Ronald Thwaites: New style? Old attitudes!
What would have possessed Speaker Pearnel Charles to don a wig to preside at Parliament on Tuesday? Could it be that his usual salt-and-pepper coiffure is no longer chic enough for his new office?
The transformation is of the order of a Damascus Road experience.
There is a profound irony in a proud African chief taking for himself the silly garb of the colonial empire. After all, Pearnel was among the most disruptive members of the previous Parliament, second only to Everald Warmington. Both have now been elevated to high office, the octogenarian Charles to the chair and the sophomoric 'Warmy' to party whip. This is a masterstroke. Give them responsibility and curb their fretfulness.
As I write, Pearnel is making his second grand speech (the last being at the swearing in of the session). "Never again," he intones, "can we be referred as the gangs of Gordon House."
He is on good ground calling for mutual respect among members. Even more so, his warning that schoolchildren who, for good behaviour, are often accorded a trip to the House, should not continue to be appalled at the uncouth behaviour of some of those elected to represent and portray the best values and attitudes of the nation.
But the members of the House are taking Speaker Charles with a grain of salt. Conversion takes more than talking a good talk. He promises to be firm and balanced. It is likely to be his last hurrah. So let us live in hope.
Audley Shaw came over earlier to greet Morais Guy and myself. He speaks sincerely of the need for partnership across the aisle given the exquisite difficulties of the nation. This is a gracious gesture. I form the impression that some members of the new administration really want to cooperate. Others still seem overimpressed with the illusion of new power.
Karl Samuda is now leading up to a great leap backwards into Jamaica's history of socialising losses and privatising profits. This time, once again, it is about the sugar industry. Long Pond and Monymusk are to be kept afloat by the taxpayers since the big profits of the last few years are no longer. He is trying make virtue of this lurch back into historical disaster.
Dayton Campbell, the Opposition's new spokesman on agriculture, rises at a disadvantage, since there was neither notice nor copy of this ministerial statement. He is on point quickly asking for the financial details of the bailout orchestrated, may it be remembered, by Aubyn Hill.
Samuda, to the immense delight of the satraps behind him, seeks to blame the PNP administration for the whole mess.
Fitz Jackson asks about the proposed sugar refinery and about land policy given the Pan Caribbean crash. Samuda clearly does not know the answer and veers off to the age-old prospects about diversification.
We are the pawns once again.
Karl seems to be promising to return estate lands to the farmers. The applause is desultory, although this should be our best hope. Tufton and Hutchinson, who, from previous experience, should know something about the issue, say nothing.
Pearnel tries to lay down the Standing Order, cutting off discussion. It is getting too hot. Warmington, the rigorist, tries to support him, but, fortunately, Derrick Smith saves the day and refers to the practice, much used by Pearnel himself in the last session, of allowing all reasonable questions to statements by ministers. I think the blond wig may be interfering with the speaker's best judgement.
The confusion increases when Samuda, responding to Peter Phillips as to the impact on government finances, says that the exercise will not involve undue public expenditure. The money voted for transporting cane to Appleton and Worthy Park will now be used to keep the Long Pond Factory open. So Pan Caribbean and Everglades pocket the profits of fat years and the rest of us pay for the lean years? How many times has this happened before?
The discussion on sugar takes a major step for the better with the maiden intervention of MP Victor Wright from Northern Trelawny. The gentleman knows about the cane and sugar industry. He asks what happens if the time runs out and the private sector has not taken up the financial slack? Are there limits to the contribution of the State? How will it be afforded? Isn't it true that much of the lands on the Vere Plain are too saline for economic cane cultivation?
There are no satisfactory answers. The minister is trying to cope with an emergency. But it is frightening how difficult it is for whichever administration to break out of the recurrent ambushes on the public purse.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Central Kingston and opposition spokesman on education. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.