Thu | Sep 20, 2018

Martin Henry | No catch for empty 'Thrown' Speech

Published:Sunday | February 18, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Martin Henry
With political knives drawn, but this time for eating, Prime Minister Andrew Holness (left) and Opposition Leader Peter Phillips have a hearty conversation before a hearty lunch on the lawns of Jamaica House, following the ceremonial opening of Parliament on Thursday, February 15.
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We were once again, last Thursday, regaled with another Throne Speech.

But what did Her Majesty's representative say again last year? Who remembers anything about that?

The Throne Speech, if it is to go beyond platitudinous ceremony, should be converted into a scorecard on which the Government reports the following year, which a serious Opposition would use as a monitoring device in the Parliament and which a watchdog media could use to improve its bark and bite.

But all is not lost. Come this Thursday, we will be offered exclusively in The Gleaner a 'must-read', "parade of achievements" by public-sector entities in the last 12 months "in a special Excellence publication". Who needs the Parliament when press profiling will do?

And, come March 5, management guru Dr Nigel Clarke will be in Parliament on the Government side. Perhaps this confidante of the prime minister will get a chance to bring a fresh management approach to governance.

Parachuted into Derrick Smith's 29-yearlong safe seat for the Jamaica Labour Party, backed by millions of dollars of roadwork money and other party giveaways, armed with superior management skills and running on the ticket of the governing party, Clarke is fully expected to steamroll Keisha Hayle, whose main claim to fame is turning around a rural primary school.

But the PNP hardly has any grounds for complaints. In the last three-seat by-elections, they brought home their two strongest garrisons in which the JLP token candidates could fare no better than a snowball in hell. And Derrick Smith's North West St Andrew constituency is no garrison. Just a well-cultivated safe seat that his son did not get to inherit.

The new year should be a particularly busy one for a lazy and late Parliament if the Throne Speech is not just another joke and a promise, which is a comfort to a fool. It is laced with a bold legislative agenda running through most of the ministries of the Government that should keep the Parliament quite busy.

Headlining the governor general's (GG) speech on behalf of the Government was the fight against crime. "The political directorate," the GG announced, "is prepared to unite against the criminals who have caused too much hurt, too much pain, and too much tears over the past many, many years." Then the vague promise: "For this year, the administration is committed to providing additional resources and support to the anti-crime fight." And "the justice system will also be given special attention".

We will have to look to the Budget to see if these are not just words in the wind.

If crime and violence is our greatest national threat, as the Throne Speech intoned, then, absolutely, the Parliament must preferentially direct revenue resources towards national security and justice.

"Organised crime and the resulting violence and homicide it produces is the biggest threat to citizens security and continues to stymie the growth and prosperity of our country," the Throne Speech said.

 

BUDGET PROCESS

 

We will see if a Government touting the rule of law will this year allow the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament the time necessary to do its lawful work. The legislature has been seriously sidelined in the Budget process. Even the Cabinet.

To an extraordinary degree, the national Budget is the product of the minister of finance and the unelected technocrats of the Ministry of Finance. The Budget process, to an extraordinary degree, involves cobbling together the demands of individual ministries, departments, and agencies of Government and expecting that some grand development plan will emerge out of this inanity.

The parliamentary Opposition has been handed a golden opportunity to do some serious political horse trading in the national interest. The trumpeted unity of the political directorate, regarding the extension of the state of public emergency, against the nation's number-one problem, should be converted into a full and robust parliamentary debate on crime as a key part of the Budget Debate, which has been more a profiling and cass-cass non-debate among the deaf.

 

MORE MONEY TO TACKLE CRIME

 

More money will have to be directed towards security and justice.

The one man who has publicly expressed interest in the job of police commissioner, following George Quallo's unceremonious exit, acting Assistant Commissioner Steve McGregor, was telling us last Thursday in this newspaper what everybody knows already - that "the Government must give the police the necessary facilities".

McGregor publicly complained that "the standard of stations is way below what they ought to be. We are even short of weapons. The equipment we must have must be of a First-World standard. We need proper vehicles and uniforms," he begged.

There is an overhang demand for 800 vehicles! The force is short of 3,500 members, nearly 30 per cent of its current establishment strength and not talking about urgently necessary expansion, while 1,616 Jamaicans were murdered last year, and already more than 200 in the first six week of this year.

I have regularly proposed and demonstrated that slicing a small percentage from all other budget lines for security and justice would be relatively painless, while yielding substantial additional resources for crime reduction and the improvement of public safety and public order against the national public emergency that crime and violence and public disorder pose. Just 2.5 per cent of the $800 billion 2017-2018 Budget would yield an additional $20 billion for security and justice.

Judges, pledged to uphold the rule of law, in a lawless - and frightening - move last Monday, abandoned their posts to gather at the Supreme Court for an unannounced 'meeting', which amounts, in industrial relations terms, to a wildcat protest strike.

Their 'declaration' loudly stated: "We make no comment in respect of the ongoing debate surrounding the question whether the acting appointment of Chief Justice Sykes is unconstitutional, illegal, or otherwise invalid. That is a matter for adjudication in a properly constituted court, if it should become necessary. We do not express any view on that issue."

Shockingly, in the heat of protest, it seems to have completely escaped their learned minds that following their protest action, this matter could never be perceived to be able to get a fair hearing in any court of Jamaica! Which, taken together with other points of the declaration, boils right down to an improper interference in executive decision-making by the judicial branch! Aided and abetted by other vociferous parties, arm-wrestling the prime minister into concession without due process.

And had the matter of the appointment of an acting chief justice been a simple, obvious, and straightforward breaking of the law, not one of those 97 learned judges from the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, and the Parish Courts would have sensibly made any such declaration.

But the judges did make the very important point at number 16 of their 20-point declaration that "... while we have to operate within the constraints of Jamaica's tight fiscal space, without substantially increased inputs into the justice system, in terms of the physical stock of courtrooms, additional human resources at all levels and the provision of the necessary tools utilised within the system, the desirable level of improvement cannot be achieved or sustained. This in a context where inadequate investments in the justice sector has been a feature of successive Governments since Independence," they said.

Unlike the prime minister, I have lived through all of Independence. I won't be holding my breath that this Budget cycle will be a radical break with the past in either process or outcomes. Or that the Throne Speech is worth the paper it was written on.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.