Orville Taylor | Holness’ almost perfect week
I make these comments with 'no prejudice'. This means that although there is approval of the conduct of the prime minister in the past week, I reserve the right to criticise him later on.
Beyond the bluster of Finance Minister Audley Shaw and his lame attempts to suddenly become the hero of the police and teachers, Prime Minister Andrew Holness did not make a wrong step last week.
On the backside of the utter disrespect and arrogance exhibited by Shaw and 'amnesiac' trade unionist Ruddy Spencer, he has said all the right things. True, there is collective responsibility as an administration and Cabinet. However, the two men in the finance portfolio sought to ram a final five per cent offer down the throats of the Jamaican teachers and force an unbending constabulary to bow, totally repugnant to industrial democracy and the very framework upon which their party was founded.
As both groups of public-sector workers grappled for public sympathy, a small vocal minority attempted to make political mileage of the stance of the president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, alleging that there is an orange tinge to her resistance. Thankfully, inasmuch as I personally believe that our professional government-employed unionists should never be politically active, Minister of Education Ruel Reid has wisely not joined the fray because not everyone forgets his own history in these matters. Nor did Holness make any utterance.
The fact is that nothing about the undemocratic stance to collective bargaining did anything to enhance the national support for the administration. Worse, rather than stepping forward as men at yard and abroad, they sent the admittedly more aesthetical pleasing female junior minister as a lamb before the wolves.
I am not sure if, like his predecessor prime minister, he does not read my columns or whether he has persons like me around him. However, he must have recognised that losing the support of the rank and file of both police and teachers is historically a harbinger for a loss in the next election. Thus, understandably, as disingenuous as it was, Shaw used his presentation in Parliament to speak to the constituents of the police and teacher negotiators, giving the impression that their representatives were blocking their 'food'. What is factual is that had the senior men treated the negotiators as adults and not underlings, the impasse would not have occurred. Holness must know that.
Beyond the self-inflicted wounds coming from the public-sector negotiations, Spencer kicked his party in the groin with a temporary bout of oral-cerebral disconnect disorder. Sounding very much like another colleague, and despite being warned of the presence of the media, Spencer opened his mouth and out came a despicable tribalist who seems at odds with the man who has spent most of his life fighting for the equal rights of the working class.
On announcing the appointment of former Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament Michael Stern, he alleged partisan distribution of assistance to farmers under a previous management of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and assured Labourites that with the appointment of Stern, the pendulum would now swing green. Poor Stern who must have given him a private rebuke matching his own name - who is a man who is viewed favourably by Labourites and Comrades in Clarendon. Having lost the last election, he does not need a septuagenarian to pass on any electile dysfunction to him. Indeed, his last close election loss was a hard pill to swallow and he must still be feeling blue.
Taking the bull by the horns, Holness remarked that Spencer's statement was improper: "I think it is a very unfortunate and inappropriate statement, and I am expecting that Minister Spencer will make a fulsome withdrawal of the statement and will do everything in his power to ensure that no such statement is made again." Moreover, not leaving anything up to chance, he said what any responsible leader should: "I think as prime minister, I probably will have to do something else, something more, to reinforce the point because I believe that it could erode confidence in the Government if it is not addressed in a strong way."
Whether you think his actions match his words is another matter, but he was spot on when he said, "We elect the Government to help all Jamaicans, not just some Jamaicans." If this were a gymnastics or X Games event, Holness would've got a perfect 10 for that response.
Holness is learning and understands that his administration is facing a wave of criticism over myriad acts, which include political interference in the constabulary, a spike in constituency spending prior to by-elections, and dismissal of public officers unjustly. Worse, the director of elections, Orrette Fisher, after an extended battle to save his job, resigned and complained of the same political interference that is now becoming the monkey on the back of the party, which embarrassed the nation over its handling of an extradition matter in 2010.
A breath of fresh air
Yet, Holness seemed to have raised his nose and inhaled then exhaled a breath of fresh political air. Not only did he accept that the allegations by Fisher are serious and go to the heart of our democracy, but remarkably, he committed to look into the matter and to engage the Opposition as he tries to get to the bottom of the case because our very democracy is at stake. Very prime ministerial.
After all, now that the election of the JLP's Dean Jones as councillor for the Yallahs division has been declared null and void, the party will again face the polls in the constituency where the last general election might have been narrowly won. Given the allegations from Fisher and some of the strange and apparently intrusive and even unconstitutional decisions regarding the (non)-appointment of public officials, many had speculated that there probably would have been some connection between these results and other actions.
Let's see if his actions match his results, and it is not just psychs.
- 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.