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An Opposition in search of praise

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, October 07, 2018

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Little by little grow the bananas. — Congolese proverb

FOR the better part of the last 30 years, most of us were probably made numb from the almost constant flow of negative news about our economy. Admittedly, our country still has several tough economic hurdles to surmount. Nevertheless, the positive shift in the macroeconomic indicators in recent times is a tonic.

The previous Administration capitalised on the economic groundwork laid by the Bruce Golding Administration. This is good governance. Confucius said: “Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.”

The present Andrew Holness-led Administration is holding their bat straight, avoiding wayward shots, and is scoring runs. Above all else, the real credit for the beginnings of the present economic turnaround belongs to the Jamaican people. It is the blood, sweat and tears of the Jamaican people which have set us back on the path to economic recovery. If there is to be any credit-spree, that should be the domain of ordinary folks who endured decades of belt-tightening, bullet-biting, bitter medicine, and God knows what else.

I believe those in the People's National Party (PNP) who shamelessly continue to talk about the Jamaica Labour Party reaping what they did not sow are involved in analogue, not digital thinking as regards contemporary governance.

Recall these sad comments from the PNP's Mark Golding: “They have inherited a platform which was built by several years of sacrifice by the Jamaican people and careful economic management of the People's National Party which turned the ship around and moved all of our macroeconomic indicators in the right direction.”

A Gleaner article, 'JLP reaping what it did not sow, says PNP... Opposition party claims no results coming from growth ministry', on December 23, 2016 continues:

“Golding said he could not point out any specifics that the JLP [Jamaica Labour Party] Administration has done to date that could directly influence growth in the economy.

“Dr Peter Phillips, PNP presidential hopeful and former finance minister, is of a similar view.

“Phillips has declared that all the investments and projects that have so far materialised this year were birthed under the PNP.

“ 'It is not that they have done anything spectacular since they took up office. All of what is happening is a continuation of what we had started in our Administration and that is the truth,' Phillips argued.”

Daylight approaching

Forbes magazine once commented, among other things: “Jamaica's economy has grown on average less than one per cent a year for the last three decades and many impediments remain to growth: a bloated public sector which crowds out spending on important projects; high crime and corruption; red tape; and a high debt-to-GDP ratio.” ( https://www.forbes.com/places/jamaica/) This was once the state of affairs.

Whatever our political leaning, the following bit of good news should have served as a point of real hope for all well-thinking Jamaicans: “The Jamaican economy grew by 2.2 per cent during the period April to June 2018, when compared to the similar quarter of 2017. This increase was attributed to improved performances in both the goods-producing industries (7.2 per cent) and the services industries (0.6 per cent). The positive performance of the goods-producing industries was due to increased output in: agriculture, forestry and fishing (12.5 per cent), mining and quarrying (31.6 per cent), construction (2.9 per cent), and manufacturing (0.2 per cent).” (Statistical Institute of Jamaica, September 28, 2018)

Jamaica needs to quickly regain her position as the “Pearl of the Caribbean”. We recently emerged from the ignominious category of “sick man of the region”. Were we to backslide, that would destroy confidence in this country for at least two generations; then we would, I fear, become like permanent castaways.

Crime — the political football

Among numerous e-mail I got in response to last Sunday's column, this came to my inbox:

“Colin Campbell <colinrcampbell2016@gmail.com>

To:higgins160@yahoo.com

Cc:jenni campbell,Donovan Nelson,karlangell101@gmail.com

Sep 30 at 1:25 PM

Garfield Higgins is entitled to his opinions but not his own facts.

At no time has the PNP, its leader, its NEC, its Executive Committee, its shadow minister of national security or its Shadow Cabinet ever opposed the imposition of the three states of public emergency (SOEs) or the two zones of special operations (ZOSOs) imposed by the Government.

Your assertion in your column 'Crime - the political football' in today's Sunday Observer (September 30) that the PNP has opposed the ZOSOs and SOE's from the 'get-go' is factually incorrect and without merit. I say that without fear of successful contradiction.

SOEs cannot remain in existence for longer than two weeks without the positive vote of two thirds of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The JLP does not have a two thirds majority in either chamber. In the more than ten extensions, the Opposition has not cast a single negative vote.

Understand, however, Mr Higgins, the Opposition has a duty, indeed a burden to articulate all sides of issues on all matters brought to Parliament for consideration, debate and approval.

In voting to support these anti-crime measures we will not yield an inch of our right to speak, open up dialogue and caution the implementers on the constitutional rights of Jamaicans and the efficacy of the operations themselves.

So, Sir, I will guard your right to your opinion with my life, but you will have no right to facts, according to Garfield Higgins.

