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EDITORIAL - Mr Henry, pack your bags

Published:Friday | March 30, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Mike Henry would have been as culpable as anyone for the December 2011 electoral defeat of the Jamaica Labour Party government (JLP). Certainly, his perceived infractions loomed ugly over the JLP's campaign.

But three months since the general election and four days after another trouncing in the municipal polls, Mr Henry, 76, in a seeming search for vindication, is attempting to reassert himself.

That is bad for the JLP.

To place Mike Henry in his recent political context: he was the minister with responsibility for transport and works in Bruce Golding's tragic administration. He was responsible for the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP). That is the scheme for which billions of dollars were borrowed from the Chinese ExIm Bank for repairing roads and bridges and related infrastructure. A Chinese company is the main contractor.

Initially, there were concerns that JDIP was being politicised, particularly in terms of which projects were given priority. But that was hardly the larger issue; for the auditor general was to imply that the managers of JDIP were no more responsible than Willy Wonka in a chocolate factory.

The government's procurement regime was routinely breached, money was spent to refurbish and kit the headquarters of the agency that runs JDIP, and the profit margin of the main contractor hiked at the proverbial stroke of a pen.

When it all came to light, Mr Golding's successor, Andrew Holness, with little room to manoeuvre was forced to demote, and eventually sack Mike Henry.

But the JDIP scandal was not the only concern that surrounded the long-time politician. It emerged during the campaign that he planned to establish a bus service in rural Jamaica, for which more than 230 buses were to be acquired. That, on the face of it, is a good and noble idea.

The problem is that such a bus service costs money and Jamaica is broke. It turned out that the then finance minister, Audley Shaw, had contracted for an unannounced debt of $11 billion to purchase the buses for Mr Henry's rural bus service. The new government has decided to shelve the idea.

Near revolution

After his initial dance on tiptoes about the loan, Mr Shaw wisely chose to shut his mouth. Mr Henry opened his. People who would have benefited from the new bus service, he urged, "should react strongly, almost revolting".

In Jamaica's situation, contracting this debt was irresponsible. Continuing with it, which is the policy Mr Henry is seemingly inviting his party to back, would merely compound the irresponsibility.

But this is not the only way that Mr Henry seems to be attempting to exert pressure on his party leader. He disclosed that he advised Mr Holness to, as it were, "test the waters" with municipal elections rather than the national poll. After all, the government still had a year of its mandate to run and Mr Holness could determine which way the wind was blowing. In other words, the JLP might have lost the parish councils, but still have a year in national government to rebuild its fortunes.

The implication of Mr Henry's observation: Mr Holness made a bad political choice.

We have a constructive suggestion for Mr Henry if he wishes his party well. He has fought many battles and at times served his party well. It is time to help his party again - ride off into the sunset.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.