Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Where there’s smoke, one gets fired

Published:Sunday | March 29, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Now that the dust has settled in 'Greenland', the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) can catch its benzene-spiked breath and look through the smokescreen created by its leader. Andrew Holness had petulantly, like the child that takes up his football because his scrimmage team was getting six-love, gone to the Court of Appeal.

Perhaps because he inhaled more smoke from the Riverton City dump than the average person, he could not see behind his ludicrous smoke-and-mirrors shenanigans that he had used to obscure the fact that he tried to unlawfully dismiss his dissenting colleagues from the Senate, a power that he does not have under the Constitution. And like someone else, whose comparison must peeve him, his pig-headedness is going to be his undoing. His silly pretext for challenging the Supreme Court ruling was a red herring; and he knows this more than anyone else.

It is a pity, because he had the benefit of wise and bright men and an old memory gem about "he who knows and knows ... ." But like persons who light fires where they know they shouldn't, he must now get ready to cough or choke. The crisis this has now created in the JLP is like the Riverton fire. Despite Chuckloads of dirt to staunch the blaze, the smoke remained for days, and, ultimately, somebody has to pay a hefty price.

As Riverton puffed like the magic dragon, the Labourites took time from their own debacle to draw the tongue of Prime Minister Simpson Miller, who took the bait. Chewing fire, local government expert, Desmond McKenzie, under whose watch the impeccable Joan Gordon Webley was appointed, was indignant that Jennifer Edwards was not fired. Edwards, head of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), was under fire since the dump was set ablaze, and Labourites and other interest groups wanted her smoked out of office.

Simpson Miller is caught between the devil and the deep thick smog. On the one hand, she almost totally absolved Edwards with her characteristic blurted comment, "she didn't light the fire," in defending the decision to not fire her. On the other, this is the same Simpson Miller, in her initial cameo appearance as prime minister, in 2006 as the people's favourite, the anointed from God. She had made it clear that she would have been appointing a man of the cloth (or woman) on all government boards, in order to guarantee 'transparency and probity.'

Now, despite my rubbishing the notion that pastors, who from time to time molest little boys, impregnate deacons' wives, misappropriate collection money and fight against their fellows, I understood that her intention was to send a message to the public that she was going to be hands off and not interfere politically with the running of these entities.

Although there is fleeting evidence that there is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip, I am absolutely certain that she still wishes her electorate to believe that when it comes to breaking rules, Mamma won't cross the line.

 

crossing the line

 

A board in a public entity is not an unnecessary impediment and is not intended to be a footstool of the political directorate. True, the general mandate of these boards is to act within the general policy framework of government, while adding knowledge and expertise. Boards advise ministers when they are doing right or wrong, and whenever it or any individual member feels that the minister is crossing the line, it or he or she should walk.

I truly doubt that Edwards herself did put the match to the dump, and just like her predecessor, I don't hold her responsible for the fire that was strategically set at the NSWMA on the eve of the People's National Party (PNP) takeover of the government and the impending departure of its then incumbent Webley in 2011. Not one to bow under pressure, suasion or reason, the prime minister refused to relent, in spite of the calls from a number of civic groups, for Edwards to be dismissed.

Apart from a coalition of Bible-wielding clergymen and others, William Mahfood, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, demanded the summary dismissal of the management, thus Edwards should simply be dumped, although she is a recycled local government and old-time PNP. Yet, all good employers must know about due process.

Edwards' qualifications to be chief executive officer of the NSWMA are the same as Webley's; veteran status in the party in power. In human resources management, we say, 'You get what you pay for.'

However, 'not-changing-course' Sister P seemed to have given Edwards the thumbs up. Yet, a week later, the board chairman, Steve Ashley, didn't say, "Lef' right away", but he gave her marching orders notice, and she saw a different set of fingers.

Apparently a well-reasoned decision, the termination was reportedly the consensus of the board. Yet it has not gone over well, as grass-roots supporters protested and members of the PNP's chief decision-making body, the National Executive Committee, heckled Ashley when he presenting the news. Local Government Minister, Noel 'Butch'Arscott, met with the board, presumably to be briefed as to why she was dismissed; not to rescind or overthrow the decision, which, from Sista P's utterances, must be displeasing to her.

This is the same Butch who almost two years ago steered clear of cries to remove Edwards, saying, "The board would probably discuss it at the next meeting of the board, I'm sure." Any reinstatement on purely political grounds makes the prime minister no different from Holness.

For me, it is simple. Was there justification - that is, misconduct, negligence or incompetence? And was Edwards dismissed using the rules of natural justice? If yes, her popularity is inconsequential for a government committed to transparency. If no, her injunction is warranted on the grounds that it was "arbitrary, oppressive, unlawful and unreasonable". Either way, to prevent Ashley from turning 'Ashy', someone has to get the 'L' out.

n Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.