Colin Campbell”

After reading this missive I made sure to double-check the meaning of the word oppose. The Oxford Online Dictionary says “oppose” means, among other things, to “disagree with and attempt to prevent, especially by argument”. Campbell became the director of communications for the PNP in early January 2018. I am assuming by now he would have settled into his functions. Has he read this? 'PNP says zones of special operations Bill oppressive' ( Jamaica Observer, June 27, 2017)

The story said, inter alia: “Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, in his address to the National Executive Council (NEC) at the Bridge Palm Hotel in Clarendon on Sunday, described the Zones of Special Operations Bill as oppressive and that it will only widen the gap between the police and the citizenry, as well as perpetuate further distrust between them.”

I wonder if Campbell has read this article: 'Second ZOSO no solution to crime — Jackson'. ( The Gleaner, October 17, 2017) The news item said among other things:

“ 'The truth of the matter is, the first ZOSO in Montego Bay (Mount Salem, St James) so far is nothing to celebrate in terms of what it has achieved, and what it is seeking to achieve to deal with the national epidemic of crime that we have,' said Jackson. He argued that the experience of Mount Salem does not warrant declaring another area a special zone.”

The PNP's director of communication quite possibly has not read this: 'No state of emergency but fix St James, Bunting urges Gov't'. ( Jamaica Observer, September 27, 2016)

The story revealed the following: “While admitting that the upsurge in crime in St James is now an 'emergency situation', the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) is not calling for a state of emergency.

“Instead, Opposition spokesman on national security Peter Bunting is calling on the Government to act with a 'sense of urgency' to craft a solution to the wave of murders and shootings that has engulfed the parish over the past few weeks.

“Bunting, speaking today at a PNP press conference at the party's Old Hope Road, St Andrew, headquarters, said that for the last week Jamaica has been rocked by 36 murders and that he is alarmed that almost half of them occurred in St James.

“ 'While St James has featured at the top of the chart for the past few years, it is alarming that 21 per cent of all murders year to date occurred in St James,' he lamented.

“He, however, added that while this is an emergency situation, 'the Opposition is not calling for a state of emergency, or any other knee-jerk measure designed to severely restrict the human rights of our citizens'.

“Bunting said the Opposition is instead demanding a sense of urgency from the Government in pulling together all stakeholders to craft a solution.”

Bunting subsequently described the ZOSO as “unnecessary”.

Does Campbell remember this news item? “There is more indication that the Government's intention to request an extension of the state of public emergency in St James will be challenged by the Opposition in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“Peter Bunting, Member of Parliament for Manchester Central, has laid down a condition for the Government, which he says will determine whether the Opposition supports the extension.

“According to Bunting, the Government must first answer questions which have been raised by Opposition members.

“ 'Before him reach public business to discuss extension of state of emergency, answer the questions on Cornwall Regional Hospital that dem cut off last week. You can't talk 'bout you want cooperation but you not giving any respect, you not building any trust, you not coming with transparency and truth to answer to the people of Jamaica,' he contended.

“Bunting said the Opposition also wants answers on the police used cars scandal and exorbitant fees being paid to government consultants and advisors.

“He warned of road protests if the Government fails to respond to the questions on Tuesday.

“He was addressing a divisional conference at Bellefield High School in Manchester on Sunday.” ( RJR News, April 30, 2018)

Bunting's broadside was opposite to the stated positions of his party leader.

Recall that at a press conference on April 26, 2018, Dr Phillips said the PNP would not support further extensions after the second 90 days, unless “there is some overwhelming reason presented for the consideration of the public”. ( The Gleaner, April 26, 2018)

I don't recollect seeing any reports from the PNP's April 26, 2018 press conference and/or in subsequent interviews by Dr Phillips or Fitz Jackson in which the answering of questions raised by Opposition members was set as a condition for support of the state of emergency.

Was Bunting's tirade at the divisional conference in Manchester mere political frolic? Or was he emptying the political innards of the Opposition's mind on the states of emergency and zones of special operations initiatives?

Realpolitik

Campbell may not want to admit it, but the PNP has made multiple efforts to oppose the implementation of the SOEs and ZOSOs through its statements and actions from the get-go. I believe the PNP has voted for the extensions simply because of the overwhelming weight of public sentiment in favour of the measures.

The PNP, like the JLP, is fuelled by public sentiment. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.”

Public sentiment is on the side of the Administration. This is conspicuous to all but the politically blind at 89 Old Hope Road. Sector and national interest groups have consistently supported the SOEs and ZOSOs.

I believe the weight of pillars of influence like these — 'JMA welcomes state of emergency in St James' ( Jamaica Observer, January 18, 2018) and 'PSOJ wants state of emergency extended to St Catherine' ( The Gleaner, May 28, 2018) — have helped to substantially direct, if not dictate, the PNP's support in Parliament for the SOEs and ZOSOs.

Additionally, large numbers of citizens in PNP- and JLP-controlled communities have overwhelmingly supported the enhanced security measures. Very generous support countrywide doubtless has not escaped the PNP's notice.

Politicians who want to get elected or retain political power, as Campbell knows, do not swim against the strong current of public sentiment, except they wear suicide vests.

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

I do not weep at the world, I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife. — Zora Neale Hurston

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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