SAME DECK OF CARDS
Chang, Montague escape cut; Malahoo Forte gets ministry
Under-fire National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang and Transport and Mining Minister Robert Montague are the big survivors in a Cabinet reshuffle that saw Prime Minister Andrew Holness retaining all cards in his deck in what has been described by a political commentator as musical chairs.
Holness added two faces to the executive – Floyd Green and Franklyn Witter – and carved out a new Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs for former Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte.
Her position has been filled by Dr Derrick McKoy, who comes to the position with significant experience as a former dean of the Faculty of Law at The University of the West Indies, Mona, and as a former contractor general.
Political commentator Lloyd B. Smith said that Holness did not have sufficient talent to make expansive change despite the overwhelming 48-14 majority his administration has in Parliament.
He pointed to new lawmakers in both the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament who have yet to show “sufficient substance to be able to take on executive roles in the Government.”
Chang clung to his portfolio despite calls for him to be shifted in the wake of the galloping murder rate affecting the country.
Jamaica ended 2021 with 1,439 murders, a 10 per cent increase over the previous year’s tally. Murders have continued to soar in 2022, with 37 persons killed in the first week of the year.
Smith told The Gleaner that he was not surprised that Chang remains as national security minister.
“It is clear that the Government is unable to persuade anybody else in the top echelons of the party to take up that portfolio, and Dr Chang, being a very faithful and loyal general secretary and deputy prime minister, would want to appease the prime minister,” he said.
Montague, whose tenure at the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Transport and Mining has been dogged by controversy, has been shifted to the superministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation as a minister without portfolio.
Green, the former agriculture minister who was forced to resign last September following a viral video of him toasting to maskless birthday party celebrants on a no-movement day, has returned to the Cabinet.
Green has been placed in the Office of the Prime Minister as a minister without portfolio. His reinstatement came on his birthday.
According to Smith, it was not surprising that Montague has been shunted.
“My concern, though, is that the Office of the Prime Minister has become overly burdensome. It is overloaded. Do they have enough space up there?” Smith quipped.
“I don’t know if it is a sort of place where the prime minister stacks those who he really does not know what else to do with them and doesn’t want to create any necessary disquiet among his equals.”
Smith made it clear that he disagreed with Holness’ decision to restore Green to the Cabinet at this time, adding that he should have paid penance longer for his perceived indiscretion.
“For the prime minister to put both him and Montague in his office suggests that the prime minister still does not fully understand that the Jamaican people want to see a greater level of probity and integrity in terms of good governance.”
Carol Narcisse, political commentator, questioned the rationale for Malahoo Forte’s new post as distinct from the roles of minister of justice and attorney general.
“Somebody needs to indicate what is the unique role and responsibility that this ministry and minister will have that is not duplicating, overlapping and perhaps not conflicting with the roles of the office of the attorney general and the ministry of justice,” Narcisse said.
On the question of McKoy’s appointment, Smith said he has always been of the view that the attorney general should not be seen to be a partisan person.
“He should really be there in an advisory capacity to the Cabinet and to the Government on a whole including the Opposition, I dare say.
“That is a good move to have taken Malahoo Forte from that, and in any event, she was a bit wobbly there,” he added.
However, Smith said that he was disappointed that the prime minister gave the transport and mining portfolio to Audley Shaw, who he believes is overworked.
He praised Holness for putting Pearnel Charles Jr in the Ministry of Agriculture. “... He is a hands-on person ... ; he comes with a lot of ideas,” said Smith.