Sat | Apr 29, 2017

Bruce on the loose

Published:Sunday | March 28, 2010 | 3:00 AM
Prime Minister Bruce Golding is supportive of the new trade agreement with Europe and has accused critics of the pact of mendicancy. - File
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Errol Hewitt, Contributor

"But those who wait for the Lord shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired." - Isaiah 40:31

"Macka a juk Bruce every wey im tun" is an increasingly common statement in the streets; but why? There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that our prime minister, Bruce Golding, knows intimately our every problem as a nation. When he speaks there is clarity of thought, simplicity of language built on a logical sequence of events and thoughts which make him an excellent communicator. In listening to him, if you did not understand the situation before, you understand it clearly when once you have heard him speak on the subject. His problem [or excuse] can never be said to be a lack of understanding this country's problems.

It's what happens after all this which seems to be the problem, that is whether Bruce is able to put into action what he hopes to accomplish.

But how can he function properly if his briefing by those around him seems at times incomplete and even inaccurate, for example the Latibeaudiere salary package and negotiations and now the Brady/ Manatt, Phelps and Phillips intrigue. The truth is that in the Brady issue, we had the prime minister speaking in Parliament without the benefit of accurate information.

This is bad news for a nation which is tethering on the brink of a chasm representing a multitude of disasters which spans a range from civic to economic and even possible bankruptcy, from road rage to multiple addictive murderers, from an inept bureaucracy to deep and widespread corruption, the consistent presence of violence and those persons still missing, seems to easily outnumber our army. The list seems endless.

The resolution of all these was next to guaranteed from the political platform of Golding and his party colleagues before the last general elections, yet the downhill slide continues and seems to have gained momentum This, it seems, is the time to sound the alarm - time to take stock and assess the available options - if there are any.

THE CIVIL SERVICE

Of course Bruce has inherited a problem which would frustrate the most patient among us and drive the impatient to raving madness. This legacy is a disappointedly mediocre civil service which, for example, had great difficulty last fiscal year in finally producing a workable budget and which could allow its ministers to negotiate wages with the unions without a clear knowledge as to the available funds.

The civil service is the major tool available to government to accomplish its task and its insufficiency limits any government, including that of Bruce Golding, in what it can achieve.

One reason for this is that the political directorate over the last 30 plus years has quietly unofficially absorbed some key functions of the technical staff for its own personal benefit; the quality of that staff has understandably been diminished, contributing to the mediocre standards of today.

A distinct tendency of mediocrity is to viciously protect itself from persons with talent and skill whom it sees as competition, thereby effectively forcing out existing skill and locking out new talent. So what is Bruce doing about this?Our prime minister is concerned and has commissioned a Public Sector Transformation Programme, the central focus of which is to reduce, restructure, reorganise and re-motivate both public sector [i.e. the civil service plus those professions in health care, teaching, the police etc] and the staffing. Reduction of the civil service is part of the Government's proposal to the IMF to reduce expenditure given the reality of its income and begin to address the enormous debt on the nation's back. This choice presents a problem and apart from the trauma of job loss it would be in the nation's interest to find an alternative path. In reducing the size of the civil service Bruce is actually removing a significant portion of consumers from the market place. This is likely to generate negative ripples in the private sector and threaten more jobs.

Beyond this, Bruce wants a drastic makeover of essentially the civil service where overstaffing has been identified. But how is this to be effected in delivering a focused, efficient and effective civil service? First of all the number of ministries is not likely to be reduced given Bruce's seeming change of mind from the pre-election days when a slim, trim Cabinet was one of his then evolving policies. Most creditable commentators see the urgent necessity not only to reduce the size of the Cabinet but to change the dictate of the Constitution that the number of Cabinet
members must not be less than 12. Most seem to prefer an eight-member Cabinet.
But if the number of ministries remains as is, what is the transformation of the
civil service Bruce really wants to achieve?

Further, the 2030 national plan will have to be seriously revised
as with the global fiscal meltdown, Jamaica's economic landscape has changed
significantly; the bauxite/alumina industry has been decimated and the very
fragile tourist industry is struggling to maintain itself in one of the most
murderous and violence-prone countries on Earth. If this is so, certainly
Bruce's transformation exercise must at least be organised to deliver the goals
of the national strategic plan, but given today's reality, what exactly are
these? Our backs are to the wall and we are still awaiting decisive, competent
leadership. Where is Bruce taking us with this critical tool of government?

ARMADALE

The tragedy of Armadale is not new but it's on Bruce's watch and
we do have a history of inadequately prioritising the interest of our children
and especially so, those who for whatever reason have been placed in state-run
institutions. It's as if given the social status of their families, there is no
pressing need for concern because in a sense, 'dem ah no nobody pickney'.

Buried deep in the heart of that concept is a class-and-shade
prejudice which is invidious and capable of much cruelty. Bruce condemned these
inequities in the pre-election days, but was he serious?

Armadale does not only speak to the callousness of those in direct
contact with the wards; it speaks to the gross insensitivity of allowing a
problem to be only marginally addressed for decades, allowing children to share
cells with hardened criminals, consistently allocating disgustingly insufficient
funds in caring for them. Armadale speaks to the hypocrisy of allowing others to
shoulder the blame when a core issue is the meagre resources budgeted to be
thinly spread in attempting to care for these children, year after year.

But Armadale is, in a sense, representative of how the masses of
our society have been dealt with since our African ancestors set foot on this
country and have borne its weight ever since. Anyone knowing our history as a
people and its roots across the Atlantic would believe that a priority of
successive governments of our own people would be a focus on the betterment of
the majority of our people. Surely we cannot really expand the economy without
the contribution of the mass of the people! Surely, without the masses being
able to afford more than the basics, the economy cannot maximise its ability to
grow!

Yet, contradictory to all this is a population of about 2.8
million with over 800,000 of our people not formally trained in anything and
nearly one million are squatters. More than two years into his administration
these challenges still remain, but the edge has gone from the people's
expectancy. To many, it's the same old same old - déjà vu. If the prime
minister is going to rekindle these expectations, time is rapidly slipping away.

The Dudus Issue

As a people our expectation of each new administration has so
often been disappointed; yet hope is invariably resuscitated and rises yet again
and again. The support for Mr Golding in the last general election was really
his NDM persona, but there has been rapid disillusionment since then; a
deepening belief that the masses of the people have nothing more to gain from
the administration. The extradition request for Dudus is for a community don of
Mr Golding's own constituency and political party. It's common sense to believe
that those around him would advise that he should be the last person in the
Government and party to seem implicated in the issue. Any involvement on his
part is bound to be seen by many as a conflict of interest or blind defence of
someone of critical importance to retention of his political constituency.

In any event, can an army general wage war from the trenches on
the frontline? As prime minister, his style [or is it the capability of his
ministers?] is to become very much involved [and obviously so] in each ministry.
In this Dudus issue, he seems to have become the lead speaker and strategist in
an issue in which, as prime minister, he should be the one to appeal to, the one
to take account of all the evolving facts and to make the final decision. That
final decision, however, was taken by him upfront and personal. His upfront
involvement has added a great deal of distraction from the real facts of the
issue and removed the benefit and weight of his office in any further
discussion.

Our Bruce ought not to be Bruce on the loose and the course ought
not to be Caymanas but guiding our country through the shoals of international
relations. Our country is in serious trouble and we need serious leadership. The
question is, can we expect such leadership from either of the two major
political parties?

'We have come over a way that with tears have been watered/We
have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered/Out from the
gloomy past … ' - James Weldon Johnson

Errol Hewitt is an ICT consultant. Feedback
may be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com