Mon | Dec 17, 2018

Gordon Robinson | Looking at the glass half full

Published:Sunday | November 11, 2018 | 12:00 AM

While I'm still trapped in a bubble ventilated by the warm glow of goodwill and injected with milk-of-human-kindness hallucinogens by assisted-living facility caretakers, it's a fine time to applaud some of the good done by political leaders.

Long time we no have no nice time.

You-you doo-doo-doo, yeah, think about that!

Readers are always commenting adversely that public commentators only carp and complain while ignoring the positive. They're correct but that view exposes a misunderstanding of public commentators' roles and limitations. Speaking for all columnists (well, all right, many columnists), we get 600 to 1,000 words (depending on assigned days) once or twice per week to comment on public affairs. Within those uncomfortable restrictions, commentators must prioritise. Do we praise Caesar or bury him? The truth is, it's more important to highlight perceived mistakes, especially while corrective measures are still possible rather than to acknowledge achievements. I know a columnist who'd call that "the greater good".

Also, we must be careful, if we have any self-respect, to avoid appearing sycophantic. You see, there's nothing worse in the commentary world than almost exclusively promoting one side or the other. Some do it to nauseating levels. In this context, the word 'side' includes but isn't restricted to politics. Never forget: If you look like a sycophant; if you talk like a sycophant; if you walk like a sycophant; if you quack like a sycophant, you ARE a sycophant.

An emotional sycophant isn't as immoral as a paid sycophant. Murdering one's spouse in a jealous rage is bad, but carefully planning a slow poisoning to inherit one's partner's assets is depravity! So, in the cautious expectation that readers can identify a sycophant from a conscience-stricken grumpy old man, here's my list of good works.

 

Government

 

My overriding impression, despite my many criticisms of individual policies/actions, is of the best Government I've experienced this century. I'm convinced the Government's heart is in the right place; the PM is on a mission to improve Jamaica; and significant strides have been made in "short order".

The work done on the economy since 2016 has progressed from the firm foundation built by Peter Phillips to a growth-focused edifice. I applaud Nigel Clarke for stubbornly refusing to panic when the dollar began to slip and resisting the urge to use Jamaica's reserves to prop it up. That was a simple acknowledgement of previous decades' failed strategy but can't have been an easy political decision. His plan to cut BOJ loose from his ministry is another stroke of geni-what-Jamaica-needs.

Audley Shaw's shift from Finance to Agriculture has brought a swift realisation that the two are inextricably intertwined. Shaw's focus has been on increased production/new markets. For example, his embrace of the recent marijuana regime can, with visionary policies and committed management, help advance the macroeconomy and provide important micro-opportunities.

Now to the Old Ball and Chain's favourite prime minister: To be fair, she has always liked him, but when he abolished the antediluvian barring of women wearing sleeveless tops from government buildings, she nominated him for national hero. But this action (bringing results) was a mere extension of his political philosophy insofar as that can be gleaned from his public history.

Even his campaign promises, subjected to much harangue and satire (especially by me), establish his motivation as the welfare of all Jamaicans. The dogged way he went about granting the promised '1.5', regardless of what had to be done and how much personal ridicule he suffered, is proof of this. His focus on improving NHT's effectiveness on developing infrastructure, on stimulating growth, on innovative residential policies provides more proof. He's a transformative leader. He listens to public outcry and tries to address every concern as best he can. He listens, period. THAT's a big deal.

I confess that even when he was opposition leader, I've been haunted by a nagging image of Michael Manley (MY favourite prime minister) whenever I see Andrew Holness in action. What's his middle name again? He appears to me as the perfect mix of Joshua's compassion and Seaga's relentless focus. THIS is leadership. A JLP led by a reincarnated, more strategic Michael Manley must be bad news for the PNP. Or maybe not! Maybe his approach will force the PNP to change its way of politicking. Jamaica could be the big winner.

 

The Opposition

 

The Opposition has taken several steps forward under Peter Phillips. Much of the good work has come in an area the famous Italian Blue Team (look it up) might call canape bidding (aka laying the foundation). The PNP appears finally to be in a process of renewal under his leadership as first exemplified in his astute shadow Cabinet mix. That message is clearly resonating among party faithful as established by results of a recent vice-presidential skirmish. In what has all the hallmarks of a generational reshuffle, Damion Crawford and Mikael Phillips crashed PNP second-tier leadership.

It hasn't all been party work. The parliamentary Opposition has been vigilant, aggressive, and incisive. Star of the show is the PAAC, featuring the PCJ-NESoL-USF probe. However, key Budget Debate inputs were made in new Finance Spokesperson Mark Golding's impassioned plea for inclusive growth, and Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Lisa Hanna's exposÈ of what she called Government's 'Doctrine of Doing Nothing' policy. Maybe it's my imagination, but Jamaica's foreign affairs positions have appeared more proactive since.

The PNP's legal challenge to NIDS legislation is an excellent move by a responsible Opposition. It suggests that the PNP knows that political platform buffoonery is no longer acceptable as protest of fundamental issues. Win or lose, this landmark intrusion into citizens' privacy (NIDS) needs to be confirmed as constitutional or not by Jamaica's highest court. If it passes the legal test, Jamaicans can all participate in a fundamentally new process, confident that there's no unnecessarily adverse consequence. Or, as Jimmy McGill would say, it's Saul Goodman!

It's also encouraging to see that the PNP hasn't made it a political challenge mounted by 'party' lawyers, but has asked legal icon Byron St Michael Hylton, QC, to lead the team. This signals that the PNP wants a legal, not political, result. There's nobody better to achieve just that.

Since Independence, with few exceptions, Parliament has acted as if it believed it was supreme (as it is in UK) and invulnerable. Jamaica's Independence constitution was recognition, including by England itself, that Westminster couldn't be imported as is because of historical and cultural differences. The purpose of introducing a written constitution in former colonies was to ensure that MPs accepted the limits of political representation.

Unfortunately, MPs, appearing drunk on what they believe to be unchecked power, have, instead, passed laws without the slightest concern for possible abrogation, abridgement, or infringement of the rights of persons they're supposed to represent. Worse, our courts have rarely been encouraged to review Parliament's acts against the benchmark of these constitutional limits. The PNP's request for the courts to conduct this review regarding NIDS is a welcome shift from practice. Here's hoping for more of the same.

I was born by the river in a little tent.

Oh, and just like the river, I've been a-running evry since.

It's been a long time, a long time coming

But I know oh-oo-oh a change go'n come ... .

Nice Time, first recorded by the Wailers (1967) at the peak of the rock-steady craze, has been often remixed. But none equals the original musicianship from the likes of Winston Wright (organ), Jackie Jackson (bass), Hugh Malcolm (drums), Lynn Taitt (guitar), and Denzil Laing (percussion).

A Change Is Gonna Come, written and recorded by Sam Cooke, was released as the flip side of his posthumous hit Shake, days after his December 1964 funeral. It didn't excite pop charts and barely entered the R&B top 10 (briefly), but on March 7, 1965, when state troopers knocked down, gassed, and beat a number of men and women participating in a peaceful march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, the song took on new life and became a civil-rights movement anthem.

It's okay to be satisfied with Jamaica's slow, steady progress towards good governance. We have a long way to go, especially in the areas of constitutional reform (urgently needed anti-corruption weapon), education (we MUST find the courage to transform from a prehistoric focus on standardised exams to teaching life skills); and health (we prioritise hype over infrastructure and give medical personnel empty baskets to treat the sick).

Jamaica will get there. I doubt I'll be around then, but renewed vigilance from citizens, together with responsiveness from political leaders, will see our children home. The change is gonna come!

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.