Orville Taylor: Lightweight Cabinet? Nah!
I want to find another reason for the critics to rip apart Andrew Holness' Cabinet beside the fact that 'a pure Labourite dem in deh'. One of my friends, whose opinion I respect - although I do not always agree with his purple-tinged commentaries, garnished with chunks of orange - has poured cold water, or sour grape juice, on it.
Perhaps it is the Champs-inspired competitiveness, but someone described the collection of Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members of parliament (MPs) and senators, who comprise the new executive, as "lightweight" in comparison with the immediate past People's National Party's (PNP) set.
Straightaway, the fact that the Holness crew is six members smaller than that of the Portia Simpson Milled-led predecessors might add substance to this idea. After all, it has been revealed that in terms of salaries, it will be a major saving of more than $40 million annually.
Moreover, much to my chagrin, the dark side of the $1.5 million incentive should bite his Cabinet and him in the seat of their pants, because since they will be over the $5 million mark, they should in effect receive a reduction in salary in real terms. And even if it does not, the additional revenue from the extra 25 per cent income tax, which will be sucked out from their eye corners, will be an even bigger net saving.
However, the criticism was not about the money for wages and certainly is not about the different density of the flatulence they will be now adding to seats of the Comrade-used, 'wear and lef' motor vehicles; brand-new second-hand Mitsubishi Pupinas. The argument is that these new ministers are less qualified or less capable.
First of all, except for the attorney general, who must be a member of the bar, and my friends A.J. Nicholson and Delroy Chuck are long-standing ones, there is no academic qualification to be a member of the executive. And of the others, only the finance minister and prime minister need to be elected parliamentarians.
As for the speaker of the House, Pearnel Charles is an elder who can command respect from both sides, and even his hairstyle is evenly balanced. As long as he speaks from his black side and doesn't follow back-benchers like Mr Warminster, no one will tell him "get the 'L' out!"
But let us look at some of the actual portfolio ministers. Doubtless, Dr Peter Phillips has had the highest approval rating of any finance minister in the last 40 years. All multilateral institutions and other movers and shakers internationally have given him the thumbs up. Haters have given him only one of the two JLP fingers of endorsement, and it is not the index. Yet, unless they are being weighed in different currencies, Audley 'Man a Yard' Shaw loses the tale of the tape.
Mike Henry has years and years ... did I say years ... of experience, and despite the rapid multiplication of Chinese projects here, it was the JLP who I recall brought China Harbour, et al here. Certainly, one couldn't 'diss' Mike Henry. And I'm going to resist any comments about him being well suited for the mining portfolio because he was around when the fossil fuels were being buried. The fact is, though, Henry at 80, is sharper than many of the dim-witted youngsters on both sides of the fence and far from being a bull suited for pasture, he is just a Humble Lion. Karl Samuda is a veteran's veteran as well, and I bet he can tell me about the first logistics hub in Panama from experience, instead of reading about it like Anthony Hylton.
Mark Golding is a bright, middle-aged youngster. Nonetheless, Delroy Chuck is no one to push out of his lane. This Rhodes Scholar, former University of the West Indies Senior lecturer, is still so bright that his intellect and counsel is very useful. And even Noel Arscott has to admit that Desmond McKenzie knows a lot about local government. Of course, Kingston Mayor Angela Brown Burke might cause him to stammer when he explains the-the issues, but he is no pushover.
And who would say that Olivia Babsy Grange is not at least the peer of Lisa Hanna? Grange's experience and depth in the portfolio will not be shaken as she retakes culture along with gender affairs and sports. In fact, I am sure she started her preparation to retake the portfolio, because when her predecessor sang in Half-Way-Tree, she knew it was over.
Although the proof of the pudding is in the eating, Andrew Wheatley is a PhD-holding natural scientist who understands far more about energy and technology than a lawyer, who learns fast and negotiates deals well. There is no reason to think that he will have as sharp a learning curve as Phillip Paulwell did.
Speaking of lawyers; taking a Catholic deacon with an impressive academic record and superior IQ and giving him the education ministry cannot possibly devalue the contribution of a former classroom teacher who headed the largest teachers' union in the Caribbean. Moreover, I am told that he has caused a major turnaround at Jamaica College.
Christopher Tufton is a PhD and has a solid record of research. He might not be a medical scientist, but he understands what statistics mean and should be able to recognise when administrators are feeding him bovine faecal matter. Moreover, he is a management scientist, taking over a ministry whose main issues were not technical, but managerial. Ask Horace Dalley if I am right.
Bobby Montague had the same experience in security as Peter Bunting had before taking over. With his heart in the right place, clean hands and a willingness to learn fast, I think he did well despite the one major indicator of major crime, homicide remaining high. Montague is a fast learner and is known to work hard. Let's hope he doesn't ask the incredulous Senior Superintendent, "Man! You think mi aidyat?"
There is no less experience that Kamina Johnson Smith has compared to the aforementioned A.J., unless one thinks that expertise in signing deportation orders gives one an advantage. In any event, she has her ambassador daddy to guide her. Shahine Robinson is at least as qualified as Simpson Miller was when she took over the labour ministry, and I bet she is not less knowledgeable than Derrick Kelllier.
Finally, since we are talking about the Comrade Leader, let me advise that I know her intellect, and I was a lecturer in the same faculty where Andrew Holness and his wife got their degrees.
My words to the wise and otherwise. The Labourites have another five years to do well or mess up. Put on your seat belt and watch the ride, but don't fail them before they sit the exam.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.