Fri | Nov 17, 2017

Andre Wright | Calling Audley Shaw

Published:Wednesday | July 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM

When Audley Shaw told us about the grand $1.5-million bonanza to benefit taxpayers, we didn't realise prosperity would come at such a high price.

But when your handle on basic arithmetic is tenuous, you might have to make expensive phone calls asking financial experts to explain again, and again, and again, why your tax plan made no sense. Which is probably why Audley Shaw spent chunks of call time and data racking up an $8-million phone bill in his first year of government, including more than $4 million in one month.

Mr Shaw's prodigal behaviour is emblematic of the culture of ministerial aloofness and profligacy which has played no small part in the growing apathy and antipathy for politicians and the electoral process. And they wonder why!

Shaw, whose ministry will soon be entering salary negotiations with public-sector workers and fastidious union officials, may not have suffered a mortal blow but he is morally damaged by his ineptitude, if not rank recklessness.

For too long, politicians have not only plundered the public purse by dint of corruption but by negligence. Does Mr Shaw ever check his bill? When my wife finds that the electricity bill unexpectedly jumps $1,500 one month, we plug out the damn fridge at night. The upshot: The Government must exercise the same level of fiscal prudence it demands of its citizens. In the same way that the gardener doesn't get paid until you ensure the job's done, similarly, when $600 million of taxpayer money is thrown into a vote-catching bush-clearing programme, that work should be verified as done - and done properly.

So many of our politicians and technocrats are Scrooges with their personal wealth but wasteful of, and cavalier about, public funds. And to think that Mr Shaw is the same man given the awesome power of unilaterally hiking taxes. If he had any conscience, he would make a public statement - in grovel mode.

If this is prosperity, give me austerity.

 

Your MP is a hijacker

 

Whatever the verdict in the case brought by Constantine Bogle about the residential bona fides of JLP councillor Dean Jones, it may dredge up the much-flogged debate about members of parliament being mandated to live in their constituency, in the same way that local government councillors must reside in the parish in which their division lies. The idea proffered is that MPs would never allow their constituencies to wallow in the toxic cocktail of sewage, crime and underdevelopment.

Of course, that wishful proposition will never happen because parliamentarians would never legislate against themselves. Imagine Desmond McKenzie waking up on Blount Street instead of Waterworks, and Phillip Paulwell trading in upscale Stony Hill for the shotta havens of East Kingston.

But that's simplistic musing, because MPs don't have the supernatural power they pretend to have on the campaign platform, although they might be jolted into action if they are paddling up crap creek in the same canoe as you.

The primary role of MPs is to craft laws for the good of the people, but our Lower House representatives have diluted their responsibilities to become glorified nannies, giving suck to the young, the infirm, and unemployed. They have become meddling middlemen of patronage, sharing out bun and cheese at Easter, lunches at Christmas, determining selection for drain-cleaning projects and farmwork overseas, soliciting JUTC buses for funerals, and liquor consignment officers for nine-nights.

Of course, there are more substantial projects on the ground, regarding gully cleaning, garbage collection and social welfare that MPs undertake, but that's because they have hijacked the job of councillor. And largely with motive!

Patronage, whether in the form of the Constituency Development Fund or the siphoning of state funds through lubricated corridors of ministerial influence, is a strategic tool in the war chest of parliamentarians seeking a return to power. But the merit of every ballot in the box should be based on the legislative work in Gordon House, not one's attendance at a constituent's child's graduation.

MPs don't always want to be cash cows. At every stop in the constituency, there'll probably be an eager hand outstretched for back-to-school funds, for formula for a six-month-old baby. And your MP probably grumbles, after driving by, "***-ing leech dem! All dem good for a fi beg!" But he, or she, also doesn't want to cede that awesome feudal leverage to councillors and then be marginalised as a secondary power broker.

Day care isn't the job of MPs. It's to make sure that skulls aren't cracked in zones of special operations. And to safeguard women from sexual harassment on the job. And to protect household helpers and low-income workers from exploitation. And to ensure that the arms of the State dispense welfare quickly, transparently and efficiently to those in need, so that constituents don't feel beholden to political interests for poverty alleviation or relief amid tragedy.

If crafting laws is too much work and you prefer fiefdom, skip Parliament and become a don!

- Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.