Editorial: Representation by patronage
There is obvious logic to People's National Party (PNP) President Portia Simpson Miller's spin that they are examples of democracy at work. Yet, the rash of acrimonious challenges to sitting Members of Parliament (MPs) by its constituency parties have dented the reputation of the governing PNP for internal discipline, which enabled it to resolve its disputes before they become messy public arguments. In recent decades, the fratricide and consistent bickering was, almost exclusively, considered the domain of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
But whatever the merits of Mrs Simpson Miller's argument about her party's democracy, the strifes she has encountered, highlight a well-known malignancy in Jamaican politics, with which too many of its practitioners are infected, and which there has been insufficient effort to cure: patronage. If anything this approach to politics is systemically reinforced with national pork-barrel schemes like the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), from which parliamentarians get to dole out taxpayers' money, while giving the impression they are benevolent distributors of their private resources.
What is sad is how new entrants to Jamaica's politics arrive promising new approaches but, seemingly, are quickly seduced. Principles, it appears, are only recovered, or perhaps, remembered during of stress and they can be used as crutches for sympathy. Take, for instance, the case of Lloyd B Smith, who, since 2011 general elections, has been PNP parliamentarian for Central St James. He, significantly, is Deputy Speaker of the House.
Mr Smith used to pontificate about the island's deviant political culture and the need to put it right. He talked and wrote a lot about the need for transparency in politics. People assumed that these were the principles that would inform his tenure in politics.
Last week, Lloyd B Smith, though not openly challenged for his seat, was de-selected by the PNP's Central St James constituency party in a delegates' vote, which he claimed was corrupt and irregular. He told this newspaper he has suffered because of his unwillingness to give hand-outs and contracts to party supporters. In the aftermath of the vote, Mr Smith appealed for protection by the central party and threatened to go public with the nasty details if that protection was not forthcoming.
Lynvale Bloomfield faced a challenged for his East Portland seat and was de-selected by the constituency delegates. While he complains about the unrealistic expectation of voters, given Jamaica's fiscal circumstances, his concerns are only now being raised and he doesn't appear to wish a fundamental reform of a system that places the MP at the centre of the delivery of services. He said: "Our ability to actually help is restricted by the IMF conditionalities because we can't get more than so much to spend, and the government expenditure is limited."
In St Elizabeth North East Raymond Pryce, another de-selected MP, believes he is victim of his inability and unwillingness to deliver spoils, in part because of economic hard times.
Having money to allocate to projects ought not to be the MP's role. That is the job of the public bureaucracy. Representatives should be advocating on behalf of constituents, passing laws to create an environment for economic growth and explaining government policy to voters. Perhaps this should be central in the curriculum for the next class of MPs.