Columns

Political delay tactics in Advent

Michael
Burke

Thursday, December 13, 2018

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“But every time there is a problem… they set up another commission of enquiry, and when the commission… submits its report they set up a committee to examine the recommendations of the commission. And when the committee makes its report they set up a committee of the Cabinet under the chairmanship of the prime minister to examine the recommendations of the committee upon the recommendations of the commission that has been established.” (Michael Manley speaking, PNP conference public session, Excelsior High School, Sunday, October 26, 1969).

At one month to go before my 16th birthday I was there that Sunday morning, 49 years ago, when the People's National Party held its last ever conference at Excelsior High School. Yes, I went there after attending Sunday mass in a Roman Catholic Church to answer your unspoken question. The above statement by Michael Manley, in what was the first leg of the 1969-70 two-part conference, as was the PNP's conference method then, caused extensive laughter at the meeting.

I am reminded of this by the recent delay tactics of Prime Minister Andrew Holness in first stating that he needs to have a comprehensive read of the auditor general's report on the Petrojam affair and, second, that he now wants a comprehensive audit as well.

In those days, when the major political parties had their conferences, The Gleaner reported verbatim the speeches at party conferences; hence, the research for the quote was easy to find. It is a major loss to historians that the local media no longer does this.

So the prime minister will also be meeting with the auditor general next week. Is he going to request some adjustments so that the report will be politically marketable? In my opinion, these are delaying tactics in the hope that this affair will become a nine-day wonder.

The present Petrojam scenario takes place in Advent. Is Holness worried about his political future because of this Petrojam thing? King Herod was worried that he could lose power when the wise men came enquiring where was it that a king would be born. So Herod had the first-born baby in every family slaughtered. This is commemorated as the Feast of the Holy Innocents, celebrated in the west on December 28, and in the east of December 29.

My first reaction when I heard the news of Holness needing to have a comprehensive read of the report sent me down memory lane. I was employed at Social Development Commission (SDC) between March 1972 and June 1974. For the first nine months I was employed in the literacy section of the SDC before the advent of Jamaica Movement for the advancement of literacy (JAMAL). This turned out to be my training ground for writing articles in simple language. But by surprise I was to return to a similar assignment seven years later, in 1979, but this time it was to digest material for ministers of government.

The People's National Party (PNP) Government of the 1970s had set up a public sector company to establish community enterprises all over Jamaica and I was employed there as a field officer between 1979 and 1981 overlapping into the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government headed by Edward Seaga. The CEOs were dismantled by the JLP Government who “threw us all out” and handed us the payments we were legally entitled to in lieu of notice.

But when I showed up at the ministry of parliamentary affairs for my first day on the job in 1979 there were only a few projects and there was no new project proposal for me to attend to. I was therefore seconded to the section of the ministry of parliamentary affairs that did summaries or digests of news items in the print media for the ministers of government.

In 1979 there were no computers in the civil service, except perhaps in a special department somewhere. It was only the year before, in 1978, that I learned that what I thought were television sets elsewhere were actually computers. We had to simplify the news items by pencil and paper, hand them to clerks to type out on the old-fashioned typewriters, that used ribbons to print words on paper.

Today, computers can help those assigned to digest news to simplify the material so that they do not end up with the very tedious pencil, paper and brain work that we did even in the late 1970s. But I learned that there were people employed to digest news for ministers of government because I was one such person, even if only for three weeks.

So 39-and-a-half years later, in December 2018, when Prime Minister Andrew Holness states that he needs time to do a comprehensive study of the Petrojam report, I know better. There are many people who know that he can have the salient points of the report at his command.

And now that a forensic report will be done before any action, isn't this a play for time to work out something? Didn't Pontius Pilate play for time when he asked the crowd to choose between Jesus and Barabbas? Isn't that what he did when he had Jesus lashed 39 times?

And, in such situations, when it is alleged that officials have been 'caught with their hands in the cookie jar', it is common practice to use tactics to avoid whatever penalties and for self-preservation. One could say that it is a form of pragmatism that politicians and businessmen employ whenever they feel threatened.

One reader who obviously worships political theory, as opposed to practice, insists that politicians who employ pragmatism cannot be either true capitalists or true socialists because to the reader it does not make sense. In that case there are no real capitalist or socialist governments in the world. Even Fidel Castro was called a 'Castro-type' socialist and not really a communist. What would be said of petrol stations that operate food marts; that they are not really petrol stations?

Going back to the days of King Herod and Pontius Pilate, most politicians do whatever it takes to stay in power and most businessmen do whatever it takes to stay in business.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or ekrubm765@yahoo.com.


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