Too smart for my own good

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Gor­don Robin­son is an at­tor­ney-at-law. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­

SOME­TIMES, I’M too cute by half. So, I out­wit­ted my­self on Novem­ber 8 when, de­spite months of stead­fastly ad­vis­ing read­ers that Trump would be the next pres­i­dent (in­clud­ing dur­ing and af­ter Pu**ygate), I wilted un­der un­bear­able pres­sure from teem­ing thou­sands of women, jumped ship, and leapt on to the Hil­lary band­wagon. I feel like a pirate with a par­rot on his shoul­der — “Aaaaaar­rrrrrggggggh­h­h­hhh!”

Still, my stated rea­son for bend­ing to the women’s will (learned from 34-plus years of mar­i­tal tor­ture) turned out to be spot on. I wrote:

“In ev­ery elec­tion, cash talks and bull­crap walks. Polls mean NOTH­ING. Polls, schmolls! Votes in boxes win elec­tions. Trump didn’t get so as­set rich by spend­ing his money on ideals ... and the GOP isn’t help­ing. Hil­lary, how­ever, at­tracted un­lim­ited amounts of other peo­ple’s money ... to em­ploy mas­sive ground troops to move votes into bal­lot boxes.”

She did! At lat­est count, 59,814,018 votes were cast for Hil­lary, over 200,000 more than the 59,611,678 for Trump. Her ma­chin­ery suc­ceeded, but I for­got Amer­ica’s pe­cu­liar Elec­toral Col­lege sys­tem, where the votes from some (white, xeno­pho­bic) states count more than oth­ers. My ear­lier pre­dic­tion of a sig­nif­i­cant amount of Latino votes com­ing in for Trump was also vin­di­cated as he polled 10 per cent more Latino/His­panic votes than Mitt Rom­ney in 2012.

On July 24 (‘Devil and the deep blue sea’), I wrote:

“Ja­maican in­tel­lec­tu­als who’ve grown up in a clas­sist, but not racist, so­ci­ety just don’t get it. Don­ald Trump is a hero to all-white Amer­ica ... for not giv­ing a fly­ing fork and be­ing rich enough to say what they wish they could af­ford to say and have wanted to say ever since Martin Luther King forced a civil-rights bill on a re­luc­tant Lyn­don Johnson ... .

“I have some more bad news for sneer­ing lo­cal in­tel­lec­tu­als. Trump has more closet sup­port­ers among Lati­nos and His­pan­ics than you’ll ever be­lieve. Why? Be­cause they are ‘in’ and want to en­sure that no more of their col­leagues ar­rive to pro­vide more com­pe­ti­tion. Don’t be­lieve me? Watch for it as the Dem­a­gogue slaugh­ters the Liar in states like Ohio, Wis­con­sin, Florida, Texas, Colorado, and Ari­zona, while the Liar strug­gles to hold al­leged Demo­cratic strongholds in New York, New Jer­sey, and Cal­i­for­nia. On your marks? Set? All hail the new Chief, Pres­i­dent Trump!”

So, like all wives, I’ve found a way to be al­ways right. What it boils down to is this: Trump is Amer­ica and Amer­ica is Trump. We must stop fool­ing our­selves. Lis­ten to the mes­sage from the tor­rent of white men and women (who Pu**ygate both­ered not one whit) of ev­ery ed­u­ca­tional back­ground, so­cial class and oc­cu­pa­tion who flooded the polls to vote for Trump. When we were odd­i­ties, Amer­ica wel­comed us. We’re no longer wel­come there. Amer­ica has be­come a very un­happy place for peo­ple of colour to live. It’s time we stop lust­ing af­ter Amer­ica’s fram-frig­gin visa.

OK, enough vent­ing about one ir­rel­e­vant elec­tion and on to an­other. From my last two Sun­day col­umns, read­ers would’ve un­der­stood me to be say­ing, the PNP needs a pos­i­tive lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tion result more than the JLP.

If you ac­cept my premise that lo­cal gov­ern­ment is sim­ply political par­ties’ cor­rup­tion fa­cil­i­ta­tor, you’ll un­der­stand that stripped of cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s pork bar­rel in a shock gen­eral elec­tion loss, PNP can’t af­ford to also lose con­trol of the lo­cal gov­ern­ment pork pit. I sus­pect pri­vate-sec­tor donors, al­ready un­set­tled by the Burke-Davies saga, have re­duced party do­na­tions to an un­steady trickle. From the JLP’s per­spec­tive, con­sol­i­dat­ing its al­ready im­proved fi­nances by

(a) send­ing the PNP into bank­ruptcy via a lo­cal gov­ern­ment loss; and

(b) si­mul­ta­ne­ously sink­ing its grimy snout into the pork pit wouldn’t be a melan­cholic event. Im­ple­ment­ing much ballyhooed lo­cal gov­ern­ment re­forms would de­lay this happy end­ing, so “we want to shift the bal­ance of power ... to put it in the hands of a car­ing ... party. The elec­tions have been post­poned for too long” (Des­mond McKen­zie).

What about vot­ers’ per­spec­tive? What’s in it for us? Is lo­cal gov­ern­ment nec­es­sary, or should it be jet­ti­soned in favour of a more ef­fec­tive Par­lia­ment with most MPs, with lit­tle hope of Cab­i­net ap­point­ment, fo­cused on con­stituency rep­re­sen­ta­tion?

