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Troy Caine | Cabinets, breakfronts and Gordon Robinson

Published:Sunday | May 15, 2016 | 5:00 AMTroy Caine
Troy Caine
Rudolph Brown/Photographer Portia Simpson Miller's Cabinet after they were sworn in. Absent was Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (centre) with the Cabinet ministers and state ministers who will make up his executive after they were sworn in at King’s House in St Andrew.
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However, it is with a heavy heart and some nerve that I dare to ... well, just to make a few comments on two topics in his column titled 'Swapping white Queen for non-executive monkey' in The Sunday Gleaner of April 24, 2016.

Ripping into the governor general's Throne Speech, Gordon declared, inter alia, that with Andrew Holness' "restructured and smaller Cabinet" consisting of 18 members and three state ministers from only 31 MPs, the prime minister "scoffed at Portia's 20-member Cabinet, plus four junior ministers from 43 MPs" (really 42) ..." and has the colossal gall to boast that it's smaller" ... .

Well, I guess it's just a colossal coincidence, but it is indeed quite an undisputed fact that ALL JLP Cabinets since Independence have been ALWAYS smaller than the consistent 20-odd or close to 20-odd PNP breakfronts imposed on this nation almost every time that party attained power, and that is a fact, whether it is expressed by the governor general or the prime minister. Not that this is really any news or anything of real significance to Gordon, since his knowledge of everything is impeccable "from salt fish a shingle house", but it could be useful for his unsuspecting readers and all those students who hunger and thirst for factual righteousness.

Few changes

Bustamante's first JLP Cabinet in 1962, from a tally of 26 MPs, was only 14 members (including three ministers without portfolio from the Senate), and when Ken Jones died in 1964, he was replaced with Cleve Lewis. It was virtually the same Cabinet that Donald Sangster took charge of when he became prime minister in 1967, and the same one inherited by Hugh Shearer after Sangster's passing. Later, a few changes, but the membership remained at 14 until the party lost power in 1972 and is still regarded as arguably the best Cabinet that served this country - a view perhaps aided and abetted by the fact that six of the 14 were outstanding old Munronians.

Similarly, in 1980, after the JLP had swept 51 of the 60 seats, Eddie Seaga's Cabinet consisted of just 15 members, including three members from the Senate. And in 1983 when Seaga had all 60 seats at his disposal, the number climbed to only 18 in spite of some changes and reshuffling.

In 2007 when Bruce Golding had the small margin of four seats, his Cabinet from 32 MPs was initially 17 members and after a reshuffle in 2010, that amount only increased by one.

So this year, Andrew Holness has merely emulated a very traditional and worthwhile trend of a small JLP Cabinet which can only benefit the country economically. Indeed, only two sets of people seem to have complaints about the present Cabinet - the PNP, which is complaining that it is too small, and Gordon Robinson, who is complaining that it is too big. But I would think that it is a pretty courageous political leader who appoints an 18-member Cabinet from 32 MPs, which clearly shows the degree of confidence and trust he has in his team.

Comparatively, Michael Manley's first PNP Cabinet after the 1972 general election was, commendably, 16 members from 37 MPs, and when Glasspole, Wills O. Isaacs and Allan Isaacs departed, the number remained the same with the appointment of Eli Matalon, Dudley Thompson and William Isaacs. But after the 1976 election, his Cabinet expanded to 19 members plus 10 ministers of state and eight parliamentary secretaries from 47 MPs. On Manley's return in 1989, he had a 20-member Cabinet and another multitude of state ministers from 45 MPs.

Reduction

There was a reduction to a 16-member Cabinet plus many state ministers after the 1993 election under P.J. Patterson, but again after the 1997 election the number jumped back to a 20-member Cabinet. And while there was a slight dip in the Cabinet size after the 2002 election, the hefty trend continued under Mrs Simpson Miller and especially after the 2011 election when her Cabinet soared beyond 20 members, along with some eight or nine ministers of state.

So which party has burdened this country with the most ostentatious Cabinets over the years, oftentimes to maximise benefits to the boys (and girls) with very little achieved in the productivity and uplift of the country? And which party has earned the right to brag that it has been more pragmatic, built more lasting institutions and influenced the only realistic growth periods since Independence with their much smaller Cabinets?

My second comment is in regard to Gordon's reaction to the "newly appointed state minister", and he has quite correctly listed the state minister's five most infamous transgressions. But I am really surprised he omitted the sixth and most vital one, which was his raging refusal to offer an angry pound of flesh to members of the media fraternity, who, like Shylock, already had daggers drawn for the occasion.

Surely, as an attorney who was not so successful with the cases of Rhygin and Whoppy King, he must know that even a condemned man is entitled to a last meal and a chance to be reprieved by the governor general.

Sure, the new state minister has a terrible record of outrageous, uncouth and deplorable behaviour as a public servant, although many people will argue that he is hardly worse that the likes of Wills O. Isaacs, 'Slave Boy' Evans, Max Carey, Bully Joseph, Tony Spaulding, Donald Buchanan and others with whom this country has had to endure over many decades. So, is the new state minister to be eternally crucified for being outspoken and for not being a friend of the media?

Given the new state minister's record as an excellent MP to his constituents, which is paralleled by only a few; whose knowledge of parliamentary matters and laws is the equal of even fewer; and whose political record spanning more than 16 1/2 years as an elected member, a former state minister, and a loyal supporter of the prime minister, I would think his appointment is more than justified. Therefore, a far more relevant judgement of his performance and his behaviour begins NOW... .

- Troy Caine is a political historian. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and trodencorp@gmail.com.