Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Palace malice

Published:Sunday | November 29, 2015 | 11:00 AM

All right, I was watching an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies one time when some of Jed Clampet's old friends came to Beverly Hills and saw that he was living in splendour. What a controversy! Dem vex! So 'bad mind' is serious ting, and I'm not discounting it as part of this drama about Andrew's palace.

But what I have learned from this whole saga about Andrew's mansion is exactly how wutliss so many of the other Jamaican politicians are. You can go through them one by one, and if you really look into it, dem a suffah. Nutten naws gwaan fi dem. Dem bruk.

It has to be said that although it is featuring as part of the PNP's campaign, this wasn't an issue pioneered by the PNP. It was initially reported as an internal JLP concern where funders were expressing puzzlement, anger and reluctance. In that, it follows a familiar trajectory in how derogatory aspersions or information wend their way through our body politic: it starts internally with the whisperers, blossoms into intra-party disputes, then breaks out in the charges from the other party when electoral competition is in full flood.

Only after that do regular non-political people start to look at it and make assessments, because not being politically obsessed, they're not following every point of the political charge and counter-charge machinery. In other words, this is a matter that John Public will only now be considering.

So far as I can make out, the Big House presents two legitimate questions. First, should we want a leader who has assiduously sought material advancement? Second, how does a career politician on an unimpressive government salary afford this opulence? Let's take them in turns.

Regarding the first question, I think I'm with Andrew. It's never quite said, but we have now a tradition of coming quite close to valorising poverty as if it's some kind of good. It's not.

Additionally, there's a need to press back against the idea that poverty is a precondition for public service and the proper outcome of it. That approach, I fear, only locks out talent that the country sorely needs. What is more, I like to think that public service is something one can do after having done some other things. I confess to being sometimes slightly sceptical when told about people who have ONLY done public service, have never held a job in the private sector, and have only been 'sacrificing' since the age of forever for the greater good.

Anyhow, subsidiary to this question are some other more complicated matters, one of which can broadly be called 'taste'. We certainly don't have anything like understated elegance in Andrew's palace. What we have is BLING.

BLING is certainly permissible. We live, after all, in a free country. But because something is permissible doesn't mean its preferable. In fact, living in a free country and having so many personal freedoms, we can definitively say that very many permissible things are not preferable and represent inferior choices.

So there is an element of judgement that enters the picture, and from which it is fair for onlookers to extrapolate. For instance, we can rightly deduce quite a bit about a man if he chooses to live in a simple hut while having the wherewithal to do otherwise. Similarly, there is a whole approach to life encased in the choice of something that would comfortably feature on 'MTV's Cribs'.

Incidentally, this is why I've maintained for years now that it is my intention to live in an old-timey folk house in Jamaica, the kind you pass on the road while driving to the country standing haphazardly on stilts. It reflects my core being. The trouble is that they have become largely obsolete because of security concerns. Furthermore, my wife has her own ideas. All the same, our folk architecture displays a sophisticated response to the natural environment far superior to the monstrosities people construct nowadays.




But I digress. The essential point is that architecture, as has been often remarked, is philosophy in stone. And Andrew's philosophy may be more readable in that stone than in any inherited manifesto.

The second question, the one regarding how someone who has been an MP all his life can afford that magnitude of palace, is a legitimate concern. I actually dealt with it already in a previous column, and there's no need to revisit my conclusion there. It doesn't maths out. The fact is that Andrew lick de lotto and him nah talk.

Or, perhaps Andrew didn't pay anything much for the wall and palace. Suppose Audley was his general contractor? He could have signed an agreement with the International Mansion Fund, promised to hold down the costs, while making promises of 100 per cent increase to the masons and suppliers on the other side. It wouldn't matter, because when they come looking for the money, Audley will be nowhere to be found.

Unquestionably, there remains a legitimate question about source of funds that Mr Holness could put to rest quickly by making some public declarations. A 40-odd-year-old in politics all his adult life on a salary of a few million annually can't slap down hundreds of millions just so. Although I foresee a period of resistance, revelation will become inevitable.

Incidentally, I accept the argument that other leaders should make such declarations, too. However, where there is such a glaring question, we needn't wonder all around looking for everyone to declare before the troubling anomaly is dealt with. We don't need to answer every question before we answer one question. In fact, both he and Portia, as leaders, should put their finances out there.

A final point. If Andrew's house turns out to be a problem, it is equally an indictment of the Government. There are all sorts of agencies and investigative arms set up to oversee things like this. Don't they work? If not, whose job is it to fix it?

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to