Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | After all this, what?

Published:Monday | May 23, 2016 | 5:00 AM

Peter Phillips and Portia Simpson Miller, in their contributions to the Budget Debate last week, were at pains to embed in the country's memory the solid foundation for economic recovery and social protection which is the legacy of the 2012 to 2016 administration.

'We did the heavy lifting' was the common refrain. In private conversation with the few thoughtful members on the right of the Speaker, they acknowledge this, but in the minor brawl that passes for debate in Gordon House, every mention of past efforts and advances must be met with scorn.

"You want OJ for effort, then?" shouts Daryl Vaz.

"What a wicked people who voted you out!" chimes Edmund Bartlett.

Their derision undermines all the prattle about partnership and confirms the disrespect across political lines, which continues to cramp national progress.

Contrast the maturity of Christopher Tufton, Marlene Malahoo Forte, Rudyard Spencer and Fayval Williams in the second bench. They appear to listen respectfully. Most of the remainder, heads down, are preoccupied with their phones.

 

NEW BAD BWOY?

 

Delroy Chuck, minister of justice, no less, Rhodes Scholar - and I almost forgot, former Speaker himself - is now, from the front bench, rivalling Everald Warmington as the bad bwoy of the House. He seems unusually (?) stimulated. He has to be ordered back to his seat by an unsettled Pearnel Charles. He sits beside Desmond McKenzie, who has inherited from the late Motty Perkins that laugh which is less than humorous and more than dismissive.

Horace Dalley and Noel Arscott make the mistake of responding to their jibes.

"Yu tink a Cuba yu deh, Horace?" The net effect is to distract everybody's attention from what the debater is saying.

How is the nation's business advanced? Is this what they pay us for?

Both Peter and Portia rehearse the solid achievements: the reduction of debt, balancing of the Budget, meeting the International Monetary Fund targets and the gains in education, health, national security, investor confidence and restored international reputation. If the recurrent budget is at best flat and premised on doubtful revenue targets, it is indisputable that this year's more encouraging capital budget is due to the more relaxed primary surplus which the performance of the previous administration made possible.

Portia is gracious in paying tribute to all classes in Jamaica, whose cooperation through asperity has made progress possible. I wonder why she raised the spectre of discrimination of public servants who voted for the People's National Party without specific instances.

Similarly, Peter created his own ambush by referring to "some depreciation" of the dollar during his tenure, as also his reference to the outstanding bill for street lighting which "we were going to pay". The riposte from Audley Shaw and Andrew Holness were predictable and will, no doubt, provide grist for their mills when they speak this week.

 

DOLLAR STILL RUNNING

 

But they had best be careful, because the dollar is still running and will continue so long as the national appetite for imports exceeds the value of our export earnings. And also, the continuing arrangement with the power company for street lighting invites confusion.

But neither speaker last week offered a clear vision for hard-pressed Jamaicans as to where they would take the country. Surely, the debt must be reduced as a continuing foundation for sustainable growth, but the people need more to strive for. The scaffolding of the 2030 vision needs the flesh of actual programmes envisaged to yield wholesome and happy lives.

Why vote for a party if the leaders only tell you the good things they have done but hitch on the deliverables for the future?

What really does 'prosperity' mean for the people of Central Kingston and elsewhere? What concretely can they do to help their case? How will the activity of the State make a difference to their misery index?

It can't be an offer of freeness or the sleight of hand which gives relief to some at the chronic expense of the many, or the blatant discrimination of Labour Day allotments based on which party you favour.

The election is over. It is time for Gordon House to pay attention to crafting a positive and doable narrative for our nation. That is what the real partnership must be about.

Anything less is shallow 'ginalship'.

- Ronald Thwaites of member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education.