An al­ter­na­tive to US-style gov­er­nance features a de facto and de jure sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers (Ja­maica’s model is de jure alone and, even that, only by ju­di­cial im­pli­ca­tion) could be a coun­try di­vided into, say, 229 con­stituen­cies. In­stead of 291elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives (63 MPs, 228 coun­cil­lors) and sep­a­rate, ex­trav­a­gant elec­tions, we’d have ONE elec­tion; 229 MPs (21 per cent fewer elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives); no over­lap­ping, in­ter­lock­ing, or ob­fus­ca­tory re­spon­si­bil­i­ties; and each MP rep­re­sent­ing man­age­able pop­u­la­tions.

Gov­ern­ment (win­ning, say, 130 seats), con­sti­tu­tion­ally bound to ap­point no more than 15 min­is­ters, would guar­an­tee 90 MPs fo­cus on rep­re­sent­ing con­stituents (who’d hold the han­dle), even if it meant vot­ing against pro­pos­als com­ing from Cab­i­net.

A sec­ondary ben­e­fit would be an end to this man­u­fac­tured de­lin­eation of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties be­tween cen­tral and lo­cal gov­ern­ment. I se­ri­ously doubt even MPs/coun­cil­lors un­der­stand the dis­tinc­tion. The re­al­ity of Ja­maica’s fawn­ing adap­ta­tion of West­min­ster gov­er­nance is that an MP in a 50,000 res­i­dent con­stituency might need four coun­cil­lors’ as­sis­tance.

In­stead, why not have five MPs each rep­re­sent­ing 10,000 peo­ple mi­nus bu­reau­cratic al­ba­tross parish coun­cils (oops, mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions)/lo­cal gov­ern­ment min­istry?

I live in a con­stituency rep­re­sented by Ja­maica’s best MP— Ju­lian Robin­son. He re­ports reg­u­larly to con­stituents by email (as well as holds con­stituency meet­ings). I quote from his fourth annual con­stituency re­port list­ing his ac­com­plish­ments as MP:

“In­fras­truc­tural works un­der­taken in JEEP Phase 5— Un­der this pro­gramme, the fol­low­ing roads have been com­pleted:

Lil­ford Av­enue; Hardie Ter­race; Cun­ning­ham Av­enue; Downer Lane; Sackville Road.

Work has com­menced on JEEP Phase 6. The fol­low­ing roads will be re­paired:

Cri­effe Road (com­pleted); Tre­maine Road (com­pleted); Mavis Av­enue (in progress); Dean­ery Ter­race (in progress); Spauld­ing Av­enue, off Arnold Road; South Hope­field Av­enue.”

Im­pres­sive! I have an MP who cares.

About a week be­fore Des­mond McKen­zie an­nounced the elec­tion date, I saw, for the first time (at last), the coun­cil­lor for my di­vi­sion inside my gated com­mu­nity (where I’ve lived since 1986). She flagged me down on my way to my friendly neigh­bour­hood Off Track Bet­ting par­lour and in­tro­duced her­self. She was most pleas­ant and left a leaflet of her ac­com­plish­ments as my coun­cil­lor with me for my con­sid­er­a­tion.

Even though I don’t ap­pear on any vot­ers’ list, I felt I owed her dili­gence at least a read of her leaflet. Listed among her many “spe­cific projects and goals ... un­der­taken and achieved” in her first term as coun­cil­lor: “Com­plete resur­fac­ing of Nor­wood Close, Old Henry Lane, Downer Lane, Hart Lane and Spauld­ing Av­enue, South Hope­field Av­enue, Glen Hope Av­enue.” But Downer Lane, Spauld­ing Av­enue and South Hope­field Av­enue, also ap­pear on Ju­lian’s ac­com­plish­ments list. Waz­zup?

Maybe this was what Ju­lian’s Ap­praisal Com­mit­tee meant when it crit­i­cised PNP Gov­ern­ment’s per­for­mance lead­ing up to Fe­bru­ary 25, 2016, in these terms: “The achieve­ments in Gov­ern­ment were not ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cated.” Four months later, coun­cil­lors, fight­ing for their political lives, have STILL not done any­thing to im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and are con­fus­ing vot­ers by pad­ding achieve­ment lists or sim­ply fail­ing to co­or­di­nate com­mu­ni­ca­tions to avoid em­bar­rass­ment.

Or maybe what’s be­ing ex­posed is the ab­so­lute use­less­ness of lo­cal gov­ern­ment in 2016 Ja­maica — the “bla­tant dis­re­gard for the very cit­i­zens for whom we, the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the lo­cal level, pledge to serve” (Des­mond McKen­zie); and lo­cal gov­ern­ment’s not-so-thinly veiled true pur­pose, namely, to dis­burse scarce ben­e­fits and spoils to lower-level political op­er­a­tives while shield­ing MPs with de­ni­a­bil­ity.

For how much longer will cit­i­zens tol­er­ate this ti­tanic trick­ery with­out de­mur? For how much longer will we sell our vote (vi­tal to the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of lo­cal gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion but to­tally use­less to us ex­cept as a tool of lever­age) for a rum and curry goat? Will we say “no more”? Will we in­sist on a new model be­ing worked out among stake­hold­ers so that this cesspool of cor­rup­tion known as mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions can be con­signed to the past?

Or will we be con­tent with the sta­tus quo, espe­cially our ‘likkle pop-off’ from it? The choice is yours: Pop-off? Or rep­re­sen­ta­tion?

Peace and love.


Anti-Trump pro­test­ers march from the Washington Mon­u­ment to In­ner Har­bor last Thurs­day in Bal­ti­more.


MP Ju­lian Robin­son

Gor­don Robin­son

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