Editorial

Politics, age and Mr Mike Henry

Monday, January 23, 2012    

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Among the elements of proposed pension reform is an extension of the retirement age.

Certainly, from the perspective of this newspaper, it seems preposterous that in a struggling economy with the average person living much longer than in years past, hale, hearty, able individuals are being sent home from their jobs at age 60.

That age limitation does not apply to Jamaica's elected politicians. They are free to go on and on — for as long as the voters will have them.

In that respect, we feel that while a strong case has repeatedly been made for term limits for our elected officials, there is also a case for an age limit. While we believe 60 to be an age too low for automatic retirement, we are also cognisant that a line should be drawn somewhere.

It seems to us that the age factor should be seen as part of the backdrop to the decision by Opposition Leader Mr Andrew Holness to exclude Messrs Mike Henry, 76, and Pearnel Charles, 75, from his shadow cabinet. Should the new People's National Party (PNP) Government lose the next general election at the end of a full five-year term, Messrs Henry and Charles will be 80 and over.

With two others in the shadow cabinet — Dr Kenneth Baugh and Mr Karl Samuda — now on or around 70, it seems reasonable that in the search for balance and renewal Messrs Henry and Charles would have been the ones left on the outside. Let's not forget that the 39-year-old Mr Holness — Jamaica's youngest ever prime minister when he was appointed last October — is popularly perceived as the standard bearer among political leaders born in post-Independent Jamaica.

While the necessity of keeping older, wiser heads around him is obvious, Mr Holness has a responsibility to groom young, energetic leadership as he and his party look to the future and a return to political power.

It seems to this newspaper that far more puzzling than the omission of Messrs Henry and Charles from the shadow cabinet, is the decision to ignore the former Health Minister Mr Rudyard Spencer. But that, perhaps, is another story.

All that said, this newspaper feels the new opposition leader could hardly have opted for Mr Henry after the brouhaha surrounding the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP).

Regardless of whether Mr Henry resigned from the Holness-led Cabinet or was fired in that tumultuous period leading to the December 29 elections, the fact is that he went because of the JDIP controversy. He himself has said that he walked away because he recognised he had to take responsibility as minister.

And while the evidence may only be anecdotal, it seems clear that the JDIP matter contributed to the heavy margin of defeat for the JLP in the elections.

In such circumstances, and with the promised probe of JDIP activities still to be done, it is surely unrealistic for Mr Henry and his supporters to have expected a place for him in the shadow cabinet.

Indeed, had he been included, Mr Holness would now be under attack for being weak and unfit to lead.

We recognise that Mr Henry is the JLP chairman and as such carries weight within the party organisation. No doubt that reality has triggered a degree of emotionalism in central Clarendon.

But it seems to this newspaper that Mr Henry and his supporters need to step back and take a cold, hard, objective look at the situation. They need to get real.

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