Sat | Nov 28, 2020

Daniel Thwaites | Of the intertwined and the closely affiliated

Published:Sunday | July 19, 2020 | 12:29 AM

“Did you cheat on your wife with any of the principals … ?” That was the half-question posed by Zahra Burton (she appears to have been cut off mid-query). It was a follow-up to The Gleaner’s far more polite interrogatory – which had been dodged – about a possible “close affiliation” of the minister with any of the directors of Market Me.

It was the “cheating on your wife” part that was like a clappaz ah buss inna mi earz. My God, Ms Burton! Why yuh haffi talk it like daaat? Sas Crise! We are all big people here, but that was so ... so ... DIRECT!

Tufton, obviously super-annoyed, overrode emergency advice from Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan and insisted: “Let me answer!”

Thankfully, he did not answer. Except in the sense that everyone deduced a response from his indignant evasion: “None of your business!”

So was this an appropriate question? Alas, my mind is at war with itself on this issue. One part of me was like: “Bravo Tuffy! I agree. I didn’t get the memo either that we’re now living in a country where bun and cheese is illegal or fit for public discussion in the deestent-deestent press conference.”

But another part of me was like: “Here’s a politician dodging, and here is a courageous journalist bowling the direct ball, straight down the line for the middle stump … deal with it!”

From that angle it was, however inelegant, a perfectly good question. Plus, why was Ms Burton’s sound cut off before she completed?

If the allegation swirling around is that one company leapfrogged over health ministry media personnel, and over the Jamaica Information Service professionals, got its foot in the door, got awarded contracts without competitive tender, and then got follow-on contracts, it’s perfectly reasonable, even a requirement, for a journalist to ask if the minister and an executive of that special company are entangling and closely affiliating.

It’s rough on Tuffy right now. The revelation that the Government is sitting atop 10,000 untested samples is scandalous. It means the Government is waiting for the tests to be conducted while opening the door to tourists. Plus, he was facing a mighty backlash about over a hundred young doctors not being offered post-internship employment. Having initially suggested they should seek opportunities overseas or in private practice, he was just now undertaking a round of apologies and public self-flagellation.

That’s when this vicious social media smear campaign began by god-knows-who. Again, because of social media, we’re all caught in a massive social-psychological experiment and the results are looking horrific. But along with the straight-up filthy wickedness was an allegation: that ministerial preference had been the genesis of a company getting special attention when it came to Ministry of Health contracts.

SHAKE THE FOUNDATIONS

I can’t help but feel that this is a sad sad day in Jamaica on so many levels. Our culturally entrenched practice of getting and giving ‘bun’ is inching towards becoming socially unacceptable. Do people realise that could shake the foundations of our society? What will life be like without it? Will the country be recognisable? I even worry that in short order these moral reformers will try and make it illegal. Watch it!

It is already more and more difficult to live as an old-fashioned man. Consider J.C. Hutchinson. I believe J.C. when he said he was deriving no benefit from the Holland Producers deal even though he had affiliation, and even an adult child, with the woman in charge of the company.

Some of us men live under very harsh home-government where if she buys a tin of milk, her name haffi write on it, and you can’t touch it without permission, even though you pay the light bill, and if you touch the milk you will hear about it for days and be reminded about the one likkle fling wid de girl from St Elizabeth. It’s ridiculous! If that sounds suspiciously specific it’s because I’m familiar with just such a situationship and today, today!, me and J.C. are declaring independence! Listen: I believe the man.

Too bad it looks like the prime minister didn’t believe him though. J.C. has now been assigned to that holding pen for the aged, the infirm, those who have been allegedly involved in some project or the other, and those charged but not convicted. It’s a place formerly known as the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).

Actually, in all seriousness, the PM has reacted swiftly, though maybe not appropriately, to the J.C. Hutchinson drama. Detention as state minister without portfolio in the OPM isn’t really punishment. But I also understand where the PM is coming from. J.C. is a deputy leader, an election is coming up, and although they say the corruption doesn’t move the needle in the polls, it’s beginning to really pile up. And Brogad is like, “mi naw mek these old dinosaurs come mash up mi winnings! Dem can go closely affiliate demself!”

Anyway, back to the question. What we just witnessed is the smashing of a journalistic convention that has operated pretty much since journalism was permitted on our lovely island of pirates and privateers.

That’s why the question had the permanent secretary mouthing “Ohhh My God”, and me jumping back from the television and saying “B****bok***t!” Now everyone – including me – is pearl-clutching, having the vapours, clucking disapproval, closing one eye to avoid seeing the carnage, and peeping through the other in hopes of glimpsing what comes next.

GOOD OLD DAYS

Know what, in fond memorial of the good old days, let’s take a moment to remember them. Men controlled the media landscape, did the journalism-ing and ting and ting, and if a guy had a lady friend, part-time helper, assisted-living supervisor, jump-of f… well then, wink wink, nod nod, yuh know how it goh, ah nuh nutten dat … how yuh mean? Girls girls every day, from London, Canada and USA ... . Gimme de Benz p***ny mek mi gwaan drive it out … . Man fi have nuff gyal and gyal inna bungle … .

But as women become the better journalists and commentators, they will, alas, assert their own interests, concerns, and yes, questions. I can’t say if Ms Burton has breached the wall once and for all and that henceforth there will be more of this sort of thing, but this one won’t be forgotten.

In fact, I heard her speaking in defence of her question and she was making some points. There is an enormous constituency of people out there who will want to know if there’s an entanglement and close affiliation between a minister and a contracting company if and when government money is being spent. But there is also a (perhaps) smaller, but significant, constituency of people who consider adultery a disqualifying or staining character flaw.

Perhaps all of this is part of the ever-evolving “51st state mentality”, where the behaviours and practices of the USA are like a global oil-spill, creeping on to our shores with effects that are sometimes fair and oftentimes foul. It’s bound to happen when so many people sit glued to their televisions absorbing the trash on CNN and MSNBC.

We all had a wonderful laugh about Monica Lewinsky, and more recently, when Stormy Daniels gave details about Trump’s secretary of the interior. Yet, when Ms Burton dropped her US-style question, everybody’s jaw (mine first!) hit the floor and was like, “Don’t bodda bring those farrin innovations here an’ mash up wi likkle country”.

Jamaica’s unofficial national dish is bun. It’s served more frequently and plentifully than ackee entangled with salt fish or even chicken back closely affiliated with white rice. Then what yuh think gwaan after yuh rub two cartwheel dumpling and lay dung inna de hot sun? Correct: entanglements and close affiliations!

And we all know, perhaps intuitively, that if it were revealed exactly who has entanglements and close affiliations with whom, it would be worse than COVID-19, and the resulting mayhem would overwhelm the trauma units in the hospitals, the police, and the courts.

So while, in principle, I agree with Ms Burton’s right to ask the question, from a prudential standpoint, we better leave those exotic and foreign innovations where they belong, on television.

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