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Not surprised at PNP's response to Shaw's telephone bill dilemma

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Proverb: Quatti buy chubble, hunjed poun' cyaan pay farri

Translation: A penny-halfpenny (1 1/2d) buys trouble, one hundred pounds (100) cannot pay for it.Explanation: Little blunders can cause us to find ourselves in situations so complex that we cannot extricate ourselves.

American poet and educator, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem: “A Psalm of Life,” famously said, “Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.”

The lightning response of Prime Minister Andrew Holness to the revelations of the exorbitant and unacceptable phone bills of Finance Minister Audley Shaw, is a point of political light which speaks to his willingness to shake up the tectonic plates of 'squaddie' politics. 'Squaddie' politics characterised the Portia Simpson Miller and PJ Patterson Administrations and precipitated their downfalls.

Since Radio Jamaica broke the Shaw phone bill saga last week, PNP official and unofficial spokespersons, surrogates and point [note point not 'pint'] persons, including one who has a fixation with aspirating the letter 'h' when he should not, have inundated all media with calls for Mr Shaw and the Administration to literally pay dearly. I am not surprised. Why?

Mr Shaw and some others in the Jamaica Labour Party have been identified by the People's National Party as political high value targets [PHVTs]. Recall that Audley Shaw was the man who exposed many of the scandals and corrupt carryings-on that coloured the innards of the most recent PNP Administration.

The PNP sees this phone bill controversy as an aperture in Shaw's political armour. For them it is an opportunity to settle a political score.

I don't believe for one minute that the PNP genuinely gives two hoots about how much more the beginning teacher, doctor, nurse, household helper, policeman, or whoever else could be paid if Shaw had not racked up these astronomical $8.34 million phone bills.

The PNP is chiefly involved in a grand scheme of political masquerading to help alleviate the residual political pains of being rejected by the people of Jamaica on February 25, 2016.

American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” What the PNP does and what they say are distinct horses of different colours.

Recall a front-page story in The Gleaner on Tuesday, February 9, 2002, which listed major money scandals that had occurred under the watch of PNP Administrations.

The root of these scandals is an amalgam of ineptitude and a cruel waste of public resources. The consequences have helped to chronically impoverish Jamaica and damage our credibility abroad. The scandals include, but are not limited to:

1. Shell waiver (1991) - $29.5 million; approximately $560 million in today's terms

2. Zinc (1989) - $500 million; approx $22 billion today

3. Furniture (1991) - $10.6 million; approx $200 million today

4. Public sector salaries (1998) - $60 million; approx $287 million today

5. NetServ (2001) - $220 million; approx $856 million today

6. Operation Pride/NHDC (1997-present) - $5.5 billion projected; approx $20 billion today

TOTAL: $6.320 billion; approx $44 billion today

Maybe one of the PNP surrogates can tell us how much more beginning teachers, household helpers, nurses, policemen, etc. could have been paid had the PNP not wantonly wasted the country's resources on fly-by-night schemes.

Recall, one of the first acts the Portia Simpson Miller administration performed when they took power on December 29, 2011 was to spend $60 million on luxury SUVs for themselves. How many civil servants could have got a pay rise with these funds?

Recall, hundreds of millions were wasted on phantom schemes such as the non-starter technology park and film lot fiasco at the abandoned Goodyear Factory in St Thomas. Jamaica's reputation was damaged by mountains of incompetence by numerous ministers in the Portia Simpson Miller Administration. Who was held accountable? Nobody!

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, by virtue of his swift action on the Shaw phone bill issue, has demonstrated political testicular fortitude. The PNP could learn a lesson here. I doubt they will.

Recall that when Phillip Paulwell, minister of science, technology, energy, and mining, bungled and botched the 381-megawatt energy project, he was stoutly defended and embraced by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in Parliament: “ 'Let me make it quite clear: I have a minister of energy in place. Unless he does something wrong that would affect and impact the Jamaican people in a serious way and the Government of Jamaica [he will not be fired],' Simpson Miller said, in responding to a question from Opposition Leader Andrew Holness.” (Jamaica Observer, June 4, 2014)

Prime Minister Holness, by contrast, has drawn a line in the sand. What a difference an Administration makes!

Recall, when Dr Fenton Ferguson, as minister of health, made little or no preparation for the arrival of chikungunya, he was defended by the prime minister. Under Ferguson's watch there was country-wide suffering, which cost the economy, conservatively, $7 billion and 13 million lost man-hours of production time, according to data from the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

How many early childhood institutes could have benefited from the purchase of well-needed equipment had Ferguson not dilly-dallied on the job?Recall, the Simpson Miller Administration spent $350 million to extinguish a preventable fire at Riverton dump and to date, over $100 million cannot be properly accounted for at the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA). The prime minister defended the erstwhile chief executive officer of the NSWMA, her close friend and president of the PNP's Women's Movement Jennifer Edwards, with the words: “She [Jennifer] did not start the fire.”

