SMALL HANDS; BIG CABINET

There are some harsh realities Jamaican patriots shouldn’t ignore.

They include:

  • Jamaica is as bruk as a country can be without being named Greece;
  • Our constitution calls for a minimum eleven (11) cabinet ministers;
  • In practice, every cabinet minister comes with a variety of political consultants, advisors and hangers-on as well as personal staff including drivers (to keep air-conditioned SUVs running while ministers visit pals; and to run errands like shopping or picking up children at school);
  • All of us, including the JLP, criticized the PNP’s 20 member cabinet;
  • JLP campaigned on transparent, efficient governance/constitutional reform.

Government’s first opportunity to convert campaign promises into action produced eighteen Ministers (many “without portfolio”) and three State Ministers accompanied with boasts that cabinet was “smaller” than before.

Really? Seriously? Two fewer ministers equals “smaller”? Is a Benz smaller than a BMW?  Both are flashy luxuries, purchased for hype and self-indulgence despite their unsuitability for the roads upon which they’ll be driven.  A second-hand Honda Odyssey will drive to all the same places AND accommodate a family of six.

Michael Manley was big on running a nation’s economy like wives and mothers run family homes.  So am I.  Surely, “run wid it” has been comprehensively invalidated by fiscal consequences and cremated by the flames of necessity?  That pivotal principle of fiscal irresponsibility would permit the rewarding of loyalists who won close electoral races or supported the leader through sick and sin.  But, to quote a leader of the post “run wid it” generation: “All our decisions must bear in mind the interest of the Jamaican people….”

Hear, hear! So, Young Andrew, how is the Jamaican people’s interest served by a stand-alone Tourism Ministry when the industry already has JTB, TPDCo; JHTA; JAVA etc?  How come a country scrambling to pay its debts can afford a ministry dedicated to entertainment, sports and culture?  As the Chinese Chef in the audience might say “Wok the heck?”  Is this a path to another free first class ticket to the Olympics to wave the Jamaican flag and hug Usain?

Yet, as I scan around, post-election media are tripping over themselves to out-superlative each other congratulating the new Prime Minister.  Led by Booklist “P.I.P” Boyne, “analysts”, who wrote off Young Andrew before February 25, seem determined to render JIS redundant.

It was Booklist the confused who wrote, on February 14:

For the many thousands……earning $1.5 million or less to hear that they could very shortly be taking home nearly $20,000 more a month is extremely enticing and inviting…. But there’s one hurdle for the JLP. People have to believe you.

 …the very thing which characterizes the uncommitted and undecided is their cynicism and mistrust. They don’t believe politicians. They believe this proposal is…..a three-card trick.

On February 21, believing Andrew had brought off a political coup by dispelling doubts about his house (the electorate long ago told pollsters it was a non-issue hence their intensified anger at PNP’s arrogant disregard for their views) and perceiving JLP gaining ground, an antsy Booklist advised the PNP how to keep its lead in the polls:

Far more important for the PNP right now is to convince people that this very, very tempting $18,000-a-month extra money cannot work and is a three-card trick……… It has only a few days to do so. The PNP should spend a lot of time countering that proposal.

As soon as the votes were counted, Booklist became a big Andrew Holness fan.  He praised Young Andrew’s inaugural speech reverentially. Two lengthy, sucking-up columns came hot on the heels of the surprise election results beginning with “The 1.5 victory” (February 28) in which he offered a self-serving substantiation of his own hypothesis that the political ground had shifted before the electionIt began with Andrew’s surprising move to give….full disclosure on his house, which brought him much sympathy capital…… That torpedoed the PNP’s platform attacks against him and gave him time to concentrate on his game-changing, 1.5 victory plan.” (Good grief, Booklist, voters don’t vote out of sympathy for politicians; the political ground actually shifted years ago after unbearable taxes were lumped on ordinary Jamaicans). The second sucking-up session “Can this Cabinet do it?” (March 13), included: “I have no serious concern about any ministerial appointment”.  He individually applauded almost every cabinet selection whilst staying silent on Finance.

