Fri | Nov 22, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | That long minute

Published:Monday | September 16, 2019 | 12:08 AM
Dr Kenneth Baugh

At the resumption after the summer break, the members of the House of Representatives stood for the customary minute of silence in memory of three deceased former members, Dr Kenneth Baugh, Lawrence Broderick and Glenville Shaw.

After about 30 seconds, some were seen ­checking their watches. And then it was all over. “That’s it, that’s all ... ?” was Horace Dalley’s half-yearning question, full-brutal conclusion.

The mostly dreary obituaries took up about an hour. The obligatory letters of condolence will be sent and a few will make it to the funerals of men who together, especially Ken Baugh, had given years of service to their country, sacrificing their fortunes, sometimes the richness of their family relationships, assuredly robbing them of all privacy, and probably compromising their health and reputations as well.

It was left to Fenton Ferguson to save the day. He rose, not to ‘big up’ himself or his kind, but to reaffirm the dignity of public service; the worth of the effort that Baugh, Broderick and Shaw, among others, have tried to offer.

It needed to be done, but I wonder who was listening. Surely not the half of the electorate who see elected officials as thieves or windbags and moneybags. Nor the fiercely tribal youngsters, some already elected, who see their ascendancy only in terms of their party’s triumph and their hopes for personal advancement.

Look at the salary scale of the main and even middle-range managers of the public bodies recorded in the mostly ignored annual reports presented to Parliament. Most are paid double and more than what a member of parliament gets; and many reap in excess of the combined salaries and allowances of the ministers and prime ministers to whom they report. And don’t even speak of the private-sector comparisons.

The contributory health insurance scheme for parliamentarians is woefully inadequate and often does not continue into retirement, when you need it most. Because the salary is low, the pension is small, so small that prime ministers and deputy prime ministers have had to quietly, desperately and embarrassedly seek help from Cabinets when chronic illness or severe misfortune occurs.

I recall being a member of a House committee around 1998 when, with gaunt and worried faces, retired MPs, from both parties, came to plead for continuing and effective health insurance. It hasn’t happened yet.

So unless you have independent means, a ‘roast’ on the side or a disposition for ‘tiefing’, don’t aspire for national representation. The job is worthy and commendable but largely thankless. It is a 24/7 work. Sadly, Baugh, Broderick and Shaw will not be long remembered, except by their families and close friends. Years ago, one retired MP told me that the acclaim of the crowd was even more pleasurable than good sex. I have not found that to be true.

Of course, the feckless behaviour of many of us representatives has richly earned public contempt for the class. Weak internal party discipline and electoral expedience have not helped, even right now, to reverse that viewpoint.

But something had better change, because governance is becoming more crucial and expectations are high, even in the depressing era of Trump, Boris, Jair and Duterte.

The Jamaican electorate ought to define accountable standards for those entrusted with representation – local and national – in exchange for paying them properly and respecting their sacrifice, instead of just cussing them from some distant sanctum of non-involvement.

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.