Tue | Mar 20, 2018

New beginnings?

Published:Monday | April 18, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Ronald Thwaites

Parliament had its formal opening last Thursday. For those for whom these things matter, the ritual, the fashion and the posing were evident, but the substance sorely lacking.

Sir Patrick tried his best with talk of a "new beginning", and we all sat up only to be disappointed as he continued to recite proposals, supposedly new, but actually appropriations from the previous administration.

Talk about prosperity and partnership is a mere opiate to the people on Duke Street. They want the payday that was promised them for February 25. No retroactive. Cash now and every month end after. And no give with one hand and take back with the other, either.


Exquisite care


I had hoped that the People's Speech would have emphasised the exquisite care that must be taken of the early signs of economic recovery and related to that the hope and prospect that can come from practices of personal and family responsibility, community concern, and the renewed values and attitudes that alone can take us through a difficult period.

These are what would signal a real "new beginning".

So apart from habit, what really is the significance of the military parade connected with the opening of Parliament: with the high fashion squeezing up on the insufferably uncomfortable benches inside and the masses penned behind the unnecessarily far-off barricades at North Street and Charles Street, respectively. Has the symbolism turned in on itself and ceased to be inspiring?

For example, what does it say about the content of our national head space when the prayer at the inauguration of our 54th independent legislative year lifts up, in pride of first place, "Our Gracious Majesty, her husband Prince Phillip, and Charles, the Prince of Wales"?

As I observe, now that Pearnel's head space is literally and metaphorically covered by the permanence of the wig, he should, at least, have it dyed half-black to salvage his identity. Noticeably and significantly, his counterpart in the Senate, Tom Tavares-Finson, eschews the hairpiece.

Sir Patrick is saying that there is a new hope for prosperity across the land. Really, Sir? How about simplicity of lifestyle and sufficiency of essentials for all as laudable ideals! Anyway, as he hears the mention of prosperity, Audley looks around. No one is clapping, so he has to cheerlead, banging the desk vigorously. The remaining 30 on that side, doubt written all over their faces, join in dutifully and nervously.

The governor general is continuing, multiplying the expressions of hope. State institutions are to serve the public. The public service must be accountable. Development approvals are to be sped up. But how, Sir Patrick, how? If you really want the nation to restore trust, sweat even a little of the hard stuff; hint at least one way any of this is going to be achieved.

The part about modernising the National Insurance Scheme is good. It will eventually go bust if we don't. Glad also to learn about the review of PATH. It is too difficult for many needy to access this lifeline and there are too many unworthy who are still enrolled.

I search for even one clear sentence on the plans for national security, energy or information technology.

Why is there is such frenzied applause for the proposal about a fixed election date? Is that a way to try to add some durability to a shaky majority?

Some, very obviously, offer no applause to the plan to legislate for impeachment of members.


Surprise win


At the end of it all, perhaps the saccharine flavour of the Throne Speech was inevitable. The Government would not have had time, after their surprise win, to develop many new projects. There is precious little fiscal space anyway. And acknowledging that you are carrying on the initiatives of the other people may sit well with the thoughtful class, but is horribly at odds with the rum- and Boom-soaked triumphalism up the road by the BITU headquarters.

We convened at 2:40 in the afternoon to receive the Estimates of Expenditure. Please, Speaker Charles, insist on punctuality! The no-doubt-sincere Heroy Clarke, who read the prayer, is not very familiar with Jamaican English syntax.

There followed a series of well-deserved tributes to the late Derrick Rochester. A minute of silence was observed. Several members could be seen watching the clock.

To cap it all, the Statement on Fiscal Policy, signed and vouched for by the minister of finance, is no more than a ringing endorsement of his predecessor's policies.

Isn't that good, after all the campaign bombast?

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.