Mon | Jan 21, 2019

Arnold Bertram | 'Once I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken'

Published:Sunday | February 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (right) in light conversation with (from left) Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, retired Chief Justice Zaila McCalla, and newly appointed acting Chief Justice Bryan Sykes at Sykes' swearing-in ceremony at King's House on February 1. The governor general mediated a meeting of judges, members of the executive, among others, to try to find common ground weeks after the temporariness of the appointment sparked public outrage.

The more enlightened among the supporters of Andrew Holness have a difficulty in understanding why it is taking him so long to admit his error in not appointing the chief justice permanently in the clear vacancy that exists.

The judicial fraternity has made it abundantly clear that the appointment of a temporary chief justice, subject to political assessment, undermines the integrity of the judicial system. National Integrity Action (NIA) has warned that to "appoint Bryan Sykes as an acting chief justice could open the door for any future prime minister with an agenda to seek to influence the course of justice", and "that further delay in the full appointment of the chief justice can seriously erode the gains made in the Corruption Perception Index of 2017".

In the face of nationwide opposition, the stance taken by Holness is hardly different from the man who, in the face of an abundance of evidence to the contrary insists, "Once I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken."

Some supporters of Holness explain his tendency to authorita-rianism in terms of the influence of his mentor, Edward Seaga, and his long association with the culture of garrison politics.

Many had high hopes for Holness when he was elected. They readily forgave the failure of the previous JLP administration, for which he shared leadership with Bruce Golding, and hoped he would embrace the kind of participatory governance that successful political leadership in today's Jamaica requires. It is becoming clear that he flattered only to deceive.


Image-building campaign


Instead of settling down to inform himself of the kind of policy framework required to move Jamaica forward and mobilise the country around the programmes that would flow, he seems to believe that he can maintain popular support through an elaborate and well-funded public-relations and image-building campaign. Until now, this strategy seems to have succeeded, but increasingly, his PR campaign is having a great difficulty reconciling the message of success with the failure to achieve economic growth, the runaway murder rate, and the social disarray.

To his credit, he has maintained the macroeconomic stability he inherited from the PNP Government's Economic Reco-very Programme led by Dr Peter Phillips. However, he's yet to grasp the fact that macroeconomic stability does not automatically lead to growth. Hence his optimistic "5-in-4" remains a pipe dream, with growth over the last year at less than one per cent.

Had he taken the time to inform himself, he would have discovered that the Jamaican economy had never been organised to compete in a free-trade global market, and the factors that contributed to the impressive growth rates of the 1950s and 1960s no longer exist.

We no longer have a major sugar industry enjoying a preferential price; the armaments industry no longer depends on aluminium; and tourism, which remains our only competitive sector, concentrates ownership in a few and pays low wages. The education and training required to build a productive labour force with the capacity to incorporate modern technology is yet to be put in place.


Litany of Promises


Unbelievably, despite the failures of the administration, Holness and the JLP have planned major celebrations of their second anniversary in power. A more realistic assessment of the JLP over the two years is provided by a group of young Jamaicans on, which shows that of the 171 promises made by Holness, 145 are not yet started, six have been broken, a mere 13 are in progress, and only seven have been achieved. I have yet to see a response from the JLP.

Neither authoritarianism nor the present policy framework is going to build a Jamaica that works for all Jamaicans. Only the chosen few will enjoy prosperity. Political leadership needs to be more conscious of the environment in which it operates and more willing to be inclusive. The following warning from George Lamming, an outstanding Caribbean intellectual, is apt:

"The politician is overwhelmed by concrete tasks to be performed; decisions to be taken urgently, often without any pause or reflection. He is haunted by the failure to deliver. His working hours are spent in a permanent state of emergency. ... It is a feverish atmosphere hardly conducive to that state of reflective self-consciousness from which a commanding vision of a new society could be born.

"But, the political leader may arrive at such a vision if he enjoys a certain measure of collaborative support from other modes of thought and perception ... that of the historian, the poet, the student of philosophy and the social sciences, the economist and the theatre director who creates the cultural history of the nation. It is the collective dialogue between these different categories of sensibility which ultimately gives voice to a commanding vision of the new society. But it is precisely this voice which has often withdrawn its service from any form of political engagement." (Lamming 1996: 25)

- Arnold Bertram is a former government minister and long-time member of the People's National Party. Email feedback to