A six-month score­card

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Carolyn Cooper is a con­sul­tant on cul­ture and de­vel­op­ment. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com. Daniel Th­waites is an at­tor­neyat-law. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

LO­CAL GOVERN­MENT elec­tions are in the air, so the six-month-old Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion is, un­der­stand­ably, be­ing in­spected and ad­judged. I think it re­ally is too early to reach any grand con­clu­sions, al­though some trends are ev­i­dent. It’s sort of the way you can see which way a hur­ri­cane is track­ing. The pre­cise path re­mains to be seen but, bar­ring di­vine in­ter­ven­tion, you can de­duce the gen­eral di­rec­tion.

To start with, I have to pass over many mi­nor things, like the many ab­surd prom­ises of what would be achieved with 100 days. Un­sur­pris­ingly, as soon as he held power, there was mas­sive back­track­ing on those com­mit­ments with the usual ap­peals for pa­tience and the re­minders that things take time. Since dis­ap­point­ment is a func­tion of ex­pec­ta­tion, and since I ex­pected noth­ing dif­fer­ent, I sim­ply note it as a re­cur­ring theme of our way of do­ing things.

Of course crime is a sham­bles. I want to say that it can­not get any worse be­cause crim­i­nals are now reg­u­larly slaugh­ter­ing chil­dren, but I have learned to NEVER say it can’t get worse. Grue­some events have a way of sur­pass­ing the imag­i­na­tion.

In health, it’s as if ev­ery cri­sis vis­ited upon Fen­ton Fer­gu­son is re­dou­bling its ef­fort to em­bar­rass Christo­pher Tufton. In place of chikV, there’s ZIKV, and the ‘dead ba­bies scan­dal’ has come back again. Only this time, in­stead of Fen­ton say­ing the pre­emies aren’t ba­bies “in the real sense”, you have Chris say­ing that the av­er­age Ja­maican p** p** needs re­fur­bish­ing and cleans­ing.

SMART MOVES

All the same, I think Mr Hol­ness has made some smart moves, the best of which has a para­dox­i­cal el­e­ment to it. I speak of his hew­ing closely and, with­out mur­mur, to the path laid out by the IMF. The para­dox arises only be­cause a faux and con­cocted de­fi­ance of the IMF un­der­girded the po­lit­i­cal cam­paign that ush­ered him into Ja­maica House.

Which isn’t to say that he isn’t also do­ing some other re­ally clever things. The com­mu­ni­ca­tion of Ja­maica House has hardly ever been bet­ter. Cer­tainly it’s bet­ter than any­thing in re­cent mem­ory. That’s the pos­i­tive spin. Crit­ics will say it’s a PR Govern­ment.

Fur­ther­more, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is tele­graph­ing, by word and deed, that it is ac­ces­si­ble, par­tic­u­larly to busi­ness. Those who wish to see this as a pos­i­tive, as do I, will be equally matched by those who will want to see it as a neg­a­tive.

Re­gard­ing the IMF though, you could say that, like Hil­lary Clin­ton, Mr Hol­ness un­der­stands that pol­i­tics de­mands two faces – one you give to the pub­lic, and the other you un­der­stand be­hind closed doors. Or you could say that it is an­other in­stance of politi­cians promis­ing one thing when out of power, but de­liv­er­ing some­thing else when they

IIare in.

The thing is, we know ex­actly where and when Mr Hol­ness learned the les­son to NEVER speak the un­var­nished truth. It was in 2011 when he stood on a plat­form and said that “bit­ter medicine” was on the way.

So there is a deep sense in which, over the last six months, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has op­er­ated “fact­free”, by which I mean that pol­icy and of­fi­cial po­si­tions have such an es­tranged re­la­tion­ship with ac­tual re­al­ity that they may as well be con­sid­ered di­vorced. They cer­tainly haven’t both­ered to meet up with each other and at least have a glass of wine in about six months.

AUX­IL­IARY FEES

For ex­am­ple, the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter can an­nounce that aux­il­iary fees are abol­ished, even though ev­ery par­ent de­liv­er­ing their child to school will be pre­sented with an in­voice. The par­ent will sim­ply blame the in­voice on the school’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, mean­ing that the min­is­ter has pushed the re­spon­si­bil­ity down to his in­fe­ri­ors and thereby achieved the stun­ning re­sult of charg­ing aux­il­iary fees with­out charg­ing them.

And yet I don’t rate Ruel’s ge­nius as rarefied as Shaw’s, who, as finance min­is­ter, rein­tro­duced the IMF in 2009, ripped them off thor­oughly, then made a spe­cial­ity of rail­ing against them dur­ing his time in Op­po­si­tion.

Now back in the hot seat, he is abid­ing by their dic­tates faith­fully, even to the point of jack­ing up taxes mer­ci­lessly. By the way, there are many who are crit­i­cal of Shaw for all this, but not I ... I am a con­vert.

Shaw broke the elec­tion-win­ning $1.5-mil­lion thresh­old threat in a cre­ative and en­ter­tain­ing way. Hav­ing promised an IMF-de­fy­ing tax cut, he de­liv­ered an IMF-obe­di­ent tax in­crease. Crit­ics will call this chi­canery, but I call it “ge­nius”.

How did that hap­pen? I will share my spec­u­la­tion. Mr Hol­ness, to his great credit, has in­stalled a com­pe­tent min­is­ter of finance, Dr Nigel Clarke. This means that for the first in a long time, there has been one tal­ented man, Dr Peter Phillips, sup­planted by an­other.

The pol­i­tics doesn’t ex­actly al­low Dr Clarke to sit in the seat, but Mr Hol­ness has ar­ranged things so that the po­lit­i­cal baron from North East Manch­ester gets his trib­ute, even while com­pe­tence is re­spected with the im­por­ta­tion of new blood.

All things con­sid­ered, that’s not a bad score­card, and there’s even rea­son to be mildly op­ti­mistic.

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