Lloyd B fingers economy, handout culture as contributors to waning popularity; Bloomfield concurs
A depressed economy and an austerity-laced International Monetary Fund (IMF)-backed reform programme are being blamed for many of the problems being faced by some first-time government members of parliament (MPs) now facing the boot.
"I have suffered from those two things, and I have no doubt that other MPs - especially the newer MPs - would have suffered," said Lloyd B. Smith, MP for Central St James.
Smith, who was on Sunday told by a majority of the delegates in his constituency that they don't want him to be the People's National Party (PNP) candidate in the next general election, said there is an expectation among influential persons within constituencies that they should benefit from spoils for their support in an election.
"Being a member or a supporter should not automatically mean that you should be first in line at the trough because that is now where it has reached," Smith told The Gleaner.
He said his constituency, which is mainly centred on downtown Montego Bay, has a large number of unemployed and underemployed persons who rely heavily on political representatives for assistance and political spoils.
POLITICS OF SPOILS
Smith, however, said his refusal to be drawn into the politics of spoils has hurt him in his quest to remain on the PNP's ticket for the next general election.
"I knew from day one that I would have suffered from that. I had made the statement that I am not into the handout business, so there was always that underlying resentment of me by some members of the constituency - not all, because some came around and accepted the fact that the handout mentality does not and should not work," he said.
"Then there are those persons who work within the party and expect that the MP should give them a contract every now and again and give them special favours. That has not been my politics. It is things like these that have got me in trouble," Smith said.
Dr Lynvale Bloomfield, who, like Smith, is a first-time government MP, said the depressed economy and a corrupt political system are making it difficult for MPs to maintain strong support within their constituencies.
"We came in on the idea of 'People Power', and the expectations were extremely high, given the state of the world economy from 2008, and maybe some of these expectations were unrealistic," Bloomfield told The Gleaner.
Bloomfield won the seat in 2011 by 1,246 votes, improving the margin
from 795 in 2007. However, two weeks ago, the East Portland MP was defeated by Andrea Moore in an internal delegates' race. Moore got 141 votes to Bloomfield's 133 after 274 of 384 eligible delegates cast votes to indicate their choice of candidate.
"People's expectations were deflated. Plus, the harsh reality that things are not moving as fast as we would like, and you can see it in just about everything - the ability to pay for basic services such as health care, education, food, ... and so there is now a general sense of disgruntlement," the government MP said.
"Our own ability to actually help is restricted by the IMF conditionalities because we can't get more than so much to spend, and government expenditure is limited," Bloomfield said.
Jamaica, in 2013, inked a four-year extended fund facility with the IMF, which, among other things, required the attainment of a primary surplus of 7.5 per cent per annum. The programme, which has so far been credited for Jamaica's economic recovery, includes provisions to lower the cost of public-sector salaries and has seen the Jamaican dollar depreciate significantly against its major trading partners'.
Bloomfield noted that the economic crunch has led to the Government being unable to spend as much as it would like on capital projects such as road repairs and housing construction.
"It is not strange that persons are hurting; it is not strange that it has hurt politicians ... . Everybody is feeling the effect of this backlash because of the harsh economic realities, and we can't escape it," Bloomfield said.
The MP argues that despite the economy growing 0.4 per cent in the March quarter, with the Planning Institute of Jamaica projecting a 0.8 per cent climb in the June quarter, the people "want to feel it in their hands, and it is up to the Government, through public relations, to inform people that it is happening, but it is going to be a little slower than they expect".
Bloomfield said there are some people believing they should be recipients of spoils who have sought to destabilise MPs because their expectations are not met.
"It is very palpable," he said, adding that "the whole politics of handout is very much alive and well. We will just have to hit against that with everything that we have ... . It is a culture that we have to resist with every fibre of our being."
Said Bloomfield: "Many are paying a political price, even as we speak, but it is something that we are prepared to stand up to and stand up against. What is the point we are here if we are going to be part of the culture where we just go down the stream just the same way? We all would be slipping down a slippery slope from which we may not be able to recover."