Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Let down by strategists

Published:Friday | November 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Let down

by strategists

We suppose that Prime Minister (PM) Portia Simpson Miller has an adviser on media and communication strategy. If she doesn't, she should hire one who is competent. If she already has such a strategist, she should fire him or her. That person's competence is in serious question.

For assuming Mrs Simpson Miller didn't gallop off on a frolic of her own design in her response to the Outameni controversy in Parliament on Tuesday, her handlers made her appear shifty, with something to hide. Or worse, she seemed waffling and out of touch.

A prime minister should be neither. There should be about the office a sense of authority and calm.

We suspect that part of the reason that Mrs Simpson Miller was caught in this position is that her communication adviser(s), in what they presumed to be damage control, drew for an old, mouldy political strategy of attempting to answer less than you are asked, but never more, while clouding the issue.

Frankness and transparency

They, in the process, forgot a substantial issue of modern governance: the increasing expectation, frankness and transparency and how contextual truth-telling blunts attempts at scandal.

When Easton Douglas, chairman of the National Housing Trust (NHT), announced the J$180-million purchase of Lennie Little-White's troubled tourism attraction, Outameni, he was almost explicit that the Trust was acquiring an operational entity, which it would run.

This newspaper declared its unease with the venture, but not because we felt it was not permitted, or would, per se, impair the Trust's core mandate of financing shelter for Jamaicans. For the Trust has to somehow invest the cash it receives from taxpayers. The returns from these investments help to finance the mortgages the NHT provides to its contributors.

no static investment

Our concern was that this was not a static investment in which the NHT would put up its cash and receive a guaranteed return. Instead, the Trust would be directly involved in running a business for which it did not have the skills.

It now turns out that while it may have been Mr Douglas' intent to have the Trust take the risk of running a business that has previously lost money, but from which he projected future

profit, the Trust, perhaps by inadvertence, had bought only the real estate, rather than the intellectual property and other components of the business. It was contemplating acquiring the missing bits.

However, in the face of the controversy, the NHT board, rather than offering a frank and rational explanation for its decision - on which reasonable people can hold different positions - sought refuge behind the inadvertence in its acquisition, for whose execution, on the face of it, someone should be fired.

It would seem that the prime minister's communications and media advisers have made her adopt the ill-advised and flawed strategy of the NHT board. What the prime minister should have done - it's not too late - is to explain in a calm, clear manner that the NHT has to invest its money and why Outameni might have been a good option. Even if the deal was a bailout, it should be explained, without rancour, why governments, across administrations, felt its existence was of worth, and how the NHT intended to transform it.

The irony of the failure is that it is what the PM is good at.