Columns

Audley 'Man A Yaad' Shaw is an unsung patriot

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

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Back in the 1990s then leader of the Opposition and leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Edward Seaga sought to assert his leadership over the party in a manner that many regarded as dictatorial. A number of groups emerged in opposition to his tactics. Some readers may remember the “Gang of Five” and the “Western 11”. Those who left the party were encouraged by the consummate leader to light a candle, sing a sankey, and find their way back home.

Prominent among those who left the party was Bruce Golding, who went on to form the National Democratic Movement only to return to the JLP, become its leader, and ultimately prime minister. One cannot be sure how many candles he lit and sankeys sung, but he did find his way back home.

During all the upheavals in the party Audley Shaw demonstrated an uncanny ability to stay above the fray — at least from public gaze. Unless one were in the inner sanctum of the party it was difficult to know what was going on behind the scenes in the then dark corridors of the JLP.

Shaw's support for the JLP leader remained intact to the extent that he was given the moniker of Seaga's water boy. But Shaw had always seen himself as the quintessential team player and party man. It is not that he agreed with Seaga's tactics, because he could see how this was hurting the party's chances at the polls against the wily and redoubtable People's National Party (PNP) electoral machinery. But the internal wrangling and internecine warfare in the party were determined to keep Seaga from ever occupying Jamaica House as, for all intents and purposes, he unwittingly became Patterson's campaign manager.

Shaw's commitment was and still is to the party. He has been able to navigate the often treacherous streams that have flowed in the JLP by demonstrating a strong commitment to the principles of the party above personalities. That is why, although smarting in his heart, he was able to step aside and allow Golding's coronation of Holness to go unchallenged after the prime minister's inglorious resignation from office as a consequence of the Dudus-Manatt affair. In the interest of the party Shaw stood aside when he was clearly next in line.

When the JLP regained power and he became the finance minister many thought he was not up to the job. They had as a background the failure of his business in Christiana and the fact of his being “Finsac'd”. Also, he was seen as not appreciating the severity of the impact of the 2008 global financial crisis on Jamaica or the vagaries of life at the Ministry of Finance.

Golding seemed to have reinforced this narrative by bringing Don Wehby from the private sector to the ministry. Some saw this as him not having full faith in Shaw's ability to do the work. Wehby soon left — maybe it was after he realised that the obvious discrepancies between life in the private sector and the public sector did not comport with his peace of mind. Shaw was then able to assert greater authority over his portfolio. Unfortunately for him he came up against heavy currents from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Jamaica's relationship with that body soured.

Then, in February 2016 the JLP won power and Shaw once again was given the finance portfolio. His predecessor, Dr Peter Phillips, had already done the heavy lifting prescribed by the IMF in Jamaica's quest to have a better relationship with the fund. The macroeconomic indices were pointing in the right direction and fiscal stability had returned to the economy, which was now set on the path to real growth.

Shaw not only built on where the PNP left off, but with the Government pursued the path of growth with a greater alacrity than had been seen before. After the 2018/19 Budget Debate ended, he was relieved of the finance ministry portfolio and given responsibility as the minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries. Some have dubbed this a demotion, and initially even I wondered at the wisdom of removing him from the finance portfolio so soon after the budget presentation ended.

But now one can begin to see the wisdom of Prime Minister Andrew Holness's decision. It is, in fact, a brilliant move, especially if Dr Nigel Clarke, the new minister of finance, will live up to the expectations people have of him at that ministry.

What is emerging is that Shaw has taken to his new portfolio as a duck to water. Coming from a farming community in Christiana, he has a firm understanding of the needs of the farming community. Thus, the urgent need to rehabilitate farm roads is not lost on him; neither is the imperative to integrate small farmers with the larger ones to expand production with the necessary financing being in place.

It was an eminent move to place the EXIM Bank under his charge. As a consummate marketer, and from the perch he occupied at the Ministry of Finance, he should have more than a fair understanding of the nuances of policies that should undergird industrial, commercial and agricultural output — important pillars in the Government's drive for growth and the prosperity agenda. He would understand this more than most, and that is why the move to this portfolio rings with sound, mature thinking on the part of Holness.

The demotion talk still lingers for some, but I would prefer to see it as recognition of the master role that he can play in advancing the growth agenda in these important areas. The expertise he gained at the Ministry of Finance will not be lost to the Cabinet and Government as he will still be a full-fledged member of these bodies.

Agriculture is impatient of the kind of energy and marketing expertise that Shaw can and hopefully will bring to this sector. The deployment of vast acres of idle and undeveloped land must be pursued with great vigour. Engaging the Diaspora in this endeavour will be more beneficial than the Diaspora bond that is being canvassed by the Economic Growth Council. Agricultural organisations, like the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), must begin to understand the imperative of agriculture in the Government's thrust for economic growth.

The JAS has not lived up to the reputation that has been assigned it as the premier agricultural organisation in the country. It has not been free from the predatory politics that has bedeviled organisations of similar vintage in this country. It must move beyond ideology and begin to seriously re-evaluate its raison d'etre, which is to advance the prospects of the farming community with special emphasis on the role of the small farmer in this endeavour.

The unblinkered observer will admit that Audley Shaw is one of the most talented and hard-working politicians in the country. But he is not often praised in this regard. Even where praise is given it tends to be guarded and tepid, never fulsome. As a people, we tend to suffer from collective self-denigration, so we highlight the worst in us instead of the best. We live in a culture often defined by 'bad-mindedness' and envy, and so we are not often moved to accord praise to those who deserve it, especially when they are still alive to share in it.

Like any other human being, Audley has made mistakes, but his contribution to national life, especially his work at the Ministry of Finance, has not been accorded the generosity of spirit that has evidently been earned. I know I will now be called Audley's water boy, but so be it. I describe Shaw as an unsung patriot because his patriotism and love for Jamaica cannot be denied, though it is not readily acknowledged. What also cannot be denied is the tenacity with which he has tackled national responsibilities assigned to him during his long political career. I expect him to take the same energy, light-heartedness, and jocular spirit to his new ministry. I have no doubt that he will give his new portfolio a good go, and this column wishes him and the other appointees to their new portfolios well.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol. com.

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