Mon | Nov 18, 2019

Mark Wignall | Good reverse gear, JLP

Published:Sunday | October 6, 2019 | 12:17 AM
File The Reverend Father Sean Major-Campbell, one of Jamaica’s most liberal clerics, says he has no problem having a microchip inserted beneath his skin.
File Bruce Golding at the Manatt commission of enquiry.
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When my son Mark Jr was just learning to walk, he plunged one hand into a scalding bowl of cornmeal porridge that was on a coffee table in the living room. It was a Saturday morning and my friend Eddie had dropped by. At his request, I had prepared the porridge for him.

I was mad for a little while, but as I rushed to the kitchen to apply cold, running water to the toddler’s hand, I could understand why he disobeyed me warning him twice and causing injury to himself. He was just a child.

That presents us with the question that just last week had been asked of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the governmental administration it forms. Why would the JLP Government make such a patently clear unforced error when it was seeking amendments to the Access to Information Act that would increase the exemption period for public access to Cabinet documents from 20 to 70 years?

This would be like a sensible adult deliberately toppling a US$50,000 Lalique crystal vase, causing it to break to bits. Why? And, did the JLP Government not know that it would have to bow over such stupidity?

In the real world of subterranean politics, it would have required a bit of ‘research’ and ‘preparation’. If we ease up on the rein and allow ourselves to fully understand that reality, this conversation between a senior JLP politician and his PNP counterpart would not necessarily be impossible.

JLP: We have a problem or two which took place when we were in power in 2007 to 2011. Putting all cards on the table, if we are in power in, say, 2027 or close to those times, we do not want some snoop using the 20-year limit to reveal secrets of those times. What can we do for you?

PNP: It’s not everything we did in the late 1990s and in the 2000s that would make us feel comfortable if they should see the light of day in, say, 2021 to 2023. If we are in power or close to it, the road forward might prove problematic.

JLP: So, are we cool on tacking on 50 years and just simply lock down everything?

PNP: Yes, but it is tricky. You and your people will have to frame it. If pressure takes us, we will issue all of the right ‘opposition’ positions, but it’s a secret that goes with us.

Both the JLP and the PNP will know that the above outline is my attempt to bring parody to politics.

Is Manatt and $50,000 a problem?

The JLP became the first one-term government when it lost in 2011 after its narrow win in 2007. Two main items burdened the Golding-led JLP government in those times.

The first was the Great Recession and the damage it did to the economy as unemployment shot up, oil prices rocketed past US$140 per barrel before it bottomed out, and as the economic distress eased in 2010, the JLP broke the Lalique. Deliberately. It was consumed with making it seem to all that it was protecting the man, Dudus, who the Americans were trying to have extradited on drug and gun charges.

The JLP, or the JLP Government, had paid US$50,000 for lobbying work in America to a firm called Manatt, Phelps and Phillips. The idea was an effort to slow down or quash the extradition. As the undercover lobbying was revealed in the press, there was an explosion of confusion in the JLP Cabinet.

Eventually, Golding mercifully gave up and passed on to Andrew Holness the title of prime minister. Holness lost the election in 2011, but in all of what followed, it was never revealed who paid that Manatt money.

Was it a consideration that in the late 2020s under the Access to Information (ATI) provision, the respective agency would have no excuse but to divulge the requested information.

Whose signature was on that cheque? Which local bank was involved? There must be cover notes or correspondence walking in tandem with this cheque. Those would have to be opened up for all to see.

Trafigura would be fair game

It was brought to light by the Opposition JLP in 2006 that the funds were wired from a Dutch firm named Trafigura Beheer to key persons in the PNP.

Trafigura was employed by the Government of Jamaica to lift concessionary Nigerian oil and sell it on our behalf on the international market. The big question then was, why was Trafigura sending, campaign funds I suppose, to the coffers of the PNP if not to ensure that Trafigura would continue its lucrative contact with the Jamaican Government?

Under the 20-year exemption, 2026 would be a bad year for the PNP because those requesting information under the ATI would no longer face the stumbling block that the PNP has mounted through the courts to ensure that enquiries into its role in Trafigura fade away and disappear into nothingness.

Now that the foolish 50-year extension has been pushed back, it is safe for us to assume that new info on Trafigura will eventually come to light.

It is my belief that both political parties had strong political self-interest in seeking an additional 50 years of internment of their secrets.

But for now they are both exposed, so this is the final premise. Equally exposed to potential harm must be considered the same as equally protected from it.

When religion leads to darkness

Father Sean Major-Campbell, a Jamaican Anglican priest, is, hands down, Jamaica’s most progressive clergyman.

When I use the word ‘progressive’, I do not mean it purely in a political sense, but eventually it is likely that they will feel those who will build that link.

Father Major-Campbell supports anything that will build the voiceless and powerless, and he believes that humans from every sector of society, social standing, and sexual orientation deserve expression and tolerance, especially when they are in the minority.

Recently, he gave support to the idea of having a computer chip implanted under his skin if it would assist him in performing functions like banking, shopping, and access to other social amenities.

As the words were barely out of his mouth, there came another preacher with fundamentalist leanings talking Bronze Age rubble about ‘Mark of the Beast’. As mentioned, of course, in the

Bible. Think of that. And after you do that, multiply the many thousands of times that viewpoint is still widely held in Jamaica.

I have evolved in my tolerance towards homosexuals, but I am still having problems with a man marrying another man. Where Father Major-Campbell would like to lead the religious community in Jamaica towards accepting the LGBT community, if not fully embracing their realities, other religious leaders are playing politics with their congregations.

And that is, giving the people what they want and not leading them into an understanding of where the nation needs to go. We have seen how the present Government has responded quite foolishly to some schools that have set out to ensure that teachers and students employ honesty in their claims of school attendance by using the latest technology.

The Government plays politics because many of our people are still scared of the mythological ‘Mark of the Beast’. Where religion reigns, so also will ignorance.

There is a simple reason for this. Religions gets its ’substance’ from the long outmoded. Bronze Age superstitions that set back a nation and keep its people fettered in ignorance. The Government has to walk in lockstep with elevating those fears because it is what the people desire.

Where clergymen in Jamaica believe that their prayers can dictate the paths of hurricanes, and anything placed under the skin to advance our collective lives must be ‘the Mark of the Beast’, countries like the Scandinavian ones and Singapore must be laughing at us.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.