Government's silence - anything but golden

Published: Sunday | December 23, 2012 Comments 0

Gary Spaulding, Contributor

The maddening silence in the public domain activated by the Government's protractedly uncommunicative stance in 2012 was anything but golden.

The silence that heralded the New Year was preceded by the political din of 2011 which swept the People's National Party to power and told the Jamaica Labour Party to pack its bags and go.

At the end of 2011, Portia Simpson Miller collared history by the scruff of the neck with a historic election victory, but has since laid disappointingly low, with her Cabinet following suit.

Simpson Miller, the first female prime minister in Jamaica, is only the second person in local history to reclaim the premiership in post-Independence governance - the first being Michael Manley.

By no stretch of the imagination could Michael Manley's personality be described as even mildly taciturn.

As prime minister, Simpson Miller appeared to have embraced the maxim that 'silence is golden', as her tongue appears to be muted. Members of her rather huge Cabinet appeared to have followed her lead over the past year.

It is known in some quarters that silence is not always golden - sometimes it is just plain yellow!

Silence is golden when one is deliberate and careful in her/his speech, but certainly not the pained restraint that Simpson Miller has demonstrated on matters of national import.

Whether it was by design or otherwise, for the entire year that the Simpson Miller administration has been in office, an alarming communication deficit has been in effect.

This information shortfall has created a seemingly unbreakable barrier which has effectively served to shut out the populace in 2012.

That the communication 'strategies' being employed by the Simpson Miller administration is to constantly play dumb seems bewildering.

Absolutely nothing appears capable of drawing Simpson Miller's tongue, or so it seems - well, certainly not on the many and varied challenges facing the poor and children with whom she is so enamoured.

There has not been a 'peep' on the range of unfulfilled promises that spurted from Simpson Miller's lips in the lead-up to the December 2011 general election.

It was the now curiously taciturn prime minister who, in campaign mode, more than a year ago, was not short on loquacity and rejoinders.

RAZOR-SHARP WIT

Simpson Miller's wit was as sharp as a razor as she characterised Andrew Holness, her new political opponent, as 'Baby Bruce', in the aftermath of the former prime minister Bruce Golding's unceremonious departure from the political landscape.

It was the same Simpson Miller who, in the aftermath of her electoral victory, sought to justify her fascinating retreat into muteness.

Reacting to the stream of criticisms of her failure to answer tough questions, Simpson Miller retorted that she would not emulate Bruce Golding by talking her way into an electoral defeat. And others followed.

Why then would the agriculture minister refuse to communicate with stakeholders in that sector for nearly a year?

It was in keeping with his seemingly determined vow of secrecy that Roger Clarke apparently swore his former deputy, Ian Hayles, the state minister in agriculture, to remain mum on the job.

When the junior minister refused to remain tight-lipped, Clarke had no compunction to put him in his place, till Hayles was banished from that ministry, courtesy of an edict to the prime minister. Clarke, a loyalist to Simpson Miller, appeared assured that he would have outgunned a supporter of lesser stature - and that he did.

Contrastingly, former senior minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Christopher Tufton, had no qualms to speak.

Admission of the ills of the health sector without administering corrective medicine, bitter as it may be, just does not cut it, Dr Fenton Ferguson.

Dr Peter Phillips, the controller of a rapidly dwindling Treasury, remains uncommunicative, except for retort, while the people of Jamaica continue to wonder just what is happening to that elusive International Monetary Fund deal, depleted net international reserves and a runaway local dollar.

Although his ministry is expected to industriously drive commerce, Anthony Hylton, the minister, has appeared to be miles away from the political or governance radar.

There was the grand plan for the commerce and industry sector, articulated by Hylton and the Government, which was also contained in the PNP's pre-election manifesto. An update on these grandiose plans is long in coming.

What about Robert Pickersgill - the man with the four-pronged ministry? The land, water, environment and climate change minister has been a chronic non-performer.

Lisa Hanna makes cultured fluff on most issues on youth, described by furious children agitators as pure 'platitudes', whenever she speaks, and that is occasionally.

As the de facto information minister, Sandrea Falconer is being given the proverbial basket to carry water, forced to communicate on behalf of comatose Cabinet colleagues.

Many Comrades are among the Jamaicans who are of the view that the soft-spoken Peter Bunting does not quite match up to his tough-talking predecessors.

Some think that he does not possess the stature or charisma of the four previous national security ministers, including the urbane Derrick Smith, to drive fear into hoodlums - and that is when he can be found on those rare occasions and coerced to speak up.

Apart from a good dose of house cleaning in the New Year, Portia Simpson really needs to tidy up the Government's communication strategy. She must resolve to do this in 2013, if she actually cares for more than her profile of a lover of her people. She must accomplish what most normal governments set out to do.

Have a more constructive 2013!

Gary Spaulding is a political affairs reporter and winner of the 2012 Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. Email: feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com.Gary Spaulding

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