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Too many politicians, too few ministers

Mark Wignall

Thursday, January 03, 2013    

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The engineer, scientist and entrepreneur had developed a rapport with the fairly young minister in the last administration.

The entrepreneur had been able to visibly convince the minister that the methodology which came from his invention would significantly lower the operating costs of the significant rolling stock attached to the ministry.

'On some days the minister would drive down from his office to my plant to observe the proceedings. He did so with no security detail. He was his own chauffeur,' the man told me at the time he was introducing me to the many industrial/scientific processes he had operating at his plant in the latter part of last year.

In order to bring about some form of cohesiveness to the matter, another ministry with final say in the matter was asked to give a judgment. What followed was a perfect case study in why Jamaica is so backwards.

That ministry not only pulled out all of the regulations but it highlighted every single reason why the matter could not go any further. As I examined the letter written to him, the clauses stopped just short of threatening the entrepreneur with imprisonment.

That and the reality of the 2008 global recession drew a brake on what I saw to be a revolutionary process. Why did the second minister not say to the first, 'This thing can save your ministry hundreds of thousands of dollars. If applied to the entire administration, there is more than the likelihood that it could save this country many millions of dollars.'

That was of course not done. Instead the second minister, having more clout in his regulatory powers, adopted the role of the village tyrant, waded into his big-fish-in-a small- murky-little-pond mode, raised his ego higher that where it actually belonged and became the politician and the problem standing in the way of a solution. He failed to be a minister.

Had his prime minister been someone who could face a problem square in the eyes and solve it, he would have done so. One is not so sure that it was even referred to him.

That said, that same prime minister, months before, was asked to adjudicate on a matter involving a man who was had been done terribly wrong by the financial meltdown of the mid-1990's and the Finsac tribulations. The then PM sought legal advice and when it was pointed out to him by the Attorney General's office that he had discretionary powers to make a judgment he summoned the respective ministry personnel, many of whom were still loyal to the dictates of the politics of the previous PNP administration.

The PM directed them to release the man's family home to him. The ministry personnel attended the meeting, heard the PM, left and promptly did nothing. Having much less cojones that the leader who had mentored him, the PM turned the page and added another chapter of blight and inaction to his political resume.

In the present PNP administration there are too many politicians and not enough ministers, that is, men and women who work throughout the night and bring about effective policy.

Let's take our affable friend, Agriculture minister Roger Clarke. 'Roger's heart is in sugar. He is a sugar man,' said a PNP insider to me yesterday. 'As well loved as Clarke is, he is mired in a past that he doesn't even know is long gone. How the hell do you expect him to catch up even with the present, much less embrace what is expected in the future.'

Minister Clarke is from the old school and he doesn't really get along too well with his junior ministers. Clarke is a politician and we need a minister in the Agriculture slot.

Security Minister Peter Bunting is a highly successful financier and one of the rich boys in the PNP administration. In certain circles, he is not well-liked. When I questioned an ex-PNP minister about him he said, 'What ministry do you believe he should have been posted to? Finance - Ha!'

According to the ex-minister, Bunting could never be placed in the Finance ministry because he has too many friends in the financial sector. 'The PM did the right thing in steering him clear of Finance. Too many possibilities of conflict of interest.'

I said, 'I honestly believe that Bunting is playing scrimmage with Security but that is only from what I have seen from the outside. 'I paused then asked, 'Can any human being really handle the security ministry?'

The ex-minister said, 'He must perform. That is why the PM placed him there.' Peter Bunting, excellent politician, poor minister.

The man of the moment is Peter Phillips, Finance Minister who cannot afford to ride between the waves of his politics and his ministry. Facing tough IMF negotiations, Dr Phillips has found himself in the very same place that he left Audley Shaw, the Finance minister in the last JLP administration.

He cannot sign an IMF deal because he has too many 'constituencies' to answer to. He has to report to the big boys in the financial sector and of course he has to 'horn-locked' day in, day out with the tough as nails IMF negotiators. He has to report to Cabinet and worse, he has the people of Jamaica to report the political side of the negotiations.

One ex- JLP Minister said to me. 'Mark, let me help you out. Golding could not come out and announce Audley's package last year. His political side would not allow him to do that. Peter Phillips in now in the same boat.'

Phillips is, at heart, an academic. He then segued to politician then as minister he has to act the technocrat. He cannot be all things to all men. He cannot come to the country, politically and announce that 10,000 or 15,000 workers in the public service are to be made redundant. But at some stage he has to do something.

Is it my understanding that in the end he will be the politician, telling the people what cannot be said and less of the minister, telling the people what has to be said.

I do not envy him, in being forced to yield to his politician side.

observemark@gmail.com

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