Thu | Jul 27, 2017

Reshuffling for consensus and growth

Published:Monday | September 22, 2014 | 9:00 AM

Chris Tufton, Guest Columnist

The following is an edited version of a presentation to
the Rotary Club of Portmore on September 17, 2014.
The surest way to prevent a Cabinet reshuffle in Jamaica
is to call on the prime minister to reshuffle the Cabinet.

Therefore, PSOJ President Chris Zacca and the influential Gleaner editorial,
as well as so many other Jamaicans, may make that call, as it is their
right so to do in our democratic society, but I doubt there will be any
rush by the prime minister to grant them their wish.

This is part of our political culture. Political operatives don’t give
in to public pressure readily. Political strength and success are typically
measured in terms of crowds at political meetings, largeness of the demonstration,
or the gristly determination of political leaders to hold their ground
despite criticisms or calls for change. Normally, it is the ballot that
brings that change.

The determination to resist becomes stronger depending on who is doing
the lobbying for changing course.

If the call comes from significant voices, such as mainstream media, Church,
the JTA, the Government is likely to offer a response with levels of sensitivity,
suggesting that they are listening. The track records of these entities
suggest that they have sufficient credibility among voters and so warrant
a response, as long as it’s non- threatening to the political party.

Dominance of external partners

Today, if the call comes from our multilateral and bilateral partners,
the response is swift. We have become so dependent on those partners that
we are obligated to respond in a way that tries to achieve resolution,
acceptance and agreement.

The fact is that our multilateral partners - IMF, World Bank, IDB - and
our key bilateral partners - USA, UK, Canadians and Chinese - have more
influence over Jamaica’s strategic policy direction than any political
and civil society group in the country would care to admit.

This is sort of a double-edged sword. We are not nearly as independent
as we think, and indeed heavily depend on external forces for our economic
viability. It is often quoted that who pays the piper calls the tune, and
in our case, our external partners wield significant power over us. Just
look at our agreement with the IMF.
OPPOSITION CRITIQUE
On the flip side, when a government comes under pressure
from the Opposition, it is most unlikely to yield to those demands. This
is so because yielding would represent in a world of politics weakness
on the part of the government and this would most certainly translate to
conceding political advantage. In these cases, the Government’s initial
response is to slam the Opposition by accusing it of seeking political
advantage.

The big question here is whether political discourse in Jamaica exercise
sufficient discretion on when and how to seek political advantage? Do our
criticisms of Government policies and programmes or the defence by Government
of those policies and programmes ring hollow to the ears of the listening
public because they are unreasonable, crude, or even illogical?

This is a very cynical environment towards politicians and policymakers.
In many ways, we as politicians have made it so by so many of our utterances
both in the quality of the content and in the style of delivery.

And I strongly believe there is a need to restore confidence in our political
discourse. And we have an obligation, in fact a duty, in order to safeguard
the future of Jamaica from complete cynicism and increase disinterest and
decrease participation, to make this right. Policymakers in Jamaica today
must assume a greater burden to debate the issues with reasonableness of
thought and fairness of process.

PERCEPTION BIAS
Civil-society and professional organisations have also
lost some credibility over time because of perceptions of political bias.

The feeling is, if the messenger is not credible, the message is subject
to bias or undue influence.

The Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC), for example is said to be a closer
associate of the PNP than of the JLP. In fact, the JCC has been characterised,
sarcastically, as ‘the PNP at prayer’. The JTA has been linked by many
to be closer to the PNP than the JLP. Despite the periodic antagonistic
ramblings between the JTA and this Government, when it really matters,
some people say that it is expected that the majority membership of the
JTA knows where its political association resides.

Private-sector lobby groups have traditionally been considered to be more
pro-JLP than PNP, while the groups that represent small businesses are
said to be more likely pro-PNP.

The University of the West Indies and voices for Caribbean regionalism
are more PNP than JLP. And the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), the
largest farmers’ organisation, is said to be more aligned to the PNP than
to the JLP.

I am prepared to say this may all be speculative nonsense. I don’t think
there is any uniformity of political thought in any of these groups (if
it were so then the JLP would be in trouble!).

But suffice it to say, these are dominant perceptions born perhaps out
of how political parties have taken policy positions in the past or managed
relationships over time.

Members of civil-society and professional organisations must block any
attempts by individuals or political organisations to hijack their core
mandate to serve one-sided political motives. Too often this is allowed
and over time this has undermined the credibility of these organisations.

These are the perceptions that have helped to fashion a political culture
that makes government respond to criticisms more for its political advantage
than for its soundness or logic. This is a dangerous road to be stuck on
and in no way encourages the reform and renewal we wish for.

CONSENSUS NEEDED

Jamaica is now at a place where consensus around a common
goal and set of critical policies is critical to drive us forward.

The IMF agreement is clear in terms of benchmark reforms that are needed
and are ongoing. As we work to pass these quarterly IMF tests, there are
still lingering challenges facing our economy and society.

First, a lack of trust in government and in the process of governance to
work for all.  We need to overcome the psychology of distrust in our
society. Government must say what it means and mean what it says. For example,
being beaten to death while in the care of the State as was Mario Dean
is a manifestation of that psychology of distrust. Government must be able
to be depended on to protect its citizens.

The length of time it takes to get a project approved without having to
pay someone is a manifestation of that distrust of the process. Government
must stamp out corruption and make the process more efficient.

RESHUFFLE FOR CHANGE
If Jamaican stakeholders feel that the prime minister needs
to reshuffle her Cabinet, don’t announce it in this present environment.
The temptation to resist such a call will be almost automatic in an environment
where there is distrust.

Chris Tufton is co-executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research
Institute and former Jamaica Labour Party government minister. Email feedback
to columns@gleanerjm.com and CCtufton@gmail.com.