Some­thing f ishy in that swamp

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Daniel Th­waites is an at­tor­ney-at­law. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

LAST WEEK, I was mind­ful of Mark Twain’s ob­ser­va­tion that if you give a man the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing an early riser, he can com­fort­ably sleep till noon ev­ery day and no­body will bother to no­tice. That’s the power of rep­u­ta­tion, and I thought about it when get­ting re­ac­tions to my col­umn giv­ing an ap­praisal of the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter its first six months in of­fice. I had meant to of­fer mea­sured praise to Mr Hol­ness, and yet peo­ple re­sponded as if I had laid out aw­ful crit­i­cism.

I mean, one can only do so much. I couldn’t very well praise the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion on crime man­age­ment be­cause, de­spite wish­ing the best to Min­is­ter Mon­tague, to say things are go­ing well would leave me on stage wan­der­ing around lost like when Spice wanted to sing ‘In­di­ca­tor’ and the back­ground mu­sic was noth­ing but crick­ets.

Sim­i­larly, I couldn’t very well praise the Hol­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion on health man­age­ment be­cause, de­spite wish­ing the best to Min­is­ter Tufton and be­ing of the gen­uine be­lief that he is among the best avail­able for that job, it hasn’t been go­ing par­tic­u­larly well ei­ther, and to say oth­er­wise would be ob­vi­ously false.

RE­SOURCE-STARVED MIN­ISTRIES

Mind you, Mon­tague and Tufton are men strug­gling with re­source-starved min­istries in ex­cep­tion­ally de­mand­ing cir­cum­stances, and cri­tique ought to be sea­soned with prac­ti­cal­ity. And, I would add, gen­eral sym­pa­thy.

Nor could I praise the ad­min­is­tra­tion on ed­u­ca­tion, al­though I be­lieve this is a horse of a dif­fer­ent colour. The trou­ble in ed­u­ca­tion is, in large part, self-cre­ated be­cause of the Cap­tain’s des­per­ate at­tempt to be per­ceived as ful­fill­ing an elec­tion prom­ise even while the ship is tak­ing in wa­ter.

Plus, fail­ure in ed­u­ca­tion is like one of those Cold War se­cret-agent poi­sons that can go un­seen for a long time be­fore it in­flicts se­ri­ous dam­age. The change from a clean school cam­pus paid for by aux­il­iary fees to un­kempt sur­round­ings can hap­pen al­most im­per­cep­ti­bly. The withdrawal of a sports pro­gramme seems to only af­fect a few. The class­rooms go with­out a fan, or with­out paint, and the toi­lets aren’t fixed.

These are fail­ures that can seep into the so­ci­ety less dra­mat­i­cally, but are ev­ery bit as hurt­ful over the long run. Rather, they have seeped into the so­ci­ety, and they have hurt. And we’re play­ing games in­stead of ad­dress­ing the prob­lems.

Those are the three big min­istries that, how­ever un­der­funded or un­der-re­sourced, swal­low up the na­tion’s Bud­get. Most of the rest is small pota­toes. So I tipped my hat at the ad­min’s busi­ness friend­li­ness be­cause I be­lieve that hav­ing Daryl there to steam­roll through red tape is nec­es­sary, and I like the idea of the Eco­nomic Growth Coun­cil and other such ef­forts.

CON­STI­TU­TIONAL WOODENNESS

In truth, I had re­served most of the ob­vi­ous praise for Fi­nance Min­is­ter Dr Nigel Clarke, who I re­ally think is do­ing a tremen­dous job. I be­moan the con­sti­tu­tional woodenness that rel­e­gates his tal­ent to the shady nether-sphere of ‘am­bas­sador’. But as that splen­did tau­tol­ogy of res­ig­na­tion says: it is what it is.

Ju­nior Fi­nance Min­is­ter Aud­ley Shaw has had his suc­cesses as well, and I don’t wish to di­min­ish those in the slight­est. The fact is that he is man­ag­ing to ex­tract tax­a­tion out of the econ­omy with a stealth and ef­fi­ciency that must be the envy of ju­nior fi­nance min­is­ters ev­ery­where. The fact that the tax in­crease came through the Tro­jan horse of a promised tax break is just an in­ter­est­ing data point for stu­dents of the mar­tial arts and of com­edy, like my­self, where the ul­ti­mate trick is to use the weight of a thing against it.

The thing is, hav­ing lav­ished the praise, I’ve come this week with a crit­i­cism. For it is mys­te­ri­ous to me that Mr Hol­ness would spend po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on this ap­par­ent mess with Sym­biote that, so far, looks worse and worse upon closer in­spec­tion.

Let’s be clear about what’s hap­pen­ing there. The Of­fice of the Con­trac­tor Gen­eral (OCG) has come out very strongly against the award of the li­cence to Sym­biote, and for some very grave rea­sons. We all know that the con­trac­tor gen­eral could look at an award process through his side-eye for var­i­ous causes, some more wor­ry­ing than oth­ers. In this case, one ba­sis of the OCG’s ob­jec­tion is the most se­ri­ous imag­in­able. The OCG sees this as a na­tional-se­cu­rity mat­ter. Lemme just re­peat that for you: na­tional se­cu­rity.

SOME­THING FISHY

Yet, at the con­clu­sion of the last gen­eral elec­tion, it would ap­pear that the new Cabi­net had no more press­ing mat­ter than to ap­prove the award of the li­cence. Now I am all for haste and the elim­i­na­tion of red tape in the con­duct of gov­ern­ment busi­ness, but this one was fast in­deed. Es­pe­cially if you bear in mind that the con­trac­tor gen­eral was jump­ing up and down and wav­ing his arms in the back­ground say­ing, “Do NOT do it!” You would have thought this was a time when the de­ci­sion mak­ers might ac­tu­ally want to slow down and give it a good sec­ond look. That’s what makes me fear there is some­thing fishy in that swamp.

That is just the tip of the ice­berg re­gard­ing the swamp de­tailed by the OCG on this se­ries of trans­ac­tions. Then, when you add to all this that the Gov­ern­ment saw it fit to give a sweet dis­count on the spec­trum to Sym­biote, you have to won­der what’s go­ing on. Won’t that new pric­ing be ap­pli­ca­ble to the other car­ri­ers? Hasn’t this de­ci­sion thereby de­val­ued a tremen­dous pub­lic as­set?

Look, it could be that the con­trac­tor gen­eral is en­tirely wrong, and that there are jus­ti­fi­ca­tory facts un­known to the pub­lic that the con­trac­tor gen­eral ig­nored. But in the ab­sence of fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, Min­is­ters Wheat­ley and Mon­tague, and the prime min­is­ter, too, need to wheel and come again.

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