Thu | Dec 8, 2016

Shuffle the pack?

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Daniel Thwaites, Contributor

Consider last Sunday's editorial, titled 'Government by squalor'. It was sharp but accurate. It dwelt on the fact that the Government is tackling the big most important issues vigorously, but is falling down in other areas that require attention. In the latter regard, the National Solid Waste Management Authority and the National Water Commission were singled out for special mention.

Here's the good news: "32 months into its current term, [the Simpson Miller Government] has demonstrated greater commitment and has done more than any recent government to reverse the poor fiscal behaviour and general management of the Jamaican economy that resulted in a huge debt and very meagre growth in (gross domestic product)."

Friday's editorial hit the same theme: "Mrs Simpson Miller, in her current term, has presided over the most fundamental attempt at reform of the Jamaican economy - for the better." This time the praise came along with an argument for a Cabinet shuffle, and I know it can't feel good to be one of the people caught in the editor's cross hairs.

A few points. First of all, we don't have a particularly good way of organising things when the executive is drawn from the Parliament and the Parliament is so small. The conflict is obvious. Last Sunday, Frank Phipps, QC, addressed this need to separate the legislative and representative functions away from the executive, and his ideas deserve careful attention.

The National Democratic Movement (NDM) had put the matter of constitutional reform on the table, and the People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had responded with ideas and proposals. As I see it, one major problem, and why it didn't go anywhere, is that although the PNP's proposals were closer to the NDM's vision, the NDM remained psychologically linked to the JLP, and unable to cooperate with the PNP to achieve anything. The PNP was too much 'the enemy'. And then the whole discussion pretty much died the moment Golding stepped back into the JLP.

All of that aside, we are here today. I would encourage the editor to consider that Mrs Simpson Miller has to weigh a lot more than an editor in her choices. She has to be concerned with keeping the country together in some sort of workable fashion. Every part of the geography of the island has to be represented, and every sector and segment of the population. Seniority has to be weighed. Party standing has to be considered. Administrative talent, which is the sole focus of The Gleaner's concern, is merely one factor among a host of others for any PM. The Cabinet is itself a political settlement.

Near-miracle

I consider it a near-miracle that the fiscal consolidation acknowledged by The Gleaner has been achieved, so far at any rate, without the country being torn to bits. It is due, in part, to some maturation of the electorate, in that it shrugs off some of the stupider populism that is offered to it. The failure of the Half-Way Tree Jamaica Urban Transit Company protest is a case in point. Surrounded by press and JLP elders, Mr Holness just sounded shrill and looked weak.

But it is also a testament to the popularity of Portia that so much has been achieved. If it sounds like I'm saying we owe a lot to her for having been able to carry the ball this far, and for providing cover for ministers to take hard decisions - that's exactly what I'm saying. Nobody else could have done it, and nobody else can right now. I'm sure that if you talk to them one-a-way, the JLP leadership understands that they don't want to be the ones shouldering fiscal containment, tax reform, and pension reform. These are unpopular measures.

Just a while ago, we were gaining the international reputation of being a rogue state shielding narco-traficantes and breaking all our commitments to the international banking and lending community. It was a one-way bus ride to Haitianisation. Mr Holness stared into that abyss and started to wrestle with having to administer "bitter medicine". In fact, regarding the reform agenda, all Andrew should tell Portia is "Thank you" for administering it.

So, Mr Editor, we are spectating an extraordinary balancing act aimed at delivering "bitter medicine" without causing the country to explode. Or to put it another way, the real concern is not so much shuffling some jokers out of a hand as it is seeing that the card-table itself doesn't get overturned.

Joan Rivers

By the time of her death this week, Joan Rivers had utterly disfigured herself with an addiction to plastic surgery. I suppose someone who could be so cutting about others would, of necessity, turn the ruthless critique on herself, and with disastrous consequences. It wasn't entirely surprising, if ironical, that she died undergoing a procedure.

Anyway, I was looking through some of Joan Rivers's best cracks, and they amount to a dialogue on and an attitude towards each stage of life. First, her teenage years: "A man can sleep around, no questions asked. But if a woman makes 19 or 20 mistakes, she's a tramp." Too true.

She also used to do great reports about domestic life. One favourite: "I hate housework. You make the beds, you do the dishes, and six months later, you have to start all over again." On old age: "My breasts are so low, now I can have a mammogram and a pedicure at the same time."

In recent years, she made a whole career out of skewering celebrities: "The whole Michael Jackson thing is my fault. I told him to date only 28-year-olds. Who knew he would find 20 of them?" I can't believe she said that. "Twenty 8-year-olds". OK. It's terrible. Terrible! But it's funny.

Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.