Ronald Thwaites | Who pays for the lavish after-debate parties?
The sectoral Debate is dribbling to its close in Parliament. The scant interest it normally attracts has been diluted even further by the Petrojam scandal, which emerged as a won't-go-away sidebar to the triumphalist contribution by the minister.
If the presentations have not been memorable, maybe the after-speech parties have been. Who pays for the lavish drink and food anyway - and what about the stush displays in the lobby and the tokens we got from most ministers? Thank you, but what impression is all of this meant to convey?
We prance and big-up ourselves while the minimum-wage earners, the NIS pensioners and PATH beneficiaries all languish.
Does political prominence entitle you to high living? Each of us has a majority of constituents who are barely managing. How do they benefit? The show-off extravagance of the green Benz and the chorus girls tell a story of banality. What political philosophy informs this? Better to set a new tone by showing that status and power live simply so that others may simply live. Anything else only reflects mental slavery in our circumstances. Let us copy Jesus rather than Caesar.
The unravelling story of Petrojam's governance resembles what Crown Colony government was like. Of course, you had a local board made up of some well-feathered local satraps, most of whom were there to do the governor's bidding. They might or might not meet, but the real decisions were made elsewhere - across the waters then, in the Cabinet or ministry now. For it is not believable that the massive financial and operational decisions - to set up a special lady, to generously endow an absent chairman, to make lavish provision for events and entertainmemt, the bloated contracts and largesse to particular constituencies- could all happen without the knowledge and consent of the minister and Cabinet.
And who is this highly favoured consulting company with a very familiar name which we pay to perform as-yet-unspecified services which industry bureaucrats aver can be provided in-house?
When Julian Robinson first raised questions about corruption at Petrojam, the reaction of many government members in the House was shock at how he, Robinson, had come by that information. How dare an obvious insider leak these things to the Opposition was the sometimes whispered, other times unspoken question across the aisle.
The minister's responses were evasive: he knew nothing, said he would check out everything until the ever-compliant Speaker Charles saved him from further discomfort.
Now, remember how long it took us to get to the bottom of the Dudus debacle, the accountability for which has still not been properly placed.
The investigations into the Petrojam scandal show the crucial importance of the parliamentary committees. It also emphasizes the wisdom of having these bodies chaired by Opposition members.
The enormous powers given by the constitution to the prime minister in Cabinet and their vice-grip on board appointments, requires rethinking in the long run and for now, at least the checks and balance of active committees.
That only the Public Administration and Appropriations and Public Accounts Committees are constituted and active reflects a dangerous want of commitment to principles of accountability.
As a relief to scandal, last Tuesday marked a refreshing sitting of the House of Representatives as, after an unexplained elapse of more than a year, the Bruce Golding-chaired report on CARICOM and Jamaica's future role in the regional body was debated. The quality of the contributions were uniformly high from speakers on both sides. As impressive was the convergence of views and the absence of acrimony.
For the first time at last, we heard a JLP leader commit his party and administration to the regional enterprise. He could really never assume the chair of the heads of government next month without having done so.
We heard again the spirit and some of the words of Michael Manley when Audley Shaw spoke of the need to treat regional trade as an extension of our domestic market for agricultural and manufactured exports, and when Ed Bartlett pressed the need to expand the valuable Caribbean fourth-place source of visitors to Jamaica.
Missing though was conversation on the serious challenge of intra-regional transportation, details of the intense cooperation immediately required for disaster preparedness, and repairing the deeply compromised regional character of the University of the West Indies.
So, last Tuesday was a good day in Parliament.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.