Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Editorial | Be done with the vulgar purchase of elections

Published:Monday | November 28, 2016 | 11:00 AM

We doubt that Dirk Harrison, the contractor general, will find much, if anything, that is illegal, even if procedurally untoward, in the Government's J$600-million election-eve job programme. Neither will the political ombudsman, Donna Parchment Brown.

In that sense, their separate probes into the affair will be deemed by some as merely symbolic. But they are important. They signal to Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) that while governments appear capable of acting at will, impunity in democratic societies is not often without consequence, even if the price isn't immediate.

But for our part, on this particular issue, we are especially disappointed with Prime Minister Holness.

As is widely known, Jamaicans will vote today in municipal elections. Mr Holness' party, which narrowly won the national government in February, hopes they give it a firm hold on the municipalities and greater leeway to pursue its policies. That is quite understandable. What we find disagreeable, though, is the approach of the administration towards its objective.

 

Politics of patronage

 

The politics of patronage runs deep in Jamaica. It contributed to an extreme divisiveness and often spawned violence and the creation of the 'garrison' communities which delimited one party's supporters from the others. Happily, such attitudes are substantially less intense than they used to be. This newspaper is invested in Mr Holness in leading a deepening and widening of this change.

Indeed, the prime minister has himself declared himself a key agent of transformation. He often reminds that he is the first leader of Jamaica's post-Independence generation who neither contributed to the creation of the old political culture, nor is invested in its maintenance.

Indeed, with his one-seat majority in the national Parliament, Mr Holness, in his swearing-in address in early March, acknowledged that "there is no majority for arrogance" and the fact that his party had not won a "prize", but had been given 'a test' by the people.

"There is no absolute agency of power," Mr Holness declared. "This means that the winner cannot take all, or believe we can do it alone."

 

Big political test

 

Mostly, the Government has performed reasonably well, maintaining rational economic policies, and avoiding sharp swings that weaken confidence. Unfortunately, it stumbled at its first big political test.

In the fortnight before the municipal vote, the Government launched a major clean-up project that is providing hundreds of short-term jobs in communities across the country. Opposition MPs and other representatives claim that unlike what is normally the case with projects of these types, they were not informed about this one, or involved in its design or execution. They claim that the aim was to give an election advantage to the governing party.

Government spokesmen retort that the clean-up is necessary, with which we agree. They say that its timing this close to the election is coincidental, which we doubt. The project, in design and timing, we feel, was aimed at doing what political parties have too long done in Jamaica: use patronage to purchase elections. It is an approach to politics that, in circumstances like these, assaults the dignity of poor people, against which Mr Holness, by implication, inveighed in March.

We hope this marks the end of its use in Jamaica.