Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Daniel Thwaites | A six-month scorecard

Published:Sunday | October 16, 2016 | 10:00 AM

Local government elections are in the air, so the six-month-old Holness administration is, understandably, being inspected and adjudged. I think it really is too early to reach any grand conclusions, although some trends are evident. It's sort of the way you can see which way a hurricane is tracking. The precise path remains to be seen but, barring divine intervention, you can deduce the general direction.

To start with, I have to pass over many minor things, like the many absurd promises of what would be achieved with 100 days. Unsurprisingly, as soon as he held power, there was massive backtracking on those commitments with the usual appeals for patience and the reminders that things take time. Since disappointment is a function of expectation, and since I expected nothing different, I simply note it as a recurring theme of our way of doing things.

Of course crime is a shambles. I want to say that it cannot get any worse because criminals are now regularly slaughtering children, but I have learned to NEVER say it can't get worse. Gruesome events have a way of surpassing the imagination.

In health, it's as if every crisis visited upon Fenton Ferguson is redoubling its effort to embarrass Christopher Tufton. In place of chik-V, there's ZIK-V, and the dead babies scandal' has come back again. Only this time, instead of Fenton saying the preemies aren't babies "in the real sense", you have Chris saying that the average Jamaican p** p** needs refurbishing and cleansing.

 

SMART MOVES

 

All the same, I think Mr Holness has made some smart moves, the best of which has a paradoxical element to it. I speak of his hewing closely and, without murmur, to the path laid out by the IMF. The paradox arises only because a faux and concocted defiance of the IMF undergirded the political campaign that ushered him into Jamaica House.

Which isn't to say that he isn't also doing some other really clever things. The communication of Jamaica House has hardly ever been better. Certainly it's better than anything in recent memory. That's the positive spin. Critics will say it's a PR Government.

Furthermore, the administration is telegraphing, by word and deed, that it is accessible, particularly to business. Those who wish to see this as a positive, as do I, will be equally matched by those who will want to see it as a negative.

Regarding the IMF though, you could say that, like Hilary Clinton, Mr Holness understands that politics demands two faces - one you give to the public, and the other you understand behind closed doors. Or you could say that it is another instance of politicians promising one thing when out of power, but delivering something else when they are in.

The thing is, we know exactly where and when Mr Holness learned the lesson to NEVER speak the unvarnished truth. It was in 2011 when he stood on a platform and said that "bitter medicine" was on the way.

So there is a deep sense in which, over the last six months, the administration has operated "fact-free", by which I mean that policy and official positions have such an estranged relationship with actual reality that they may as well be considered divorced. They certainly haven't bothered to meet up with each other and at least have a glass of wine in about six months.

 

AUXILIARY FEES

 

For example, the education minister can announce that auxiliary fees are abolished, even though every parent delivering their child to school will be presented with an invoice. The parent will simply blame the invoice on the school's administration, meaning that the minister has pushed the responsibility down to his inferiors and thereby achieved the stunning result of charging auxiliary fees without charging them.

And yet I don't rate Ruel's genius as rarefied as Shaw's, who, as finance minister, reintroduced the IMF in 2009, ripped them off thoroughly, then made a speciality of railing against them during his time in Opposition.

Now back in the hot seat, he is abiding by their dictates faithfully, even to the point of jacking up taxes mercilessly. By the way, there are many who are critical of Shaw for all this, but not I ... I am a convert.

Shaw broke the election-winning $1.5-million threshold threat in a creative and entertaining way. Having promised an IMF-defying tax cut, he delivered an IMF-obedient tax increase. Critics will call this chicanery, but I call it "genius".

How did that happen? I will share my speculation. Mr Holness, to his great credit, has installed a competent minister of finance, Dr Nigel Clarke. This means that for the first in a long time, there has been one talented man, Dr Peter Phillips, supplanted by another.

The politics doesn't exactly allow Dr Clarke to sit in the seat, but Mr Holness has arranged things so that the political baron from North East Manchester gets his tribute, even while competence is respected with the importation of new blood.

All things considered, that's not a bad scorecard, and there's even reason to be mildly optimistic.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.