political souls.
The lumpen owns them at street level just as much as the big money class controls them and allows them to dampen the many demands of the street forces.
Not a simple matter to cut the Cabinet
Many people from all levels are balking at the massive tax package announced by the PNP Administration, but I must confess I sympathise with the PNP. I do so because that party has never really been good at doing much apart from handing out State resources to unproductive people — Crash Programme in the 1970s with party thugs collecting multiple cheques every week for doing nothing — and close friends who will sing their praises.
In addition, where some members of the public and the media punditry have called for a cut in the Cabinet, they plainly do not understand what that entails.
When candidates pull out all stops to run in election campaigns and some are made Cabinet ministers, it is not a simple matter for a prime minister like Portia Simpson Miller to just cut five or six of the laziest in the Cabinet. And there are definitely many lazy seat warmers soaking up all that their over-bloated egos allow them.
These MPs will take the slight personally to the point that they will secretly and not-so-secretly undercut the efforts of their own party at the next elections just to get some ‘payback’ for the ‘diss’. Plus, the more powerful ones will take entire regions with them.
A strong leader like Eddie Seaga, as Prime Minister, would have done it if it was demanded and required simply because he had no likeability factor in the first place and cared little whom he hurt personally if he was convinced that axing them was in the national interest.
The present political arrangement in the PNP, which is the epitome of political cronyism, does not allow for this.
Mainly, no one wants to ‘diss’ the first female prime minister in Jamaica.
Years ago the chief legal light in the PNP, KD Knight made a scathing criticism of Portia Simpson Miller but what eventually happened? As he saw the political writing on the wall, even though he was a strong man who needed nothing from politics, he straightened up and assisted in destroying the JLP in the now infamous Manatt inquiry which took the life out of the JLP Government in 2011.
And as much as he had fulminated on the leadership limitations of the person who would eventually become the president of his party and prime minister, political pragmatism made him hug up the lady simply because the Opposition JLP, even at its best, must be seen as worse than the best that ordinary leadership in the PNP can present to the people of this country.
To the PNP as a political party and governmental administration, long service awards mean much more than performance and, in fact, in many instances, long service, of whatever sort is deemed to be excellent performance. With such a philosophical approach to party matters, it is natural that it will be transmitted to governmental considerations.
The biggest example of that is staring us in the face.
The elevation of Portia Simpson Miller to prime minister.
At present, there are many in her party who are more capable of defining a vision for the country’s future than she is, but because of the philosophy of the party which encourages all gathering at the feet of the leader, even if she has nothing solid to offer this country, grown men and women with productive ideas will agree that she is the oracle and they are the followers.
That is what the PNP has become ever since the death of Norman Manley and the rise and the fall of his son.
The hypocrisy of the PNP second tier leadership
The JLP is different from the PNP in that its political philosophy is much less important than overall performance of the party vis-à-vis the direction of the country. And that is the main reason why the JLP has had so much falling out and infighting.
Sometimes infighting can be good in the building of a nation rather than the breaking of skulls.
I have spoken with ‘quite a few’ PNP MPs who will readily admit to me, as long as they are not quoted, that their leader has severe leadership limitations.
Said one to me last Wednesday, ‘Mark, we are on the same page and I agree with you that that the PM should be released from the packaged messages. I also agree with you that at a certain level, in terms of complex economic explanations, we cannot afford to let the leader free rein.’
I asked him, ‘So how do you balance this? This need to free her up and the fear of giving her too much space to speak on complex matters?’
He came back with, ‘Your man Bruce Golding was never uncomfortable in any situation with the press in Jamaica. To many he sounded like an accomplished lawyer. He was comfortable with discussions on our culture, our social problems, the economy, anything. But, you have to admit he screwed himself on the Dudus matter. So, in the end, who or what approach is better?’
‘Is that what it has to boil down to?’ I asked. ‘The choice between someone who is obviously very uncomfortable with leadership at the very highest level and someone who is prone to making serious errors of judgement?’ I asked.
‘In politics Mark, that is a safe tradeoff,’ he said.
With a no-growth strategy inherent in the PNP’s tax package, I expect that criminality will take off more than its acceleration in the last few months.
What I really fear for the leadership of the PNP Administration is that there is a very real likelihood of the logistics hub taking off in 2014/2015 but I cannot see it taking place under the leadership of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller whose short-term sight will dull the necessary long-term vision of getting the hub on stream.
In the interim, all will gather around her, including the failed finance minister of the last PNP Administration, Omar Davies, who had criticised what he saw as the possibility of a JDX 2.
What can he say now, even as I am thinking that this PNP Government needs to be put to sleep?
Is there a vet in the house?
Sunday, February 17, 2013