Port­more is­sue a mis­judge­ment of value

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

GOOD SENSE, at least for the time be­ing, has pre­vailed. The par­lia­men­tary bill by which the Govern­ment hopes to end the prac­tice of mem­bers of the Port­more Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil au­to­mat­i­cally sit­ting in the St Catherine Parish Coun­cil is be­ing sent for re­view by a House com­mit­tee, de­fus­ing a po­ten­tially nasty quar­rel be­tween the govern­ment and the Op­po­si­tion.

In the en­su­ing calm, there is an op­por­tu­nity for Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Hol­ness to re­flect, es­pe­cially on state­ments made in his in­au­gu­ra­tion speech in March on what they meant and whether they rep­re­sented core be­liefs. Per­haps just as im­por­tant, he should con­sider whether re­cent events rep­re­sented good, strate­gic, po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion.

Mr Hol­ness’ Ja­maica Labour Party has a one-seat ad­van­tage in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. “There is no ma­jor­ity for ar­ro­gance,” the prime min­is­ter de­clared in that in­au­gu­ral ad­dress.

The cir­cum­stances, he sug­gested, re­quired part­ner­ship and part­ner­ship re­quired trust, which couldn’t be bought only with pledges and state­ments. Trust would have to be col­lat­er­alised by ac­tion.

Mr Hol­ness’ Govern­ment has set Novem­ber 28 as the date for lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions. Can­di­dates for that poll are to be nom­i­nated to­day.

The com­po­si­tion of St Catherine is dif­fer­ent from the other au­thor­i­ties in a sig­nif­i­cant re­spect. Of its 41 mem­bers, 12 rep­re­sent di­vi­sions in the parish mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Port­more, whose sep­a­rate coun­cil they, along with a di­rectly elected mayor, com­prise.

Its ma­jor­ity in Port­more was cru­cial to the op­po­si­tion Peo­ple’s Na­tional Party’s (PNP) con­trol of the St Catherine lo­cal Govern­ment. Re­liev­ing the PNP of that ad­van­tage was a large part of the think­ing of the Govern­ment’s Ni­code­mus-style tabling of leg­is­la­tion on Mon­day to delink the Port­more and St Catherine coun­cils, which it hoped would hap­pen in time for the lo­cal govern­ment poll.

For nearly 40 years, ma­jor elec­toral-re­lated is­sues, in­clud­ing con­stituency and divi­sional bound­aries, have been the sub­ject of con­sen­sus de­ci­sion-mak­ing at the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion of Ja­maica (ECJ), com­prised of in­de­pen­dents and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the two big par­ties. ECJ agree­ments, in­clud­ing the pass­ing of leg­is­la­tion, by con­ven­tion, are im­ple­mented change. It is an ar­range­ment that helped to pull Ja­maica back from the brink of an­ar­chy and cre­ated a cred­i­ble elec­toral sys­tem.

CON­SUL­TA­TIONS WITH PEO­PLE

We are sur­prised, there­fore, that the Port­more bill was not sub­ject to this process, as it was be­ing at­tempted in such a quick-fire man­ner to cause the ECJ’s chair­man, Dorothy Pine-McLarty, to pub­licly warn the Govern­ment that it couldn’t “prac­ti­cally be com­pleted and gazetted” be­fore to­day’s nom­i­na­tion. She in­sisted on con­sul­ta­tions with the peo­ple of Port­more.

The dan­ger of the Govern­ment’s ploy is that it casts Prime Min­is­ter Hol­ness as en­gag­ing in pol­i­tics as usual and un­der­mines his re­cent at­tempts to care­fully build his im­age as a leader con­cerned with larger, in­clu­sive mat­ters. Fur­ther, it raises the ques­tion of judge­ment, sug­gest­ing a will­ing­ness to go af­ter a petty prize, while risk­ing the op­por­tu­nity of achiev­ing the real bo­nanza.

The Govern­ment has main­tained Ja­maica on a cred­i­ble fis­cal track for the past four years, which is be­gin­ning to de­liver eco­nomic growth and which Mr Hol­ness is keen to ex­pand. But he also has more dif­fi­cult re­forms to com­plete, in­clud­ing in pub­lic-sec­tor pen­sions and the struc­ture of pub­lic bu­reau­cracy. We would ex­pect him to be wary of hav­ing an overly hos­tile Op­po­si­tion to deal with, es­pe­cially for some­thing of such rel­a­tively small value.

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