Sat | Aug 19, 2017

New beginnings versus old concerns in 2016

Published:Sunday | January 3, 2016 | 1:00 AM

I was 12 years old, skinny and in short pants and attending Jones Town Primary school in 1962 when Jamaica gained its independence.

My father and mother took me and my brothers and sisters to the heart of downtown Kingston where Daddy (now 95) secured a perch for us atop a building near to South Parade so that we could view the glorious float parade that heralded the celebrations.

The air and the times were filled with ton-loads of hope, better tomorrows and a palpable sense that Jamaica was heading into a social and economic orbit. My teachers at Jones Town Primary were all female, and if my memory serves me well, all seemed to have spectacles precariously balanced on the bridges of their nose as they stared us down and dared us to score less than 95 per cent in math, English grammar and social studies.

Like the rest of the country, those teachers saw themselves much bigger than just the confines of a classroom. They were on a mission. Much has been attained since that time but in the same period much has been lost.

The vast majority of children attending school then, especially in rural areas, went to school barefooted. Today, that is no longer so. At that time the better high schools were the repository for the children of the upper classes. Again, today, that is no longer so.

Class divisions and skin colour enjoyed each other's company but the politeness of it kept many of the poor, rural, black skinned so-called peasant class illiterate, peaceful and fit only for menial work in the city. Farm work abroad was a godsend to many.

The huge influx of bauxite investments in the late 1950s and the 1960s transformed the growth agenda in Jamaica but like any good thing, its shelf life was limited. Today, the gentler side of Jamaica is merely a memory and the rarity of multiple murders in the 1960s has been replaced by a nation of people now inured to at least 1,000 murders for the year.

Even if the same level of foreign direct investments was available today, there would not be many takers unless there was a guarantee that the mortar-and-steel would be more exposed to peace instead of chaos and the threat of civil commotions. Not all investments can be in all-inclusive hotels.

Many studies have been done by our brightest people but there will never be a definitive document that points the way to the period that brought about the confluence of a much improved physical infrastructure and an explosion of violent criminality, and the way forward.

It could be that we are still in the teething stages of our development and, against the accepted norms, the child needs a switch to its rear end. For my generation, the majority of whom were witnesses to the decline from the gentler side of Jamaica to its slippage into floating on the edge of social chaos, we exist in two minds. That of 'seeing it all' and resisting the tug of cynicism and believing that there must be a way out of these painful teething pains.

 

IT'S BACK TO AN ELECTION AGENDA IN EARLY 2016

 

It matters little how much spin the ruling People's National Party (PNP) chose to explain its aborted 2015 election - the fact remains that it did not set out to play a game on the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and send it the wrong way in whatever football match that was conjured up, even if it sounds plausible.

The powerful faction in the PNP administration and the party which had as its mission statement the forcing of the prime minister's hand to an election late last year have carried forward an integral part of their plan into 2016, and that is convincing Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller that she must not rule out stepping aside and giving the PNP breathing space.

Another item that had a brief bout of importance was a Cabinet reshuffle, but that made no sense in 2015 and will make little sense this year. The fact is that there is little in the deck to reshuffle unless it is to replace one joker with another.

The 'success story' of 2015 in the PNP administration was the booting of Dr Fenton Ferguson from the health ministry and replacing him with Horace Dalley, a minister who has established certain bona fides with action.

It didn't take the application of rocket science for him to learn that with ZIKV on the regional horizon it was the sensible thing to alert the nation that its arrival, if unwelcome, will be a certainty. After all, Dalley as the new health minister had his playbook written for him and it was as simple as ABC.

Just do the opposite of what the former minister did. The beautiful irony is, if the nation listens to the new minister, and if the twinning of the efforts of local government and health are effective in tamping down the spread of the breeding sites of the particular mosquito culprit (Aedes aegypti), if somehow we are lucky and ZIKV flies away from us, many will say that Dalley saved us. And why not?

At the same time, the PNP needs to go into another retreat early this year, but before it does so the PM needs to shed her old palace guards who have not served her well.

She needs to go to that retreat, which will have as its main agenda the resurgence of her authority and harking back to a time when her name, her face and her presence made a difference to the fortunes of the PNP.

Simpson Miller needs to show up at that retreat as an army of one, recognising that a powerful faction wants her to step away while the lesser one wants to ride on her coat-tails and whisper sweet nothings to her.

For the first time in her life she needs to believe in all of the things which the late PNP icon Michael Manley told her about herself.

 

NERVOUS TIMES FOR

 

HOLNESS AND PORTIA

 

The gloves are off this year, and with the huge spend by various politicians on both sides of the fence in trying to manipulate the minds and the potential voting intentions of their constituents, many will want an early election if even to stem the flow of fast-fading cash accounts.

It is obvious that at the intersection of Portia and Holness and at the corner of the streets where PNP passes through JLP territory lies the IMF agenda.

The election this year will be carried out only after it is quite clear what the IMF wants done in the immediate term.

Based on what we heard last year, the IMF is no longer in a mood to play footsie with the PNP administration and the excellent tenure of Dr Peter Phillips in the finance ministry.

Phillips did his job, which was to steer the country's fiscal ship through stormy seas based on orders issued by Jamaica's bosses, the IMF, while it was land-based and safe from the gale force winds. Ministers like the hapless Anthony Hylton of the Industry, Investment and Commerce were expected to do the rest but were stunning failures.

Others, such as Security Minister Peter Bunting, were expected to develop policy to keep violent crime to 'liveable' limits. That did not happen.

It seems to me that it is up to the opposition JLP to throw away the next general election, which is being handed to that party on a victory platter. First, the ruling PNP knew that if the election was not held in 2015 its options in 2016 would be severely limited.

With the mood of the people floating somewhere between anger and apathy, all the JLP has to do is open its mouth and continue the bellowing of last year.

The pundit class has been calling on the JLP to make its case clear about its plans for development but we had all of the latter half of last year to hear that and we didn't. Which probably means that the JLP is simply making it up as it goes along.

Why do we believe voters will act on a written and well-articulated agenda when all the JLP has to do is stoke the anger that is out there?

The PNP administration has a raft of deliverables this year in BPOs and the official opening of the North-South Highway. The question which must be playing havoc in the mind of the Government is, will the potential voters see these deliverables as purely a PNP-inspired set of plans or something that would have happened with any party in power?

The PM needs to set the stage where she will have to attempt to reclaim some of what she lost in governance while she 'reigned' as Jamaica's queen from early 2012 to 2015.

Can Portia bring back the magic or will Andrew Holness steal the rabbit out of her hat? Time is running out for both but it is worse for Portia.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.