Sat | Aug 8, 2020

Gordon Robinson | Tom drunk, him nuh fool

Published:Sunday | December 29, 2019 | 12:00 AM

We’re approaching 2020 with Government’s New Year’s Resolution being to call general elections.

I’m not expecting a first-quarter election. First, no responsible government should call an election shortly before Budget is due. This would be unfair to any new or renewed government. Second, surely a savvy JLP wouldn’t surrender the opportunity, away from IMF’s stern gaze and with fiscal space unprecedented in 25 years, to present a goodie-filled “election budget”. Also, a few months driving on “cyaaaapet” so we can forget the delays, severe inconveniences, and disastrous project management associated with construction, would be nice. These vital campaign platforms are unlikely to be squandered.

So, May or June?

But why all this speculation when all Jamaica needs is a fixed election date? Anyhooo, even a week is a long time in politics, so now isn’t the time to assess party strengths. However, we can preview what the protagonists need to do to win.

The Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) situation is akin to Muhammad Ali’s in Zaire (1974). The People’s National Party (PNP), like George Foreman, is busy punching itself out, so the JLP need only apply a sharp flurry (“cyaaaapet” plus giveaway budget), wait for the PNP to fall down from combat fatigue, then simply move out of the way.

THE MUCH-HYPED 2016 MANIFESTO

But discerning voters should insist that the JLP account for its performance. The 2016 Manifesto featured a much-hyped ten-point plan.

1. We will reform government and establish a Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation [that will] ensure investments are rapidly facilitated to avoid government obstacles … This Ministry will …bring economic opportunities to life in the shortest possible time.

Some ‘investments’ were fast-tracked. A Sandals Resorts International/ATL Autobahn/Marriott International Inc partnership broke ground for a new hotel and motor car showroom at 38-42 Lady Musgrave Road on January 20, 2017. Construction finished in record time.

The notorious Rooms on the Beach ‘investment’ fiasco whereby a UDC-owned resort was sold to Mexican investors with scant regard for valuations was severely criticised by the OCG. Government reasoned that the sale was beneficial because of future connected investment. Waiting …

Meanwhile, some local investors (including small ganja and coffee farmers) aren’t feeling the fruits of this push to “bring economic opportunities to life in the shortest possible time”; economic growth is microscopic; and Economic Growth Council (EGC) chairman Michael Lee-Chin blames “non-performing permanent secretaries” for government’s abject failure.

2. We will immediately restore benefits at the Junior Stock Market to grow equity financing for start-up and expansion of small to medium-size businesses [SMEs] .

Three years later (July 2019) SMEs passionately criticised unfair treatment, particularly from banks. They complained bitterly that equity financing was just not available to them.

3. We’ll reform the tax system…This means lower taxes and a business-friendly tax system. We’ll again reduce transfer taxes, stamp duties, and estate taxes. We will get rid of P.A.Y.E. tax for everyone who earns a basic salary of JA$1.5m or less…

We did get lower taxes so won’t quibble about how “business-friendly” they are. Let’s check the “done” box.

4. We will list on the Jamaica Stock Exchange several state-owned enterprises such as the UDC and Factories Corporation. These corporations … can be properly packaged and placed on the stock market with realistic investment plans that would … unleash economic and job creation potential latent in them.

LOL! Instead, the UDC sold Rooms on the Beach at a giveaway price and conducts taxpayers’ affairs with the transparency of China’s Great Wall. Factories Corporation is embroiled in a contretemps with small-business leaseholders at White Marl who are being evicted to accommodate big business interests.

5. We will fix Jamaica’s water infrastructure. We will make strategic capital investments in water. Jamaica is not short of water, this Government does not know how to manage it. The investment in water will reduce the impact of drought on the economy …

DWL! What investment? How’d Government’s drought-impact reduction go in 2019? The Met Office just predicted an even more vicious drought for 2020.

6. We will reform the NHT, the Jamaica Housing Agency and the Mortgage Bank. We will expand affordable housing construction and reduce interest rates on mortgages.

Squatter settlements are at an all-time high and the PM recently bemoaned the NHT’s ineffectiveness due to its restricted legislative structure. He complained that the NHT’s housing developments weren’t designed to reduce squatting, which should be its purpose and market. He called for “equity” so that helpers, gardeners, and higglers could compete for housing resources. Regarding the HAJ, he admitted that its housing solutions aren’t “affordable”.

