Mon | Feb 19, 2018

Editorial | Nigel Clarke and the Holness transition

Published:Sunday | February 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) endorsement of Dr Nigel Clarke for candidacy in the St Andrew North West constituency, recently vacated by Derrick Smith, is bound to further inflame tensions between the veteran politician and his senior colleagues whom he believes have betrayed him. But it also presents opportunity both for the Parliament and for Dr Clarke.

Mr Smith has represented his constituency for nearly 30 years and must have done some good to have retained consistent support, particularly because St Andrew North West is not a political garrison, or zone of exclusion, where badmen corral votes or entrench a culture of intimidation. In fact, vast swathes of the constituency are classified as middle-class or affluent. That his son, Duane, a councillor for the Chancery Hall division in the same riding, has perhaps been mentored by the elder Smith is admirable, but should not carry decisive weight.

Derrick Smith is well aware that his mileage in the constituency does not imbue him with the privilege to anoint a successor. St Andrew North West is not chattel to be bequeathed as part of a political inheritance. Membership in the House should not be bartered as currency on the basis of loyalty and longevity. And while this newspaper will not meddle in party squabbles, we insist on political representation that is cerebral, transformative, and above scrutiny.

Nigel Clarke, a Rhodes Scholar, is the Holness administration's ambassador plenipotentiary for economic affairs, a lofty title that transmits his importance at the nerve centre of fiscal policy.

Should the constituents of St Andrew North West find in him a suitable replacement for Derrick Smith, we believe that Mr Clarke's intellectual heft could bring sophistication and sobriety to parliamentary discourse that too often degenerates into meaningless fury and flatulence.

 

Party man

 

Dr Clarke, however, has become quite a party man, much removed from his stint in the Senate where he served from 2013-2015. He resigned after the courts ruled that then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness' decision to arrange for opposition senators to pre-sign resignation letters was unconstitutional. Mr Clarke and Ruel Reid had been parachuted in after Mr Holness' attempted overthrow of Arthur Williams and Chris Tufton.

During his tenure in the Upper House, Dr Clarke broke ranks with the Opposition who engaged in rank grandstanding for partisan point-scoring to block passage of the Urban Renewal (Tax Relief) Act 2015, which sought to provide incentives to persons who invest in the redevelopment of communities suffering from urban blight.

When Tom Tavares-Finson, then leader of opposition business in the Senate, despite prior endorsement of the bill, induced his colleague senators - Marlene Malahoo Forte, Ruel Reid, Kavan Gayle and Robert Montague - into voting against it, Nigel Clarke was prevailed upon by the government side to be guided by his conscience. Dr Clarke voted for the bill.

We question whether Dr Clarke will be able to retain even a sliver of that streak of that bravery and independence if he gains membership to the Lower House. For if he doesn't, his recruitment will dull some of the shine and promise of his prospects.

With a Cabinet shuffle imminent, it is expected that the JLP's approval of Dr Clarke is of strategic significance, perhaps to shuttle him in to have an unrestrained hand in directing economic affairs, maybe even at the helm of the Ministry of Finance. While we suspect that his ascendancy might ruffle feathers, Mr Holness could see in Nigel Clarke the first node of transition to refresh his executive and retire the old guard such as Mike Henry, J.C. Hutchinson, and even House Speaker Pearnel Charles, and maybe others who are well past their sell-by date, not merely owing to their age but because their ideas are well-worn.

Prime Minister Holness, Jamaica's first post-Independence head of government, should seize the moment to recruit new, bright, energetic talent to reinvigorate his stable but uninspiring economic programme. Nigel Clarke's selection might just be a step in the right direction.