Carolyn Cooper | No golden handshake for MPs!
Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness reprimanded conspiracy theorists at a forum on digital transformation in Jamaica. He vigorously contested the claim that the global spread of digital currency is a sign of a catastrophic New World Order in which nation states will be replaced by a single superpower, drastically restricting individual freedoms. Holness sarcastically urged revolt against what he dismissed as the hypocrisy of conspiracy theorists: “When you see them post, tell them, ‘Come off TikTok! Come off Twitter! And go and talk in the town square’.”
Holness mockingly acknowledged the fact that in-person demonstrations have been largely replaced by devastating digital warfare. An outstanding exception is the daily protests opposite the ministry of finance and the public service, organised by Advocates Network Jamaica, a powerful civil society coalition that combines a strong social media presence with activism outa road. Their battle cry is, “THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE IS GREATER THAN THE PEOPLE IN POWER!!” Their hastags are compelling: “#WeNaaEaseUp #RollBack200 #20FiWeBut200FiYou? #jamaica #jamaicalandwelove #jamaicagovernment #justice #forthepeople #advocacy.”
The prime minister must be aware of the barrage of militant memes, TikTok videos, tweets and dancehall tunes that have been launched in opposition to the monumental pay raise for MPs. Most protesters are not talking in the town square. But they are certainly making their voices heard on social media. One of the most eloquent statements is a subversive picture of Jesus on the cross between two thieves – Nigel Clarke and Andrew Holness. This image is particularly effective in Fundamentalist Christian Jamaica. Even pastors who don’t usually speak out about politics have been forced to condemn the greedy politicians. One of the biblical thieves was repentant and asked Jesus for forgiveness. Neither Clarke nor Holness has admitted that they have sinned. They don’t want redemption. They stubbornly refuse to roll back the pay increase.
Dancehall DJ Kiprich also describes the MPs’ pay increase as theft – “brawling robbery” – in his freestyle big tune, System:
“Mi love Jamaica mi nah sell it out
Mi a do dis, mi nah talk wid nuh doubt
Everybody see di salary
Wappen to di teacher, di helper, di nurse?
It a bodder wi
When Andrew seh, ‘Jamaica, freeze!’
Nobody don’t run
Dis a go be di biggest robbery without gun
Yu ever see a man hold a country fi ransom?
Jamaica get f**k without a condom.”
Last weekend at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, Conliffe Wilmot-Simpson mash up the open mic with his performance of “No pussy in parliament.” Wilmot-Simpson derided the ridiculous ruling of the Speaker of the House against the word ‘pussyfooting.’ He also highlighted the inattention of some MPs to the business of parliament:
“This discussion going on too long
Please stop the noise
Mind oonu wake up Dr Chang
Like a baby, look how him a sleep in peace
A dream how him going spend
Him BIG salary increase.”
Another brilliant political analyst is Andrew ‘Miss Pearly grandson’ Dennis, a high school science teacher who is completing a PhD in Education. His incisive TikTok videos have gone viral. Addressing Nigel Clarke, he denounced the salary increase: “Public sector workers did ha fi fight laka Nanny, Paul Bogle an Marcus Garvey put together fi a raise. And even after dem get it, di raise was not raising. One lickle pittance or a drop in di bucket. Nuff a dem can still neither voo nor vah. But you were very strategic because yu mek sure seh a small faction are being remunerated at or above 8 million dollar so that you can use this to bedazzle your presentation. The lower limit of somewhere between three and four million would not be as shimmering, would it?”
Miss Pearly grandson also gave a perceptive critique of the initially weak response of the PNP to the shameful pay raise: “And, of course, not to be ignored or overlooked is the leader of the opposition who is sitting pretty at over 25 million. No wonder di PNP throw down laka di jackass weh did a carry Balaam. Becau, tek ih spin it round look pon ih! If you as the leader of the opposition, fi yu salary rival that of the prime minister, what reason would you have fi lead any valiant effort fi try fi tek on dis a blouse an skirt, mammoth, monumental stress pon yu head? Talk ih truth weh God love! Yu wouldn’t just rally back wid di money an gwaan easy an watch my man deh over deh so a gray up laka silver fox?”
In March 2023, The Gleaner reported that, according to the most recent Don Anderson opinion poll, “An overwhelming number of Jamaicans believe that both the Government and Opposition are underperforming in their respective capacities.” It seems as if many MPs are slumbering, even when they appear to be awake. Their job in parliament is, perhaps, a side hustle, not their only source of income. And some of them seem to realise that their days in the house are numbered. The controversial pay increase looks very much like a golden handshake, which Investopedia.com defines this way: “a clause in an executive’s contract that provides them with a significant severance package if the employee loses their job due to firing, restructuring, negligence, or retirement.”
The people of Jamaica signed no contract with parliamentarians entitling them to a golden handshake. We are collective victims of a massive shakedown. We must demand justice. The MPs’ extortionate pay increase is blood money. Decades before Kiprich, Bob Marley told us the truth about the system.
“Babylon system is the vampire, yeah!
Suckin’ the children day by day, yeah!
Me say de Babylon system is the vampire,
Suckin’ the blood of the sufferers, yeah!”
Today’s singers, DJs and creative writers have learned from their elders. They cannot be deceived by vampire politicians.