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'Jamaica needs me' - Recovering Clarke has no intentions of leaving politics now

Published:Monday | August 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke has committed to a much healthier lifestyle, including ending his "rum-drinking days", following surgery at a Florida hospital to alleviate back pains caused by a pinched nerve.

Clarke is slated to leave the Jackson Memorial Hospital today, initially to begin recuperation for the next two weeks, before heading home.

He told The Gleaner by phone yesterday that he had lost some weight and would embark on a sustained programme to lose more.

"When you see me, you going think is Usain Bolt," said Clarke, who cuts a big figure.

"My wife says I must stop drink after today, so no more liquor in my life. No more rum-drinking days," Clarke, who is one of Jamaica's largest cane farmers, added.

Clarke, who was obviously in good spirits, made it clear he had no intention of leaving the political arena anytime soon.

"When it comes to the thing named agriculture, with all that you hear them saying, that is my forte," he said. "Me know it like the back of my hand, and I don't have to ask anybody whether I am doing a good job or not. I am there to provide comic relief and I am there to work."

No leave in 28 years

The veteran parliamentarian disclosed that he had not taken leave in 28 years and insisted that he could effectively run the agriculture ministry even from his bed.

"Me nuh haffi go out there with fork and hoe," he added. "Anytime I feel like I can't do it, I will step down. But for now, the political system in Jamaica needs me," Clarke told The Gleaner.

Obviously irked by an editorial in this newspaper which said that he should not return to the ministry after his recovery, Clarke said he is prepared to continue in the ministry for as long as Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has confidence in him.

"I serve at the behest of the people and at the behest of my leader. And I don't have to be minister either. I can be anything. I am dedicated to the cause of my people," Clarke said.

Clarke left the island last month for surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital and was at pains to point out that it was on the insistence of his son that he go there for medical attention. He said that his decision to go overseas should not be interpreted as a lack of confidence in Jamaica's health system.

"I am on the mend; I am in good shape," said the 74-year-old Clarke, who said "the love and admiration of the ordinary Jamaicans" have been medicine for him.

"Some of them (telephone) call to find out how I am. Sometimes the phone cuts off because they don't even have credit," the minister said.

He told The Gleaner that he had been plagued by back problems for about 10 years and had been relying mainly on painkillers, but with the pain becoming unbearable, he had to seek surgery.

Clarke said that despite being the subject of much criticism, he had no regrets about his decision to enter politics, stating that "if I am to relive my life, I would do it again.

"Every time I look and see what I have been able to do, probably not significant, to help some poor people, lift them out of the gutter ... I have been able to be a positive influence on some people," Clarke said.