How many fire trucks, ambulances and cars for the police – new or used – could have been bought with those funds?

Recall, in October 2012, the country found out that near $200 million of National Housing Trust money had been used to purchase the Outameni property, ostensibly to establish a kind of 'Emancipation Park' in the west — at least that is one of several explanations the country got. The prime minister said she heard about the matter in the media.

Auditor General Pamela Munroe Ellis later delivered a body blow to the wavering stories by the then board: “The Auditor General's Department says that the National Housing Trust's (NHT) purchase of the Orange Grove/Outameni property in Trelawny in 2013 was a buyout of a bad debt owed by the owners of the property to a local merchant bank.

“The decision to purchase the property followed a letter from the owners, Orange Valley Holdings Limited (OVHL), in November 2012, bringing to the attention of the NHT board its indebtedness and urging it to negotiate a buyout of the bank loan covering the realty.” (Jamaica Observer, April 22, 2015)

“The purchase was consummated, although a site assessment of the property conducted by the Trust's Construction and Development Unit had indicated 'that the property does not appear to facilitate the NHT's mandate for affordable housing solutions and is more suited for recreational/heritage type facility'.” (Jamaica Observer, April 21, 2015)

The Outameni property is the PNP's most recent white elephant of white elephants: “The Trust spends an estimated $900,000 per month to main the 9.1 acre property.” Jamaica Observer, October 19, 2016. This revelation came from Dr Carlton Davis, former NHT board chairman. How many roads could have been repaired with these funds?

Mr Shaw has expressed contriteness. “I regret this most unfortunate issue and I took personal responsibility to seek a discount and to pay back [a portion of bills) I was personally responsible for.” “I do profoundly regret what has happened.” Jamaica Observer, July 12, 2017

To date, the PNP has not said sorry for the severe pain and suffering they caused upon Jamaicans during the 1976 State of Emergency? Have they apologised for the Green Bay Massacre? No!

Recall that these companies capsized under the P J Patterson/Dr Omar Davies time at bat: (This is an abbreviated list) Mutual Life, a company that operated locally for over 100 years; Goodyear Tyre Company; West Indies Glass; Homelectrix; Workers' Bank; Raymar's Furniture; Charley's Windsor House; Thermo Plastics; Berec Batteries; Century National Bank; Crown Eagle Insurance; Crown Eagle Insurance Commercial Bank; Island Life Insurance Company; American Life Insurance Company; Eagle Merchant Bank; Ecotrends; Times Store; Things Jamaican, which had its location turned into a detention centre by the PNP. Add to those 45,000 small- and medium-sized businesses that went under during the 1990s.

Thousands of honest businessmen and women, whose only crime was investing in the land of their birth, were ruined. Many have migrated, according to the association that represents Finsac'd entrepreneurs. Some 20 have committed suicide. Thousands today are like dead men and women walking, shattered human shells, who cannot bring themselves to pick up the pieces.

Has the PNP apologised for the financial ruin that it brought upon thousands of Jamaicans in the 1970s and 1990s?

Prime Minister Andrew Holness earlier this year apologised for the Coral Garden Killings. The PNP has not learned from this precedent. I doubt they will.

Holness's swift action on this phone bill issue is admirable. Here is a most recent example of the handiwork of a leader who is not afraid to lead from the front.

“Coming from the meeting, it was acknowledged that there was no standard, clear and consistent policy being applied across government regarding the treatment of communication expenses for ministers and ministers of state,” the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) said in its statement.

“The prime minister has, therefore, directed the Ministry of Finance to review and report on the respective policies for the provision of communication services including cellphones, operating in the various ministries. This is to allow Cabinet to make a comprehensive decision on how communication services and expenses for ministers are treated,” the statement said.

“During the meeting at Parliament, Prime Minister Holness ordered an audit of all cellphone bills of ministers and state ministers. This is to confirm the accuracy of information in the public domain. In the interim, the prime minister directed that cellular phone expenses be capped.

“The Ministry of Finance has been tasked to advise the prime minister, within a week, on the appropriate amount for the cap to be paid by each ministry for the minister's cellular phone bills. Any amount exceeding the cap should, therefore, be the responsibility of the respective ministers, unless otherwise approved by the permanent secretary,” said the OPM.” Jamaica Observer, July 12, 2017

This swift action by Mr Holness illustrates one of the key differences between the JLP and the moribund PNP. Accountability for the PNP is non-existent. The PNP's mantra was brilliantly enunciated by Ronald Thwaites when he said: “The PNP has presided over the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich since slavery.”

We better take care to remember the African adage “Be careful when a naked man offers you a shirt.” The PNP is not only naked, they are desperate.

Proverb: Tek whey yuh get tell yu get whey yu want.

Translation:

Take what you can get until you can get what you want.Explanation: Every opportunity, well used, can be a stepping stone to realisation of your ultimate goals.

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.