Editorial | Ruddy Spencer’s convoluted context
The claim of being "taken out of context" is the frequent, almost reflexive, response of politicians having been caught making statements they would prefer the public not to hear or to know about.
Ruddy Spencer, the junior minister of finance and the public service, wasn't shy about being heard, in which event, he either had no qualms about placing his cards clearly, and with corruption aforethought, on the table. Or, if he genuinely believes that his remarks were misinterpreted, he not only displayed poor skills in language and communication, but appallingly poor judgement.
Either way, not only has he damaged the administration of which he is a member, but he has reinforced the perception that patronage remains a critical element of Jamaica's political life, which is only a short step towards an open embrace of corruption. In this regard, Mr Spencer owes Jamaicans a full apology, without prejudice to him being sanctioned by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
The trigger for this controversy are the operations of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), an agency that coordinates government support to the farm sector, which, for the first year and a half of the Holness administration, was largely under the political stewardship of J.C. Hutchinson, a highly trained professional farmer who is minister without portfolio in the agriculture and fisheries ministry. Most beneficiaries of RADA's services have quietly praised Mr Hutchinson's non-partisan efficiency, although he appears to have lost a tussle for the direction of the agency.
What role these reported policy/political disagreements may have had in shaping Mr Spencer's remarks at a governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) rally on Sunday is not known. But Mr Spencer seems convinced that RADA's previous chairman was not of the appropriate or insufficiently so political stripe, thereby limiting the benefits people expected from the agency. His audience, significantly, comprised JLP supporters.
Said Mr Spencer: "Labourites, we have a system where we will now have our own chairman of RADA and things have been happening, and things can happen, at RADA. But naturally, you will meet some bottlenecks because we have just taken over the system and we are trying to find our way around the system. Where you never have a parish manager for RADA, you now have a Labourite being the chairman of RADA, so whatever problems you used to have ... .'
When Mr Spencer was reminded by a platform colleague of the presence of the press, his retort, after a brief pause, was, "I want them to hear."
He went on: "Whatever problems you used to have, I believe now most of those problems would have gone away because you have your own manager to assist in the management of RADA ... So therefore, you can't say that you are getting no attention, you can't say nothing is happening, because in fairness, you have your own manager, to report whatever problems you have and expect him to solve those problems."
We can't claim that that reminder caused Mr Spencer to alter, and give greater breadth, to his intended remarks. But even with the most sympathetic interpretation of the statement, having regard for Mr Spencer's audience, the preceding remarks and those of RADA's current chairman, the JLP politician Michael Stern, the minister can find little cover in his claim about context. Mr Stern, if he has indeed led RADA in a non-political fashion, might well argue that his integrity was impugned.
At the same time, Mr Spencer will have done nothing to improve the reputation of politicians, who, according to findings of a poll for this newspaper last June, are distrusted by 88 per cent of Jamaicans. Indeed, those people will probably tell Prime Minister Holness that he has his work cut out to turn to reality his dream of Jamaica as 'the least corrupt place in the world"'