Mon | Sep 24, 2018

Editorial | Holness is the winner

Published:Wednesday | March 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Were we cynical, we might have claimed that Prime Minister Andrew Holness shuffled his Cabinet solely to provide a place for Nigel Clarke, but managed the process in such a way as to squeeze good press out of it.

So, while it is argued that the Government has been refreshed, Mr Clarke apart, there are no new faces among the top ministers. Seats were swapped among the cohort.

Which is not to say that no good will come of the shuffle. Some of the reassigned ministers may well bring fresh ideas and competence to their new portfolios. But the greatest potential winner, if he can staunch resentments and internal fallout from his actions, is likely to be Prime Minister Holness himself. He seems on his way to gaining a firmer grip not only on his Government, but on the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

Indeed, the PM, in a single sweep, installed, in Mr Clarke, his closest ally and adviser to the second-most powerful position in the Government as finance minister, while defanging Audley Shaw, Mr Clarke's predecessor and a potential annoyance, if no longer a serious political threat, to the prime minister. Mr Holness will have been aided by a public perception that Nigel Clarke, who entered Parliament only a fortnight ago and holds a PhD in mathematics, is bright and competent, as well as Mr Shaw's seeming acceptance of his demotion.

It was long known that it was only a matter of time before Mr Clarke, the Government's primary negotiator for Jamaica's current agreement with the International Monetary Fund, formally displaced Audley Shaw, despite the latter having made no major blunders two years into his second stint in the job.

Yet, it was expected that Mr Shaw's removal would have been accompanied with his ceremonial elevation as deputy prime minister. That didn't happen. He, nonetheless, made the process easier for the PM. "I perform anywhere I am assigned," said the new minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries.

After two years of sharp rises in homicides and the debacle over contracts for the delivery of second-hand motor cars to the police, reassigning Robert Montague from the national security portfolio to the transport and mining ministry wouldn't have been difficult for Mr Holness.

 

CAN CHANG HANDLE THE JOB?

 

The question that will now confront the Government is whether Horace Chang, who was a minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, can change the long-term trajectory on crime in Jamaica.

Mr Chang's old ministry, where he was responsible for water, housing and infrastructure, with Mr Holness at the helm, was the one that was supposed to be at the forefront of an energetic and dynamic thrust for economic expansion. Thus, it was central to meeting the target of achieving sustainable five per cent economic growth within four years.

Mr Holness won't be surprised it is now characterised as something of a halfway house for ministers that are soon to be pensioned off. In octogenarian Mike Henry and septuagenarian Karl Samuda, it now hosts the oldest members of the Government, both of whom are independent-minded and politically difficult personalities who Mr Holness would prefer to have at their homes, but must handle with care.

Both, in their former portfolios, claimed to still have the energy and imagination for their jobs. But in a ministry where Mr Holness is not only the PM, but the primary line minister, their independence of action may well be curtailed. That they appear to have gone along, without public murmur, to this dispensation may say something about Mr Holness' growing confidence and assertiveness.

In the end, though, the Cabinet is primarily of the same old faces that came to Government in 2016. Whether their exchange of portfolios translates to anything more, we'll soon know.