Sat | Feb 23, 2019

Daniel Thwaites | Idiocy or strategy?

Published:Sunday | January 20, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Of recent, the standard of The Gleaner's editorials, usually good, has been unusually high, especially a volley of tremendous pieces throughout the last couple weeks. Even so, the editorial of Friday, January 11, 2019, 'Ruel Reid's socialism on steroids', stood out for perspicacity and incisiveness. It contained some polished gems, including this under the subheading 'Free-for-all paradigm':

"What now exists is a free-for-all paradigm in which financially capable parents, including the well-to-do, are subsidised by the State. ... The Holness administration's appetite for paternalism seems impossible to satiate ... . The Labour Party is becoming more socialist than Michael Manley in the Cold-War era. Policy has become incoherent, emblematic in last summer's decision to exempt civil-service parents from paying auxiliary fees - which had already been declared non-obligatory!"

Lorrrrt, ha' merthy! These beatings must continue until morale improves!

But even as I praise, I have to demur. For not only is Manley's memory improperly besmirched by comparison to Ruel's recklessness, but as I will demonstrate, the paternalism is likely far more sinister than just incoherent.

One clue of intent is consistency, and Ruel is consistently wrong. So I say it's impossible to regard the policy confusion as simply "incoherent", because as the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice daily. His inability to get anything right, even when trying to promise massive giveaways, can only be the result of craft and strategy.

 

Auxiliary Fee Cesspit

 

Recall that this auxiliary fee cesspit isn't getting any better, just festering and worsening. The policy cock-up alluded to in the editorial, where many principals don't just have to deal with holes in their budgets, but also have had to deal with civil servant parents returning to them and demanding "refunds", is just the beginning.

Anyway, I hope the uniformly frosty reception accorded to Ruel's latest bullsh***ery isn't purely the result of his cratered credibility, but also that it reflects a growing sophistication of the populace, voters, and even the commentariat. There was a time when any promise of freeness was greeted with great applause, and it probably was that in those days, it was an appropriate response.

When Mr Manley announced universal state-funded education, somewhat erroneously called 'free education', that would have been a liberating and empowering message across the land. The children who before then were simply churned out of some primary school and thereafter expected to take up work as a farmhand now had a chance to achieve something more.

Nowadays, far too many are graduating unable to read, write, reason, or compute with any proficiency or consistency, and have actually been rendered incapable of even taking up the farmhand work. What they desperately need are resources, exposure, inclusion, and teachers and administrators that actually give a shizzle.

The fight then, almost 50 years ago, was for mere access. Now everyone has access and the fight is for quality.

I'm not revealing any great news or insight here: Everybody knows this, except, it seems, the man in charge. Instead, he's trying to recapture the big 'forward' Michael Manley got 50 years ago so that he can go and run against Dayton Campbell.

Ruel's announcement was greeted with a mixture of consternation and alarm. Consternation at the negative implications for struggling institutions, and alarm at the transparent attention-whoring fail.

Honestly, Mr Holness could do a lot worse than just turning over the education portfolio to Ruel's junior minister. I recommend it to him for careful consideration.

 

MORE PETROSCAM

 

I have been chewing over the arguments put out by our Government and some of their media stooges about why they had to stab Senor Maduro in the back, overturn Jamaica's settled foreign-policy principles, and are now looking to tief Venezuela's property at Petrojam. None of the proffered excuses and justifications make any sense. Again, we are forced to wonder if this is idiocy or strategy?

Furthermore, by now it is abundantly clear that the Government was being - let's be mild - less than forthcoming, about the various offers and valuations swirling around the Petrojam shares currently held by Venezuela.

Let's say we decide to be good ol' 'Spanish machetes' and forget all the good Venezuela has done for us in the past. Well, then consider the future! Clearly the administration has looked into the crystal ball and seen that oil prices will remain low forever, LNG will flow like milk and honey, and our new best buddies in North America will perhaps invite us to eat some scraps from the table.

My granny used to remind those in earshot that we don't tend to remember the use of our rumps until there's a problem. Actually, she didn't used to say it like that at all. It was more like: "Yuh nuh memba de use ah yuh b***y till sore bruk out pon it!"

Well, I don't know if Mr Holness's regime considers Venezuela the mere rump of Jamaica's bilateral relationships as they look northwards and towards Israel. But if you're even taking leave of a bredrin, wouldn't it be better to walk away in peace rather than turning good bridges into bonfires so unceremoniously? Unless the real problem is that they have something you want to take away.

At worst, Jamaica ought to have abstained in that OAS vote on the legitimacy of the Maduro government. Instead, we have run headlong into the worst foreign-policy blunder and misjudgement in recent memory, and our leaders are visibly and dramatically reducing our international stature and independence. All of this will surely become evident the next time couple sore start bruk out in the world economy.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.