Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | Politics, patronage and pragmatism

Published:Monday | December 5, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Ronald Thwaites

There was no great idea, no measurable promise, no hopeful prospect to excite voters to come out for the local government elections. So, predictably, most stayed away and our already anaemic democracy bled once more.

"Weh yu can do for mi?" was the most frightening and persistent question in every candidate's ears. No memory of past favours, no patience with promises for the future. "Weh you gwine do for me now?"

If you had money from the bush-clearing programme, you might respond. If you did not (read: if you were PNP), yuh corner dark!

The results largely flowed from this logic. And it is likely to get worse until we define and agree on some of the fundamental purposes of our life together and make the constitutional adjustments which will flow from that.

What we, the increasingly naked emperors of the system, are ignoring is the demeaning of the craft of political engagement. No matter the trappings and phylacteries we add to our persons and offices, there is more suspicion and less honour about politics than ever before.

The bright, promising female (nurse) graduate in the US visa line on the day after the elections answered my question as to why she was migrating, with devastating scorn. "Unno no give me no choice. Trump can't worse than this."

 

ON THE TOBACCO TRADE

 

Last week, the press announced the coming of new brands of cigarettes to the local market, to be paid for, no doubt, with foreign exchange, as well as the lament that a large percentage of the product is being traded on the black market. Some time ago, we were asked to celebrate the restart of the mid-island tobacco industry.

Tobacco use is not yet illegal, but it is addictive and kills. There is a direct cost to the Jamaican taxpayer for the health expenses and loss of productivity of those who smoke. It runs into billions of dollars each year.

Despite our obligations under the convention against tobacco use and the waste of money and lives, Jamaican governments continue to do far too little to discourage tobacco use.

Fenton Ferguson has never been given sufficient credit for the work he did, amid fiery opposition, to stand up to the tobacco lobby and to have some warnings placed on cigarette cartons. What will Christopher Tufton do? In the next Budget, now being crafted and when the administration will have to raise tens of billions more revenue, there should be at least a doubling of the tax on tobacco.

Also, there are large swathes of our people who have not yet been apprised of the dangers of ingesting any toxic substance. For years, we have put off the comprehensive public education programme showing the compromising and often fatal effects of smoking.

It is needed now, more so when ganja use has been normalised, again without the promised campaign to alert those minded to use weed of the effects of so doing.

 

ON CANE

 

I am always surprised that the more than 20 members of parliament whose constituencies are directly affected by the cane and sugar industry do not demand in Parliament to know the future policies regarding this sector.

It is no secret that the original hopes for Frome, Monymusk and Bernard Lodge will not materialise. So what is the plan? The estate owners in St Thomas and Trelawny have attractive plans to diversify. What will be the fortune of cane farmers and hosts of sugar workers? What advocacy - nay, leadership - is coming from their once-powerful trade unions in designing a viable future?

As far as national discourse is concerned, we must not let history accuse us of having majored in the minor.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.