Suddenly and without warning or reason, the tax plan Booklist twice (February 14 and 21) categorized as a “three-card-trick” magically became a “game-changing, 1.5 victory plan”.  What a difference a vote makes!  Now, in Booklist’s eyes, Young Andrew can do neither wrong nor ordinary right.  Everything he touches is “excellent”; “memorable and delectable”; “comprehensive and thorough”; “refreshing”; “enthralling”; and, my personal favourite, “one of the most important speeches ever delivered by a political leader”.  Holy hyperbole, Batman!

On the new cabinet, Booklist wrote Holness passed his first major leadership test “handsomely” while lambasting the PNP for not appointing Damion and Imani Senators.  All I can say for the new PM after all that sucking-up is I hope he carries a plentiful supply of Kleenex.  While Booklist’s fervent nose-browning might muffle his singing for his supper, I’ll be the Grinch. Overall, I’m unimpressed with this cabinet (has some good points) and believe it disrespects the nation’s urgent need for austerity and efficiency. The following cabinet might have accomplished some of those important ideals or at least sent a signal of intent:

  1. Prime Minister; Minister of Defence; and Minister of Finance: ANDREW HOLNESS with Fayval Williams as State Minister (the Public Service and Gaming). Although Fayval must be groomed as future Finance Minister and so involved with all IMF matters, that should be as protégé.  IMF is the Finance Minister’s responsibility.
  2. Minister without Portfolio in OPM with responsibility for growth and economic development: DARYL VAZ. The announced brigade is unnecessary for a nation of only 3 million people.  Too many cooks……
  3. Minister of National Security: AUDLEY SHAW. The less said about the actual appointment the better.
  4. Minister of Education and Youth: RUEL REID through the Senate (“Babsy” as State Minister with responsibility for sports, entertainment and culture)
  5. Minister of Transport, Housing, Works and Infrastructure: HORACE CHANG. Really “handsome” leadership would tell 80 year old Mike Henry “Thanks for your priceless campaigning but, cabinet-wise, it’s time to do a Hugh Masekela.”  Chang, a gentleman and man of honour, is perfect for the job and deserves his own ministry.
  6. Minister of Health: CHRIS TUFTON. A very good appointment.
  7. Minister of Industry and Commerce (to include Agriculture; Tourism; Fisheries; Water and the Environment): KARL SAMUDA with State Minister JC Hutchinson (Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Environment)
  8. Minister of Justice/Attorney General: DELROY CHUCK. Jamaica can’t afford two separate ministerial level appointments in this area especially if one is an inexperienced lawyer not particularly famous for her exploits at the civil bar.
  9. Minister of Foreign Affairs: KAMINA JOHNSON-SMITH through the senate, a perfect appointment.
  10. Minister of STEM and Information: MARLENE MAHALOO-FORTE much more closely associated with the technology of youth than most and her talk-show experience gives her important perspective (lacking for four years) on transparency.
  11. Minister of Labour/Social Security: RUDDY SPENCER’s trade union experience could prove essential.
  12. Minister of Local Government: ANDREW WHEATLEY with specific instructions to phase this ministry out and give real authority to the Parish Councils

I’d also try to squeeze Floyd Green in as State Minister (9 or 10).

Barrack Obama (USA population 319 million) leads a fifteen (15) man cabinet including an Attorney-General.  There are 22 cabinet ministers in the UK Cabinet (population 64 million) including a Secretary of State for Scotland; Secretary of State for Wales; Secretary of State for Ireland; Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancashire; a Leader of the House of Lords and 17 other ministers each with specific portfolios.  Germany (population 81 million) has a cabinet of 16.

Maybe it’s ethnic as Barbados’ cabinet (population 250,000) is 16; Trinidad (population: 1.3 million) 21; and Guyana (population 800,000) 27.  Yikes!

Can Jamaica be the first Caribbean nation to grow up?  The Constitution provides for a minimum of eleven ministers (at least 2 and maximum 4 from the Senate).  Why’s a maximum prescribed only for the Senate? A population of 3 million can’t justify a Constitution failing to prescribe a ministerial maximum (15?).  Ministries’ names should be fixed rather than each new government indulging in an expensive game of musical names.  New portfolio ideas can be accommodated within one of the prescribed ministries.  No need to re-invent the wheel every five years.

Peace and Love

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