Partnership? What partnership?
WHEN THE present Government took office by the slimmest of margins eight months ago, the prime minister spoke of a commitment to transparency and partnership with the Opposition so that the difficult tasks of structural reform in almost every sector of the society could proceed seamlessly and so deadlock in the chamber would be avoided.
Time and again, I have applauded Audley Shaw, who has seemed to mature from his erstwhile raucous ways to celebrate how much the nation can achieve if we are little concerned about which party is to be praised or blamed.
Every single voice in the private sector, civil society, the Church and our creditors have recognised that Jamaica’s economic path brooks little deviation and is so arduous as to require a high measure of confidence-building collaboration among political actors.
And yes, one or two ministers have gone out of their way to be cordial and consultative with their opposition counterparts. It was heartening to hear Phillip Paulwell acknowledge the comity between himself and Andrew Wheatley, for example.
When the Economic Growth Council met with the Opposition sometime ago, Chairman Michael Lee-Chin acknowledged that a high measure of political cooperation was indispensable for sustained growth, and committed himself to being the solvent between sometimes acrimonious forces.
Well, he should have been in Gordon House last Tuesday and Wednesday when the very old-style minister of mining, Mike Henry, brought a statement fundamentally changing the way in which Jamaica earns from the bauxite industry, increasing the amount of earth to be scraped off the St Ann hillsides for a further 25 years beyond present contracts and insisting that the deal had to be signed less than a day later.
From the wordy and hard-to-follow ministerial statement, one gleans that under the new agreement with the successors to the Noranda enterprise, the bauxite levy is to be downgraded and augmented with a profit-sharing arrangement that will be “ring-fenced” (whatever that means) against creative accounting and transfer pricing. This precedent is likely to affect our relations with every other mining entity with which we do business.
All these issues deserve the most careful parliamentary interrogation.
So the Opposition protested and, predictably, the arrogance from the government benches was turned against the People’s National Party for daring to object and, as Henry would recite on Wednesday, blameworthy for all the ills of the bauxite sector. Among the hooters, Chuck seemed tipsy and Charles doesn’t even bother trying to control Desmond.
HIGH-HANDED AND ARBITRARY POLICYMAKING
Nobody is being thin-skinned here. But what kind of partnership can you expect in the face of such high-handed and arbitrary policymaking and presentation?
Until Andrew Holness intervened last Tuesday, this Government had not thought it necessary even to tell the names of the other party to the shotgun marriage being arranged with the Jamaican people.
If there’s one thing I have learned in political life, it’s that the Jamaican people don’t like arrogance.
Genuine partnership should mean that there must be no signing until the entire draft agreement with our proposed partners has been shared. Minister Henry has promised me that all the agreements will be made available, but it will only add insult to injury if binding contracts have been concluded in the meanwhile.
The administration would have scored big with a sober and maturing electorate if such an important episode had been approached differently.
Partnership took a knockout blow in Parliament last week.
FROM THE BACK BENCH