Christopher Tufton, Contributor
Culture Minister Lisa Hanna's Budget presentation addressed many issues under her portfolio of responsibilities, but perhaps her maiden speech will be most remembered for her attempts at salvaging what many feel (real or perceived) have been missteps at planning the activities to mark Jamaica 50.
With an announced Budget of $688.5 million for these celebrations, Minister Hanna seemed at pains to advance the vision and specific programmes for Jamaica 50. The first, she said, is to "encourage serious national introspection on our achievements as a nation since 1962". She continued by outlining the targeted objectives to celebrate our history and culture, promote Jamaica's image through public-private partnerships, and to engage the nation's youth.
She went on to comment on what many seemed already to have concluded to the contrary - that Jamaica 50 is to be politically neutral. She said, in her written presentation to Parliament, that, for her part, "partisan politics will not be allowed any part in this national Jamaica 50 programme"
A DEFINING MOMENT
Minister Hanna has been given a big task, to be the captain steering the course for these celebrations. In her young political career, the minister's legacy will be defined on the success of these events. So much is at stake for her personally.
Jamaicans all over the world are watching and waiting to participate, and the minister's competence to steer the celebratory ship is already being questioned. Like the Italian captain of the ill-fated cruise liner Costa Concordia, which ran aground because of a distracted captain some months ago, the minister has to be careful not to be so distracted with the prize on the shoreline that she miscalculates the route to get her there.
It may be too late for Minister Hanna to be totally convincing on her non-partisanship. Already the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has denied agreeing to serve on a committee announced by her. And with earlier issues around budgetary allocation and how resources were spent prior to December 29, and more recent concerns being raised about the colour of the flag used in official events, there is a sense that the desire for non-partisanship is likely to take second place to the battle for political advantage.
Unfortunately, it is appearing that Jamaica 50 has become a victim of the general election on December 29 and the subsequent change in administration shortly after. And the minister may, unwittingly, be adding to the political divide when she commented, in her Budget presentation, that the team working on Jamaica 50 has done hard work over the last six months to make these events a success.
Former Culture Minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange would likely challenge the six-month reference. She is likely to ask Minister Hanna about the team that worked hard under Grange's watch before the December 29 election? Is there any recognition or appreciation of continuity on this issue? Is the minister suggesting that nothing was done before she was tasked with the Jamaica 50 portfolio?
I am sure the minister would then argue in support of Ms Grange's contribution, but her previous comments, outlined in her Budget presentation, could easily be interpreted otherwise, particularly in this politically sensitive climate.
Indeed there are many former ministers who could claim to have contributed to the Jamaica 50 plans, as we were all engaged either at the level of the Cabinet or at our respective ministries on the matter of Jamaica 50. Babsy took this responsibility very seriously and was adamant that the Jamaica 50 celebrations would be a success. No doubt the current minister will argue that she has the same intentions.
I am surprised that Minister Hanna, who has in the past represented her country with distinction, with such vast international experience and training in communication, has had so many missteps in the management and communication of the Jamaica 50 celebration plans. Whether or not this was her intention, there have been too many attempts at changing course on plans for these events, with an apparent intention of claiming sole credit for plans yet to be implemented and to discredit prior arrangements.
This has created a hostile environment for these events, with Minister Hanna appearing to want to wipe the slate clean and start all over, thus reinforcing the impression that what was done before her time was either a waste of funds or not worthy of support.
This episode has come across to the public as an attempt to use the Jamaica 50 celebrations for political points-scoring, an unfortunate and unwanted theme for such a milestone in our young history. The minister appears to have courted controversy with each announcement to date, and she may want to re-examine her approach going forward.
If Minister Hanna is to steer this celebratory ship clear of choppy seas, ensuring that all of Jamaica can identify with each event, and party colours and symbols do not interfere with Jamaica's proud moment, she should begin by accepting publicly that she has made some errors in the management and communication strategy of the planning process for Jamaica 50.The public is likely to be more sympathetic to her if she takes this approach, rather than trying to defend all her actions all the time. She is a first-time minister, with a traditionally good public image which she can leverage to overcome this current challenge. She should see this as learning experience and accept that sometimes the best political strategy is to retreat before attempting to advance. She would be more credible to the public if she accepted that mistakes were made on this issue. She must take responsibility.
It would also be in the interest of the country for Ms Hanna to embrace Ms Grange in a more substantial way for these celebrations. Not just because of the importance of these events to national unity and pride, but also because the former minister did spend significant time and effort prior to December 29.
Finally, but importantly, the minister should consider including a missing element from this anniversary, even though the theme is captured in her pronouncements. As she said in her Budget presentation, Jamaica 50 should "encourage serious national introspection on our achievements as a nation since 1962", which should include a look at what we have achieved, but also why we have not achieved more.
It is true that we are a special people with much to celebrate and give thanks for. At the same time, we must accept that we have not optimised our potential. We have mortgaged our future generations through debt, made tribal our political pursuits, and hardly grown our economy beyond population increases.
For these underachievements, we must also take responsibility and do justice to Jamaica 50 by seeking a better path for the future. There should be a few events examining how we can make things better.
Senator Chris Tufton, PhD, is opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and trade, and investments, and co-executive director of CaPRI. The views in this column do not necessarily represent those of the above-mentioned entities. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.