Danville Walker - A call to service, We can't all sit back
Barbara Ellington, Lifestyle Editor
From stints as a businessman, teacher, soldier, head of the Electoral Office of Jamaica, and more recently as commissioner of customs, Danville Walker has left a trail of better-run entities in his wake. In his own words, he plans to do the same in politics.
In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner at the end of an exhaustive penultimate day at the Customs Department, Walker said if he were to enter Parliament as an elected member, he would leave it a better place because he is a man of proven performance.
But before he even stands a chance of doing that, there is one major hurdle to cross - his dual-citizenship status. He said he had begun the process of renouncing his United States (US) citizenship and only had one visit left to the embassy.
In a 2008 interview with this reporter though, his view was different. Back then, he said his reasons for retaining US citizenship was because of his personal responsibilities to his family. But he had also stated at the time that, "there is a value in public service that is hard for me to turn away from". So this view remains uppermost in his mind as he changes course. According to Walker, when he receives his certificate of renunciation, he will post it on his website for everyone to see. "No one should expect to earn any money off Danville Walker. That pot can't go on the fire. I learn from other people's mistakes."
He said he has already returned his US passport and taken the oath of renunciation and he thinks that, prior to Nomination Day, he will be an alien of the US.
Danville Walker grew up in the memorable decade of the 1970s. "We may have been tribal, but it was a time of great nationalism. People were polarised and held strong beliefs." He said his father had a bakery in a volatile part of the city, and he was moved to join the army at the age of 20 because it was difficult for him to see a problem, sit back and hope that someone else fixes it.
Why politics now?
"Many people who ask me why I am going into politics now are not happy with politicians. They have doubts, dislike and distrust them because of their behaviour. But we cannot all just sit back and hope that someone else will fix our problems. I still have the same heart now that I had as a 20-year-old that called me to service," he explained.
He noted that those who believe he is going into politics to break electoral rules will be surprised. "I am going to play by the rules. I will not be entering Parliament to act like an uneducated virago, or because I love my party so much I feel justified to degrade myself with name-calling and boorish behaviour. That's not why I am entering politics."
He agreed that government has a lot of work to do but, based on his record of successes at the electoral office, the Office of National Reconstruction and at Customs, when he goes to Parliament, that too will be a better place because he went there.
Why the JLP?
So, why the JLP when he's coming from a PNP family background? He said he was not raised to be a tribalist; his father deliberately made sure of that. But he has joined the JLP at the invitation of Finance Minister Audley Shaw to come to Central Manchester because of performance over ideology.
"I remember being around for most of the 18 years of the PNP administration when the dollar was like a 747 (aeroplane)."
He said he remembers when the dollar moved from five to one and to levels where it climbed very fast. And when interest rates were so high, there were calls to bring it down to stir investments, and the arguments were the dollar would further devalue.
He said, on the contrary, under the JLP, in four years we have had a stable dollar, and the Net International Reserves is at its highest level. He noted that when the dollar was running away there was no growth, but now, in the worst economic period in the world, Jamaica has had growth in the first and second quarters of this fiscal year; and he thinks the third quarter will also reflect positive growth. His other reason for choosing to join the JLP is that crime is trending down.
He regards Prime Minister Andrew Holness as a "studied person who reads widely, has a steady hand for a young man and someone who is good for the country now. He has experience outside of politics and that is good".
Walker said he wanted to leave the divisiveness of the 1970s behind and felt inspired to want to put aside whatever remnants of divisiveness he had. "Garrisons are a blight of shame. You can't freely leave or enter them. Growing up on Bay Farm Road in my father's bakery, I saw it first-hand."
Walker said he wants the people of his constituency to know that he is a hard worker; he loves his country, he believes in youth empowerment, and that the surest way to attain vision 2030 is by investing in the education and training of the youth.
Among Walker's requirements for fixing Jamaica in the medium to long term are reforming the income-tax system, finding alternative energy sources, and the continued decrease in crime by putting more money into anti-crime measures.
"We must also have an enabling environment for small businesses to thrive, there is too much red tape. We must reduce taxes for that sector, as well as corporate and personal income tax. But, he said, we all must change how we feel about Jamaica so that we have the courage to cut public expenditure and unleash the natural entrepreneurial spirit in not just the underground economy but above ground as well, in order to effect change.
Decisions to enter politics are never easy for candidates' families, so how did Danville Walker's wife, children, mother and siblings react to the news? Walker said his wife took a while to accept it, but she is feeling better about it now. "She is used to my long hours and passion for the things I do," he said.
Achievements at Customs
Significant reduction in the time it takes to clear goods;
Night deposit where entries can be submitted overnight and be ready in the morning;
Rationalisation of the clearance of barrels, so if you leave
Trelawny to come for a barrel, you can walk with the exact amount of
money and know that is what you will pay to clear it, so no one can
'jack you up for a money' to clear it;
Quick clearance of all documents allows for less corruption, electronic manifests in place;
All major installations are now connected by fibre-optic cables and
we didn't need major funding to do it, we got it done from our small
Replacement of almost 1,000 computers (something he had promised at the outset);
Involvement of younger staff who became empowered, because their ideas were implemented.