‘We put party first’
Last Tuesday, Phillip Paulwell apologised to the Jamaican people for the assault occasioning bodily harm caused by the wholly preventable fires at the Riverton dump; but he did not apologise wearing any of those official, constitutional, statutory hats:
"The entire Corporate Area has been affected, and because I'm chairman of Region 3, I have received the concerns, the complaints, and, of course, we apologise to the country. It really ought not to have happened, and we are making sure that it never recurs." [If you want to hear the apology for yourself, just Google 'Paulwell apologise Riverton'].
At first, I was greatly offended that he did not apologise on behalf of the Government - either the legislative arm responsible to ensure that effective laws are in place to protect us from harm; or the executive arm (the Cabinet) collectively responsible for the governance of the country, and the failure to enforce the few laws we do have. He apologised as chairman of PNP Region 3, as a party functionary.
But then I thought to myself: Comrade Paulwell was absolutely correct to apologise on behalf of the party, because party politics was largely responsible for the disaster that has befallen us since March 11.
At the start of her Budget presentation, the prime minister advised us that she would be addressing three topics, one of which was the Riverton fires. Maybe I expected too much; she made no apology; she did not call for greater accountability or more efficient governance; she made no comment on the fact that the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) was in breach of its environmental permit to operate the Riverton dump.
Nor did the prime minister refer to the damning air-quality report released by the Ministry of Health a few days before; and she made no comment on the fact that the NSWMA had announced that it would not be renewing the contract of her close friend, the executive director.
Past the worst
According to Simpson Miller's published speech, she said, inter alia: "I sincerely empathise with all the persons who were impacted in one way or another - whether through health challenges or the disruption of their daily activities. ... Through the coordinated efforts of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management and several public- and private-sector agencies and partners, we have passed the worst." Then she commended, among other agencies, the NSWMA.
I guess she could not bear to criticise her close friend and political colleague. I expect partisan loyalty, if not professional competence, to be rewarded. Look for her reinstatement, or her transition to a bigger, better job. Remember the first rule of Jamaican politics: We put party first.
We could have taken a cue from the prime minister's comment the previous week that there was no reason for the NSWMA executive director to resign, because she did not start the fires at the Riverton dump. The PM might as well have said that Jennifer Edwards would stay in place because she had broken no law, which excuse was considered good enough in the past.
That is what Jamaican politics is about, security of tenure as long as the party is in power, low expectations of performance and low accountability. The Singaporean people must be thanking their lucky stars that Lee Kuan Yew decided not to try back in his country the Jamaican model of development he saw while he was here on a visit.
I heard an interview with Jennifer Edwards on radio last week. The host observed that many people believe that she got the job through political connections, and asked her how she responded to that suggestion. She replied that, in Jamaica, people get jobs through many different linkages: politics, the lodge, church, family, school connections and social circles. She was clear that nothing was wrong with any of these, as long as you can do the work.
But then, if you don't do the work, excuses will always be found!
I suppose in a contracting economy, getting a good job is a strong incentive to join a political party. I believe this is the big reason why no political party in Jamaica will ever seriously try to end corruption here, because there will no longer be a strong incentive for persons to join up, either as a member or a candidate.
Is it too much to expect the International Monetary Fund, Inter-American Development Bank, and World Bank, to require accountability from whichever party is in power? To require that our laws - especially laws that protect residents from damaging pollution - are enforced? Or is their only concern to be paid back the money they have lent us?
- Peter Espeut is an environmentalist and rural-development scientist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.