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EDITORIAL - Roger Clarke a decent human being

Published:Monday | September 1, 2014 | 12:00 AM

We didn't care much for Roger Clarke as Jamaica's agriculture minister - and made no bones about it. He didn't, in our view, perceive agriculture in large, transformational terms, as an economic activity worthy of integration into 21st-century systems of production. We, however, cared very much for Roger Clarke the man and politician, who died last week aged 75.

For he was a larger-than-life personality of humour and geniality, who, unlike too many people in his line of business and dependent on the vagaries of voters, never seemed scripted, or contrived. If he was hurt by criticisms of his programmes and policies, as he sometimes faced from this newspaper, his style was not to lash out with invective or a display of hubris. He neutralised the barbs with an easy wit and a readiness to engage on the issues. Indeed, Roger Clarke was consistently available to this newspaper. If in the immediacy of the pain, his legendary humour failed, which was rare, he might shed a tear, or two - like the time when he lost the vice-presidency of the People's National Party, which moved the leadership to name him vice-president emeritus.

FINE PUBLIC SPEAKER

These skills made Roger Clarke a fine public speaker, a champion on the political hustings, and an effective debater in Parliament. On his feet in the House, his self-effacing style and his ready, ordinary-man's repartee boomeranged many an assault.

Whatever we may have thought about his vision for, and management of, his portfolio, there is no questioning Roger Clarke's commitment to agriculture and his genuine respect for farmers, a fraternity of which he was a member as a major, and successful, grower of sugar cane, as well as other crops. He, as effectively as he could, championed their cause.

Roger Clarke was a decent human being who epitomised a gentler time, which we hope Jamaica can recapture. We are sorry we didn't have him longer as an example, and are sorry, too, that we can't hear what he is making of all that is being said about him. We can imagine the humour.

The slow route to divestment

We hope that the fault is ours and that we misapprehend its implications. Yet, we can't but be astonished by a report in this newspaper last week and what it suggests about doing business in Jamaica.

A year ago, the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) announced that it had divested Wallenford Coffee Company to Michael Lee-Chin's AIC International Investments Limited, thus making available to AIC 5,000 acres of land in the Blue Mountains and the capacity to process more than nine million pounds of coffee.

That value of the deal was US$39.5 million, of which US$23.5 million was to be the AIC investment, over four years, to upgrade Wallenford. The rest would be cash to the Government.

But Donovan Stanberry, the permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, has reported that the deal is not yet finalised. They are only now at the stage "where we have satisfied all conditions for a definitive agreement". One year later.

In the absence of more, we can only conclude that this is not the kind of speed that will make entrepreneurs keen on doing business in Jamaica, or at which we can translate intent or actual investment into projects that create jobs and generate economic growth. It also smacks of incompetence on the part of someone. And the most likely candidates are the government agencies.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.