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Mark Wignall | What was Ruel Reid’s mission in life?

Published:Sunday | July 28, 2019 | 12:00 AM
The Caribbean Maritime University.

The last time I heard the ex-education minister give a speech from a podium it was at a time when the days were much better for him. It was at a New Kingston hotel and his presentation covered various aspects of higher education. Not many months have passed but based on the calamity that has befallen him, it now seems that it happened two lifetimes ago.


I was most impressed with him. He was riveting and he held the audience in a captive grip. Far from being overbearing, he was more engaging than willfully cerebral and, like the winningest prime minister, PJ Patterson, if he stepped off any podium in Jamaica he could have easily found himself lost among the crowd because his skin colour perfectly matched theirs.


Since the time of that speech he has had a mighty fall from glory. The very first and probably only time I can remember criticising him was when I wrote that it was my view that the Information portfolio was just a bit too much for him, in addition to the main ones of Education and Youth, all very problematic areas in this country.







Those of his compatriots who saw reason to be proud of him, if even because of what his black skin colour meant to the majority of youth in this country, are extremely disappointed in him even if all the bits and pieces of the sadly jumbled puzzle have not yet fully come together.


We do not quite know exactly what was it that filled the moment at the very time the prime minister thought it was best that Reid be separated from his governmental duties. What were the words said and did anyone have reason to raise the pitch of their voice more than normal? We do not know but we suspect that there was much tension in the air and much more than an ounce of disappointment.


Before coming to government Ruel Reid was one of Jamaica’s premier educators, being then Principal of Jamaica College. Now that he has had a critical fall one cannot see the route he would have to take to return to his former post. This must be painful to any man as he ponders the future separated from doing the thing he is best at.


Of all the breaches that have been uncovered so far the biggest disappointment to me is how the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) has been caught up in the shackles of the Education Ministry during Mr. Reid’s tenure. Head of the institution Dr. Fritz Pinnock has stepped away, for six weeks he has said, to allow investigators to carry out their probe.


Friends of Mr Reid are hoping that when these investigations are complete he comes out on the other side smelling as sweet as a frangipani flower. Reality may speak differently because the troubling allegations laid out so far could have attachments that are yet to be revealed. For Mr. Reid’s sake, he is entitled to his rights of the presumption of innocence until guilt is is proven.


Prime Minister Holness is wise to hold off on divulging exactly what the circumstances were that led to him bringing Reid’s ministerial stint to a sudden stop. The PM cannot say anything for now because that would be really telling.


Politics is also about the preening of feathers


As part of the continuing saga of getting into the heads of Dr. Peter Phillips and Peter Bunting, Phillips gave an interview to Dennis Brooks andKhalilah Enriquez of Nationwide radio early last week.


In the week before, Bunting was interviewed. But, let me back up a little. In 1960, for the first time, there was a televised US Presidential debate. It was held between Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon. But of course there was the radio aspect of it.


A majority of those in the radio-listening audience gave the debate win to Nixon whose wide policy understanding was superior to how Kennedy came across in that first Presidential debate. Those who watched the debate on TV gave the win to the boyishly handsome Kennedy. They saw Nixon as sweaty and haggard and didn't like what they saw.


Now let us get back to Peter Phillips and Peter Bunting as the wrestling match for the Presidency of the PNP heads to its final showdown on September 7.


In interviews one week apart both men were impressive with words and policy direction for the PNP. But, in the Phillips’s interview, his voice came across in a monotone with repeated sighs making him sound like he was laboured.


A pro-Peter Phillips PNP supporter called me after the Phillips interview and asked me what I thought about it. “It was standard delivery from Phillips,” I said. “He is a messenger and to effectively deliver that message his voice must indicate passion. His voice must allow me to see him as a peacock spreading his tail feathers. But his voice sounded featherless, dead.”


“But was that not the same thing you said about PJ Patterson, that he made you fall asleep. And look how many elections PJ won,” he said.


“Poor comparison,” I said. “PJ had Seaga as JLP leader and Jamaicans had long decided that they were not prepared to ever elect Seaga as they did in the highly unusual and scary time of 1980. Today Peter Phillips is faced with Andrew Holness, constantly busy and brimming with energy, making some mistakes but pressing forward.”


It is entirely likely that when Phillips was interviewed his main thought processes were all about going to the trenches and appealing to and securing PNP delegate support. The thing is, his voice did not do much to convince those delegates listening that he had what it took to navigate the electoral and political trenches.


“You watch when September 7 comes and Phillips win,” said the PNP supporter.


The face of corruption


It was over 20 years ago when I first met the country man. As he is now he was out of shape then. Well, he probably has on an extra 15 pounds now.


He had no particular professional skills then or now. Only that now he lives in a multi-storied mansion and he is an MP. “Yu tinksey me gwine leave politics without nothing,” a friend and party supporter said he told him about 10 years ago.


Many Jamaicans look down on politicians who have been in the ‘profession’ for long and leave as ‘poor’ as they were before. The politician who uses his office to personally empower his financial standing will be cussed as corrupt by a Jamaican. In the same breath that same Jamaican will pour scorn on a politician if he loses and returns to a life that is not filled with excess and opulence.


But, the corruption is not just among politicians. It sullies the rest of the civil service like a mutating virus. “If our members want certification we are forced to pay. If we don't our companies are not certified and neither is the product certified,” one manufacturer emailed me recently while telling me of the item he produced.


A few years ago a real estate developer told me that he had to pay for each project approval or the papers would just get buried while he had expensive bank money to repay. “So what yu tink I gwine do,” as he told me the parish from where he mostly operated.


“I pay because my responsibility is first to begin the project then complete it, sell the units then get the bank off my back until I need them again. If the man dem want a $250,000 or a million I am going to pay. That is just how the system work and I cannot fight it,” he said.