Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Gordon Robinson | Who's the boss? Gov't or you?

Published:Sunday | May 22, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaks with wards of the state during a Child Month visit to the Office of the Prime Minister last Friday.

For decades, an undereducated Jamaican electorate has been encouraged to define 'constitutional reform' as elitist agitators' academic masturbation having nothing to do with Jamaicans' daily bread and butter.

This adroit misdirection has been the preferred tool of political plunderers wanting to scare society away from seeking its only remedy against a system of governance unable to produce growth, security, education or health for citizens, but instead:

• cushy lifestyles for political leaders paid for by the hard work of ordinary Jamaicans;

• jobs/contracts/appointments for the politically connected which needn't be performed efficiently or at all; and

• white-collar crime that creates violent crime and spin-offs of political party funding.

What political leaders don't want you to know is that the Constitution is their only real boss. They pretend the electorate is their boss, but that's a trick to keep citizens content marking an 'X' beside a constituency representation candidate twice per decade, then bending over and applying Vaseline for another five years.

Here are some more FACTS no politician wants you to know:

1. If the Constitution barred the appointment of the politically connected to the Senate or government boards, politicians would obey.

2. If the Constitution proclaimed Budget deficits illegal, save for specified emergencies, there would NEVER again be a "run wid it" finance minister. Jamaica would NEVER again need the IMF.

3. If the Constitution said only 15 ministers could be appointed to 15 constitutionally identified ministries, all Cabinets would have 15 ministers without a single 'minister without portfolio'.

No politician will tell you the fundamental foundation of every nation built on equity is a strong written constitution and an equally strong, independent judiciary to enforce constitutional provisions AGAINST government. These two pillars supported USA's conversion of a shambolic, kowtowing colony of the British empire into a world-leading economic powerhouse.

Jamaica spent the last four years under the IMF whip trying for impossible primary surpluses, while Government repeatedly failed to address Jamaica's most dangerous fiscal leak, namely, cost of the public service. We hear throwaway references to IMF conditionalities mandating public-service salaries to be 9% of GDP. Yet NO STEP has been taken to implement ballyhooed "public-sector reform" for the simple reason politicians know the party who eventually bells that cat loses the next election. If the 9% provision was entrenched in the Constitution, it would be obeyed, even if it meant holding a lottery to see who would be sent home.

 

CABINET SIZE

 

What's even more disgusting is that politicians won't even try. Jamaica's last two governments were criticised for oversize Cabinets. Instead of using its first opportunity to set a different tone, this JLP Government appointed 18 ministers (many 'without portfolio') and five state ministers, while boasting its Cabinet was 'smaller" than the PNP's.

Really? Seriously?

Andrew Holness, reputedly a leader of the post "run wid it" generation, exhorted his huge Cabinet: "All our decisions must bear in mind the interest of the Jamaican people ... ."

Young Andrew, how are Jamaicans' interest served by a standalone tourism ministry when the industry already has JTB, TPDCo, JHTA, JAVA, etc.? How come Warmy was able to squeeze himself into an already-bloated executive again "without portfolio"? How come a bruk country can afford a ministry dedicated to entertainment, sports, culture and 'gender affairs'? As the Chinese chef in the audience might say, "Wok the heck?"

As soon as the new Ministry of Gender Affairs was named, I had the following nightmare in which I wrote to the new minister:

"Dear Boobsy

I 'ave a problem.

My wife recently took de operation and is now a man. But, she's 'aving an affair with my neighbour's 'usband who also took de operation an' is now a woman! What can I do? Is dere a regulatory body appointed under your ministry to deal wid dese gender affairs?

Yours sincerely

Fatboy"

I woke up in a cold sweat. Will nobody tell them we can't afford, nor do we need, 18 ministers? The media have been no better. Post-election media are tripping over themselves to outsuperlative each other congratulating the new PM. Led by Booklist 'P.I.P.' Boyne, 'analysts', who wrote off Young Andrew before February 25, seem determined to render JIS redundant.

It was Booklist, who wrote (February 14):

"For the many thousands ... earning $1.5 million or less to hear that they could very shortly be taking home nearly $20,000 more a month is extremely enticing and inviting ... . But there's one hurdle for the JLP. People have to believe you.

... The very thing which characterises the uncommitted and undecided is their cynicism and mistrust ... . They believe this proposal is ... a three-card trick."

On February 21, believing Andrew had brought off a political coup by dispelling doubts about his house and fearing JLP progress, an antsy Booklist advised PNP how to counter:

"Far more important for the PNP is to convince people this very, very tempting $18,000-a-month extra money cannot work and is a three-card trick ... . The PNP should spend a lot of time countering that proposal."

 

ELECTION SHOCK

 

Booklist was right. It was an election trick. But, as usual, Booklist's convictions lasted shorter than thoroughbred stallion Seeking the Glory at work. As soon as the votes were counted, Booklist became a big Andrew Holness fan. He praised Young Andrew's inaugural speech reverentially. Two lengthy, sucking-up columns swiftly followed beginning with 'The 1.5 victory' (February 28) in which he offered a self-serving substantiation of his own hypothesis, namely, the political ground had shifted before the election (ya think?) "It began with Andrew's surprising move to give ... full disclosure on his house, which brought him much sympathy capital ... . That torpedoed the PNP's platform attacks against him and gave him time to concentrate on his game-changing, 1.5 victory plan." The second sucking-up session 'Can this Cabinet do it?' (March 13), included: "I have no serious concern about any ministerial appointment."

Suddenly and without warning or reason, the tax plan Booklist twice categorised as a "three-card trick" magically became a "game-changing, 1.5 victory plan". DWL! Now, in Booklist's eyes, Young Andrew can do no wrong. Instead, everything he touches is "excellent"; "memorable and delectable"; "comprehensive and thorough"; "refreshing"; "enthralling"; and, my personal favourite, "one of the most important speeches ever delivered by a political leader". Holy hyperbole, Batman!

On the new Cabinet, Booklist wrote Holness passed his first major leadership test "handsomely". After all that sucking-up, I hope the new PM carries plenty Kleenex. While Booklist's nose turns brown, I'll be the Grinch. Overall, I'm unimpressed with this Cabinet (there are some excellent appointments) and believe it disrespects the nation's urgent need for austerity and efficiency.

But, more important, I want Jamaicans to know this couldn't happen if the Constitution provided against it. We're being opportunistic, self-indulgent and fiscally irresponsible, none of which we can afford!

Barack Obama (USA population 319 million) leads a 15-person Cabinet, including an attorney general. The UK (population 64 million) has 22 ministers, including a secretary of state for Scotland; Wales; and Ireland; chancellor of the Duchy of Lancashire; leader of the House of Lords; and 17 other ministers, each with specific portfolios. Germany (population 81 million) has 16 Cabinet ministers.

Maybe it's ethnic. Barbados' Cabinet size (population 250,000) is 16; Trinidad (population: 1.3 million), 21; and Guyana (population 800,000), 27.

Which will be the first Caribbean nation to grow up? Jamaica's Constitution provides for a maximum of four ministers from the Senate. Why only the Senate? Ministries should also be fixed, rather than this idle, expensive game of musical names every five years. C'mon, man!

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.