Daniel Thwaites | Ruel, we’ve had a problem!
I'm certain the parliamentary Opposition is taking note of something Andrew Holness either knew instinctively or just intuited: The electorate doesn't mind too much if election promises are broken. What matters is the emotional direction and intention of the promiser. Reality be damned! What matters is the gesture.
Like the guy who promised the girl a Benz but delivered a one-wheel bicycle. At least he really wanted to give her something better. It's the thought that counts, not the financial embarrassment, right?
Look at the promise of $18,000. Audley Shaw used it as an opportunity to raise taxes. Genius! And now it's all but forgotten. What mattered was that Audley ostensibly wanted to give out some money. Peter Phillips, I'm suggesting, should simply have untethered himself from reality as well and promised $18,500, or maybe even $19,000. Hey! Why not $20,000? Next time.
Same thing with the commitment to abolish auxiliary fees - another big selling point. That promise is going nowhere either, but, to be fair, I don't think people mind too much. It was the thought that mattered. Again, the parliamentary Opposition may want to take note: Just promise that you will abolish fees and then leave them in place. That's what Ruel is doing.
Mind you, Ruel is taking a torturous route to getting around to just admitting the grand hoax. It's as if he's trotting around National Heroes Park, landing inexorably right back where he started. Having set off from the Ministry of Education, he's sped past the Bolivar statue heading up Allman Town, towards Wolmer's, rounded all the bends, and is tearing past the crab sellers coming right back.
Recall the various phases.
First phase: Election time! Auxiliary fees were to be withdrawn. Simple.
Second phase: The abolished fees can be charged but need a new name. This was the period of 'parental contribution', 'building fund', and other such euphemisms.
Third phase: The fees, renamed and abolished, will all the same be strictly limited to $20,000, despite not existing. This is deep science.
Fourth phase: Ministerial Twitter threats to defectors.
Fifth phase: Schools are given a procedure to actually hike the non-existent auxiliary fees. Even Jamaica College, Ruel's old haunt, has non-existent fees exceeding his limit.
It will not have escaped the notice of the psychologists among my readers that these phases somewhat mimic Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief. There's denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance.
Naturally, Ruel's gyrations have not gone unnoticed. In fact, last week, The Gleaner carried a story 'Implementation of school support contribution policy untidy - educators'.
Rusea's principal Linval Wright, who is also public-relations officer of the Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS), responded to Minister Reid's latest edict with a quiet riot of understatement. He noted that "the plans for abolishing auxiliary fees have not been fully thought through".
"What I feel is happening now is that you implement a policy, then you find that your method of implementation is a bit untidy ... and [when] you find that it is getting untidy, you are trying to tidy up as you go along." Those are the words of a gentleman.
Esther Tyson's review of this major policy plank were equally delicate. She described "the change of name from auxiliary fee to parent contribution a matter of semantics".
I'm digressing, but I found these comments so refreshing, not just because they state obvious truths, but because truth, said in understated stylishness, is doubly pleasurable.
A rare delicacy
Since we live in an age of almost constant bombast, understatement is like a rare delicacy. It was a skill taught to students and practised more generally, but sadly, it's now a dying art. Anyhow, since I believe there's too little appreciation of the skill, I was happy to see that it still thrives at Rusea's.
I so appreciate understatement when I see it that I was driven to recall some classics of the practice. One famous example came from the Apollo 13 spaceship, at the time 200,000 miles from earth, when an oxygen tank exploded: "Houston, we've had a problem."
There's another occasioned by space exploration. A full two minutes after the Challenger exploded into a massive fireball in front of the whole world, Mission Control announced: "Flight controllers here are looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction."
The British are famous for understatement. During the Blitz, when German bombs had torn into buildings, some British stores insisted on still doing business despite the gaping holes. They put up signs: 'We are still open - more open than normal'.
Then remember Jeffrey Dahmer, the psycho cannibal who was chopping people up and storing them in his freezer? When he was eventually caught, he delivered: "I really messed up this time." Ahhhhm ... yes, you did, Jeff.
To bring it back home, even though the abolition of the auxiliary fees was a major electoral plank, the truth is we're right back to square one. But now I want to follow best practice like the educators.
Suffice it to say: Ruel, we've had a problem. I know you're still looking carefully at the policy, but obviously there's a major malfunction. The schools are still open to charging fees - more open than usual. So will you admit that you really messed up this time?
Remember, it's the thought that counts.
- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.