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Editorial - Roger Clarke's comedy act

Published:Friday | June 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Roger Clarke bellowed in Parliament on Wednesday. That, otherwise, would have amounted to the deserved attention given to Mr Clarke's speech. But he is the agriculture minister and a senior member of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's Cabinet. In that regard, he did the Government and Jamaica substantial disservice.

We come to Mr Clarke's harrumph from two fronts.

The first of these is our presumption that Mr Clarke runs a key economic ministry, and that agriculture can play a substantial role in Jamaica's development. The second is a matter on which we commented in these columns yesterday: the need to lift the quality of political discourse in Jamaica.

Mr Clarke did little or nothing to advance the latter, and beyond regurgitating words, it is questionable that he has engaged, or embraced, our assumptions about the first.

lacking vision

So, it would hardly have been noticeable if Mr Clarke, in his first Budget Debate as agricultural minister after a four-year hiatus on the opposition benches, had not shown up. There was nothing conceptually large or visionary about his presentation; there was not the sense that Mr Clarke is consumed with driving production or producti-vity, or creating an agriculture sector worthy of the 21st century.

Some of the big ideas championed by Christopher Tufton during his stint will probably limp along, but without, we expect, conceptual energy or drive from Roger Clarke.

There was a time, though, when Mr Clarke appeared to emerge from the seeming tedium with which he confronts his portfolio. That was when he was wallowing in petty politics.

Wednesday was the second episode of Mr Clarke's saga, attempting at extracting partisan political advantage from the previous administration's divestment of the loss-making, state-owned sugar company.

In February, shortly after the People's National Party's return to office, he crowed over the poor performance of the Sugar Company of Jamaica to the Chinese firm COMPLANT. He also seemed to obfuscate on whether the sugar sector debt embraced by the Government in the face of the divestment was wracked up solely during the life of the former government.

Mr Clarke was forced - some might interpret it as cornered - into clarifying the fact: much of the debt was accumulated during the minister's pre-vious tenure.

alienating investors

On Wednesday, Mr Clarke, again under the guise of transparency, like a child with a new toy, paraded, and spoke with great glee of his predecessor's gifting to COMPLANT substantial concessions for its investment.

There is a reasonable point to be argued about the COMPLANT concession, especially in the context of the debate on tax reform, and the move, at the prompting of the International Monetary Fund, to eliminate discretionary waivers.

But the tone of Mr Clarke's remarks, it seemed to us, was not about rational discourse. It appeared to be aimed at embarrassing, rather than - as Dr Peter Phillips, the finance minister, has urged - lifting the quality of political debate by subordinating partisan advantage to national interest, thereby lessening the impulse for populist action.

What is further surprising about Mr Clarke's tone is that with little capital floating around Jamaica, China and its firms are the biggest game in town. But Roger Clarke, in the push for partisan advantage, was willing to risk alienating Beijing's firms.

No wonder Peter Phillips seemed pained as the agriculture minister sputtered.

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