In reality, the Government’s response to the governments’ relentless and continuous disregard for the landless hasn’t improved since the Back-o-Wall debacle half a century ago. Just before Christmas, bulldozers were sent into Port Royal to evict “squatters” occupying (for more than a decade) lands suddenly earmarked for “development” as tourist attractions.

7. We will create a special council of investment ambassadors. These representatives will be empowered to specially seek out large investors from all over the world and bring them to Jamaica …

Sigh! In June 2019, the PM announced the appointment of Mrs Paula Kerr-Jarrett-Wegman as ambassador and special envoy for investment and philanthropy, whatever the gungus natty that is! I guess she’s a “special council”. How many “large investors” has she landed?

8. We will invest in improving skills to attract higher-value investments and more meaningful jobs … All our young people who are not in a job or currently in school will have the opportunity to develop their knowledge, skills, and attitude through a National Apprenticeship Programme and a National Service Programme

Whappen? No Apprenticeship Programme? In 2017, Ruel Reid smugly announced that the Education Ministry was “working with stakeholders to ensure the delivery of a first-rate national apprenticeship system” and looking at “models”. The National Youth Service struggles on without the promised National Service Programme.

Now, we’re promised “Schools of Excellence”. Sheesh!

9. We will advance Jamaica as a digital society. An important step on this path is to digitise government records …

NIDS?

10. We will revitalise and rebuild our town centres and cities ... We will start with the redevelopment of the Kingston waterfront and market district and the hugely exciting Vernamfield Corridor. This will be partially funded by the listing of the UDC on the stock market.

Sigh. We still await the listing. Or the promised beginning.

THE TRUMPETED SUCCESSES

In a heartwarming prologue to the JLP’s Manifesto, Andrew Holness trumpeted the successes of the 2007-11’s JLP government, including:

- We passed the Charter of Rights, finally entrenching basic rights to be guaranteed to all Jamaicans.

Then, in 2017-18, THIS JLP government rammed an unconstitutional NIDS law through its Rubber Stamp Parliament and rolled human rights dice by declaring (in my opinion) unconstitutional states of public emergency.

- We started a process of transforming the governance climate by having key parliamentary committees … chaired by members of the Opposition.

Then THIS JLP Government’s Leader of Government Business proposed revoking the practice of parliamentary committees being chaired by opposition members.

- We established INDECOM, which, today, is reaping the reward of lower extrajudicial killings across the island.

Then THIS JLP Government’s National Security Minister did his best to undermine INDECOM.

Horace Chang, in a November 29 interview with The Gleaner (sounding like a man about to retire from politics so uncaring whose corn he mashes):

“There’s a feeling out there that because of INDECOM, [unlawful citizens] can abuse police and get away with it. That’s what’s causing the problems … It is felt at this point that the directors of INDECOM have gone the other route now, where they are being excessive in applying the regulations of the law to police officers.”

So, in a less tribal country than Jamaica, the government would have some explaining to do to earn votes.

PNP’S PROBLEMS

The PNP has its own problems. The PNP faces a fundamental philosophical challenge because Holness is more popular than Phillips. So the JLP can run a leader-centric campaign but the PNP hasn’t this luxury and should avoid a Corbynesque grave dug by political stubbornness.

The PNP’s message must be that it has a better team, hence a superior potential Cabinet. It must project TEAM. My assessment of Peter Phillips is that he has the required strength of character, intellect, and humility to make this decision.

If the PNP wants to campaign on corruption, it must stop speaking with wata inna fi it mout’! Accept the Trafigura Scandal as real. Stop pretending you didn’t know it was WRONG. The PNP’s complex method of accepting the political contribution from a suspect source and the insanely obstinate legal struggle to avoid testifying about it in public says that the PNP knows sump’n inna sump’n.

The PNP can wipe the Trafigura mote from its eye by withdrawing support for the law suit and admitting to past wrongs. Having been rejected in 2016 (twice), 2017, and 2019, the PNP must learn that truth comes before reconciliation. Then only sincere proposals for radical systemic change can avoid a landslide defeat.

Don’t ask us to simply vote PNP to avoid corruption. Tom may be drunk, but Tom no fool.

Peace and love!

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