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JLP EAC: Logically perverse, yet understandable in Jamaican context

Published:Friday | July 11, 2014 | 7:00 AM
Aubyn Hill (with mike) address the media at the June 23 launch of the JLP Economic Advisory Council, which he chairs. Others (from left) are Audley Shaw, Olivia Grange, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and Fayval Williams. - Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer

Wilberne Persaud, Financial Gleaner Columnist

The Jamaica Labour Party's naming of an Economic Advisory Council devoid of an economist is a perversion of logic. Yet, at least for the JLP, in a Jamaican context, it is not inexplicable.

The first thing is, in the Jamaica of the last two decades, perceived competence as a professional seems to depend purely on the say-so of the individual him or herself.

Of course, the longevity and strength of this perception depends on the extent of time and frequency with which that particular claim is repeated in the 'mediasphere'.

Normally, one assesses an institution based on the work it does, the goals it achieves, its stated or inherent objectives compared to actual outcome of its activities.

In the past few years, beginning with the debacle in its handling of the 'Dudus' affair, leadership change, calling of elections and Audley Shaw's challenge for leadership have all presented an image of an institution at odds with itself.

It portrays an apparent incapacity to think things through carefully against the backdrop of Jamaican society and peculiar history. This latest misstep appears no different.

How can a group advise on economic policy without having a grasp of how the particular economy works is truly beyond me. Mr Hill may be a banker, an investment banker, an international banker, strategist, whatever he or others may claim; the point is, he would be unable to create or devise a complex input-output model of any economy, given the expertise with which he has been enjoined.

Devise alternative path

Why Opposition Leader Andrew Holness would choose to create an advisory council with such a composition at this time, is very hard to appreciate.

Yes, elections are only a couple years away and yes, the majority of the population is reeling from the constant jabs to the 'body-personal', unleashed by what appears to be planned devaluation of the dollar.

About two years ago, I remarked to a friend that I bought a toothbrush - an ordinary manual toothbrush - for $1,500 at a Liguanea supermarket. She responded by saying: "You know, it wouldn't cost that much at Coronation market."

I said yes, that's true, but the trend is clear. So one might think the objective here is to devise an alternative path. That's an excellent idea. But then, why go and shoot yourself in the feet with its composition? It's like a joke which those who leave comments in today's Internet-capable press relish.

Damien King, head of the University of the West Indies' Department of Economics claims, according to a June 30 Gleaner report, that "the JLP should be embarrassed for announcing the advisory council without an economist." Obviously the JLP doesn't embarrass easily, for Aubyn Hill is described as 'hitting back' by that report: "Hill says King declined a request to be a member of the council, telling the JLP that he wants to keep himself available should the Government require his services. The banker says he and Miss Williams have degrees in economics."

Furthermore, he says, "the JLP is in dialogue with other experts, including economists, to join the advisory council. The immediate task of the council is to find creative ways to stimulate the economy."

How can such important matters be handled so amateurishly and blunderingly cavalierly?

Oh, how I wish I were a stand-up comedian! Damien King counters that he never declined an invitation from council member Williams. He simply requested terms which, obviously, the JLP and its council would not accommodate.

The online commentators have their fun. "D. King wants to keep all his irons in the fire, is all about the gravy" one says, while another suggests that not having an economist on the council may indeed be "probably most healthy".

But there's another big misstep commented upon by the PNP's Delano Franklyn, adviser to the Office of the Prime Minister. The launch or roll-out of the council took place at the offices of the leader of the opposition with the party banner in prominent display - not the proper use of Her Majesty's loyal opposition's facilities. Rudimentary errors are terrible for a mature political party.

What might we gather from all this? Apart from it being real-life comedy, it seems clear Jamaica's opposition party needs to get its act together. Our democracy depends upon a well-functioning opposition, able to move beyond mere politics and activities calculated to turn on its ranks of diehard supporters.

If the JLP thought its Economic Advisory Council would play well with the group it needs most next election, the move backfired, badly.

Jamaican elections demonstrate there's a solid group of electors - inclusive of the garrisons - committed to each party. The floating, or if you wish, the thinking group, sits in the middle. This initiative might well be viewed as an insult to their intelligence by this group of electors.

The JLP seems really to need a retreat with a political, social and protocol council to soberly consider its position and viable electoral options.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Aubyn Hill is a columnist for the Financial Gleaner.

Wilberne Persaud is an economist.wilbe65@yahoo