Editorial: Leadership and threats
As hard as he tries to prove the contrary, we are yet to be convinced that Andrew Holness' leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is beyond redemption. Just recently in England, for instance, he embraced our idea of giving the vote to the Jamaican diaspora and direct representation in Parliament, possibly adopting and adapting France's model. And he has, in the past, talked sensibly about education.
Yet in his nearly four years as leader of the JLP, Mr Holness has failed to stamp his authority on the party and to fashion it into a modern, cohesive and credible policy-driven organisation that fits naturally and easily into the role of government-in-waiting. Rather, the JLP has largely exhibited the tendencies of a callow crowd, wary of critical thinking and believing that the best route to government is via sniping at existing policies and without critically analysing ideas of their own. The party's approach to debate of the Jamaican economy and the policies being pursued by the current government is a case in point.
For decades, Jamaican governments made a hash of fiscal management. They borrowed excessively, leaving taxpayers with a debt that was close to 150 per cent of GDP. With lending to the government more profitable than risking their capital in productive enterprises, people with money did little of the latter. The economy, predictably, stagnated.
positive macroeconomic indicators
Things, inevitably, caught up with Jamaica. Lenders became few, or what they demanded for their cash we couldn't pay, which is why the country now find itself in the midst of an economic austerity programme overseen by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is proving beneficial. The previously runaway current account deficit is now in single digit; inflation is now the lowest in nearly half a century; the Budget is close to being balanced; and most other macroeconomic indicators are on the right trajectory. In other words, the economy is becoming more efficient.
There are still issues regarding economic strategy and management worthy of debate by Mr Holness and his party, but our sense is that rather than this type of serious engagement, the JLP's spokesmen would prefer a derailment of the economic reforms as a sort of vindication for the collapse of its own IMF programme when it was recently in office. This policy of
cohesion and serious thinking, unfortunately, is not limited to economic discourse. It pervades almost all portfolios.
Our attempt at helping the JLP to extricate itself from this policy miasma and intellectual atrophy is receiving a response that harkens to the old, more tribal days of Jamaican politics and behaviour by Michael Manley, for which the late People's National Party president ultimately expressed regret.
A JLP-aligned faction/website called JLP Talk Group has urged party members to boycott this newspaper and its advertisers because of disaffection with our reporting on the party. In a liberal democracy, that is their right.
Three and a half decades ago, Mr Manley, chafing over The Gleaner's independence, mounted the back of a truck in front of our headquarters and warned, "Next time! Next time!" His leadership eventually matured. We hope that Mr Holness' will, too. He might start by gathering his shadow ministers and thinking advisers for some deep and serious discussion of policies.