Ian Boyne, Contributor
It's not even a year into the Peoples National Party (PNP) administration and yet there are many who have expressed dissatisfaction and disappointment with the administration, with talk-show hosts and columnists saying the country seems to be running on autopilot.
Andrew Holness will have more than enough fodder today. There is mounting concern over what has been regarded as the inordinate delay in concluding an International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement; there is the sliding dollar, talk of a black market; depleting net international reserves, worsening trade balances; declining tax revenues; and a widening balance of payments deficit.
Bloomberg's report last week about a possible Jamaica debt default did not help - but might help Andrew today in his polemic against the party which dashed his hopes last December.
Though he has no great political platform presence, it might not take much for him to provide some suitable sound bites today as he launches his critique of the stewardship of the PNP almost one year on. He can do so contentedly today, with no credible internal opponent to challenge him. He can forget about Mike Henry, who is a spent political force nationally and within the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Audley is not challenging him, and it would not suit Audley at this point.
The JLP needs unity to deal with this PNP administration, and it needs to cash in on the disillusionment some, especially independents, are feeling. These persons hate any whiff of disunity and tension. Plus, the JLP needs to show that it is unquestionably one, when there continues to be whispering of 'two PNPs' - one led by a 'populist' Portia and another led by a tough, more IMF-compliant Peter Phillips. The Gleaner has been more than whispering on this issue and is not likely to stop, despite the tongue-lashing it received in last Sunday's paper from PM consultant Delano Franklyn.
BEYOND THE TRIBALISM
I don't want to rain on Andrew's parade today. Nor do I want to take away from his Grand Moment this afternoon. It might be unrealistic to ask for a cessation of the stridency, polemics, playing to the gallery, and pandering to the base. But somewhere in that mix - if not outside it - Andrew must find some time to address this Jamaican nation - not JLP, PNP tribes or would-be party recruits and fellow travellers.
And it is here that I must bring in the finest presentation from a professional politician of the last week, the parliamentary address by former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. In rising to acknowledge the tributes paid to him by his parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House, Patterson delivered a statesmanlike, sober and highly thoughtful presentation that I would commend to Holness, every politician and, indeed, every Jamaican.
"We have to make a seismic shift in our political culture for a renewal of energy and a rebirth of that motivation of our nation during the 50 years ahead," Patterson told his colleagues, reminding them of their unanimous praise of his own consensus-seeking leadership style. Patterson challenged: "As a nation which has come of age, we must abandon the adversarial political approach of the past and replace it with a new system of competitive politics. To continue in this direction will be a mockery of our pursuit to make 'Jamaica the place of choice to live work raise families and do business'."
You can say it's convenient for P.J. to make this plea when his party is in Government. You can say his stance - however disguised as noble - is self-serving. The only little problem with that is that he has many years of his own leadership of this country to show that this is not merely rhetoric. His political opponents had to admit, and had anecdotes to back it up, that as prime minister, Patterson led with a conciliatory spirit. He has demonstrated that he knows how to give and take and to work for win-win outcomes. He has even been prepared to take one step backward to take two forward.
So P.J. has his record to stand on. Never since the turbulent seventies has Jamaica ever needed a leadership style like P.J.'s as it does today. With the kinds of national challenges we face, and in a global environment hostile to our development, we need to find a way to pull our people together and harness our energies in one gigantic effort to both survive and grow.
Andrew Holness needs to understand, as he addresses the country today, that the usual political demagoguery which many conflate with 'good politics' has outlived its usefulness, if it ever possessed it. If the people who voted out Andrew Holness did so because they feared his 'bitter medicine' and wanted sugar from Sista P, they have already had their rude awakening.
Let not Andrew come now with any snake oil; any suggestion that all we need to do is to get rid of this 'incompetent, uncaring, dithering PNP administration' and we will be sailing on the right course. When will we ever learn? When will politicians stop exploiting our ignorance, and when will we, in civil society and media, stop facilitating this madness and nonsense?
If you think Jamaica's biggest problem is that Portia is sleeping on the job, that Peter is taking too long with the IMF agreement, and that the PNP can't manage, think again. If a new party comes to power tomorrow, that party would have to conclude an agreement with the IMF requiring some level of fiscal consolidation and compression, austerity and pension, tax and public-sector reform. Requiring people to fork out an additional five per cent of their income for pensions when they are not getting a wage increase is going to cause pain, whoever is at Jamaica House.
Getting public-sector wages down to nine per cent of gross domestic product will mean that not as many jobs will open for high-school and university graduates; that wages will stagnate; and it could likely mean job cuts. Tax reform will mean the poor will pay more to get rid of 'distortions'.
There are certain things out of our hands nationally. So the quicker we mobilise the nation around the set of necessary sacrifices which need to be made, irrespective of who is in power, the better. Hence the urgency of the Patterson appeal last week.
P.J. was precise in his use of words. He said we should abandon "adversarial" politics but retain "competitive" politics - forestalling any criticism about his wanting a compliant, pliable Opposition.
Andrew, today, must come up with a menu of recommendations for the nation. It is not enough to offer a critique. That's easy. He must rally the nation around a set of doable objectives, which civil society can pressure the Government on. This is not an election year, so he can afford to be cerebral and not cater to the lowest common denominator. Make your attacks and take your jabs, yes; your base won't forgive if you don't, and the non-partisan will understand your constraints. But they won't if all you do is rabble-rousing (which is not really Andrew's style, anyway.)
Andrew and the country must understand that with all the talk about producing and growing our way out of the economic crisis, the fact is that the United States is still in an economic crisis and has been reducing its imports. It faces its fiscal cliff in a few weeks. Europe is in recession. Asia is slowing down, with even giants China and India registering lower-than-normal economic growth rates, and the US Conference Board has just projected long-term declines for Asia, including China and India.
International trade has been declining. Says the Trade and Development Report 2012 issued in September by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD): "An even greater problem for global recovery is Europe's increasing dependence on exports ... the ongoing crisis is reducing incomes and imports and with most countries seeking to improve their competitiveness ... the EU's (European Union) external position may be shifting towards a sizeable surplus. The whole region is trying to export its way out of the crisis. This could exert an enormous drag on overall global growth and worsen the outlook for many developing countries."
Jamaican exporters are going to face a harder task. Developed-country investments into countries like Jamaica will be challenging if global slowdown continues. So at a time when this highly open, trade-dependent economy desperately needs to increase exports and inward investment, the environment is not favourable.
The UNCTAD secretary general, Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, former director general of the World Trade Organisation, says in his overview in the latest Trade and Development Report: "Fiscal austerity, combined with wage restraint and further flexibilisation of labour markets, not only causes an economy to contract but also creates greater inequality in the distribution of income. The threat to social cohesion is already visible in several countries."
To avert that threat, we need precisely that consensus-seeking, coalition-building leadership style which P.J. Patterson embodied and which he strongly recommended to us last week. P.J. gave an excellent example of what united political leadership could look like: Portia and Andrew sitting side by side on the same political platform all over Jamaica selling to the Jamaican people the importance of our completing our sovereignty by adopting the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our final appellate court. It's past due, and united political leadership could bring it about.
And as Patterson said, "Think of the therapeutic value on the body politic with the engagement of ministers, spokespersons and members of both sides. It would more than signify unity on this vital issue. Indeed, it would serve as a precursor for bringing in a new kind of politics".
Andrew should respond positively to that today. Come on, Andrew, be bold and show the freshness of youth by bringing your party along on this issue of the CCJ. Do this for your Jamaica 50 party conference. Jamaica deserves this pre-Christmas gift.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org