What really matters?

I’ve been involved in a few spirited discussions in recent weeks. One has been about getting more women representatives in politics, essentially, the case for and against quotas in Parliament. I’m against. Another, about complex language and whether it’s an essential part of dealing with complex ideas. I don’t believe it is. A few things passed my eyes and ears in the past few days that make me think about how these issues come up, but not necessarily with any debate.

Women and men both have amazing gifts and much to offer. We are generally encouraged to think that having more women in areas where men have dominated will bring clear and better results. A notable argument raised recently was that it would mean less corruption. But, I asked myself, why is that we have a public agency that struggles to do its job, and run by a woman for the past two years? Jamaica’s National Solid Waste Management Authority, has a female head of agency, Jennifer Edwards. As far as I can tell, she has uttered nary a word since the start of the recent fire at Riverton dump/landfill. Why? An acquaintance mentioned ‘jobs for the girls’. Guess what?

Jennifer Edwards, Executve Director, NSWMA
Jennifer Edwards, Executve Director, NSWMA

Ms. Edwards was President of the People’s National Party’s Women’s Movement. She ran on a PNP ticket in general elections. Now, we should not jump to conclusions, but as talk of quotas swirl, persons like me wonder about where merit is put to one side and favouritism comes into play. This gets bothersome with bodies that have been tainted by claims of cronyism in their activities. Corruption is as much perception as actual greasy palms. So, better to remove all perceptions of slipperyness. That aside, clearly, no one woman can be a miracle worker, but if we are interested in better results and good processes, someone has to show me what we are supposed to have gained and what we have gained by placing our bets on a gender.

By contrast, it was interesting that no sooner had news flowed yesterday that the ‘Cuban light bulb case’ had been declared ‘no case’ by Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey, than words flew about the ‘spat’ between her and DPP Paula Llewellyn, and two women who were locking horns (if I can mix my gender metaphors). Justice Pusey had put her foot down and tried to get Ms. Llewellyn kicked out of proceedings in the case. An appeal quashed that ruling. Ms. Pusey refused to recuse herself. The process of impartial judgement seemed to be slipping. But, these are professionals, right. Both women seem to be well-equipped for their posts and I’d have few reasons, prima facie, to suggest that anything other than merit played into their being where they were. But, they got into a professional tiff and…well, it’s good for selling papers.

In a sense, my point is simple. Numbers mean little if they are fiddled. I’m still nervous about quotas.

On the language of the bright and mentally bountiful, I should have been warned when I heard Public Defender, Earl Witter,

Earl Witter, Public Defender
Earl Witter, Public Defender

tell Dionne Jackson Miller that a process had not been “sufficiently purgative“. Metaphors are tough at the best of times. Ones that deal with the evacuation of bowels are always tricky. The interviewer was trying to get some clarification to points Mr. Witter had made in a press conference earlier in the day, about the pending Tivoli Inquiry. The interview between the two did not go well. He was reluctant to understand that he had a duty to explain why his ‘Tivoli report’ had taken so long to prepare. He mentioned how the media had created a “straw man” in terms of ‘deadlines’. He wanted to know what deadlines meant. Ms Jackson-Miller patiently tried to get him to address that, but he wittered on about meaning.  She pointed out that many civil society groups, not just the media, had queried the delays. Mr. Witter went on. The tone got tense. By the time I stopped listening, the interview was nearly over. A lot of talk from the Public Defender and not much good listening. That’s odd from someone who is a renowned lawyer.

When people struggle to explain things simply, it’s always hard for those who struggle to understand. Lawyers may be good at weaving webs of words to obscure the truth and sometimes they get tangled in their own spinning.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

6 thoughts on “What really matters?”

  1. I don’t see that either of the examples you gave militate against quotas (and they don’t have to be permanent, just a temporary measure). Ms. Edwards (like her predecessor) was basically a political appointee. It had nothing to do with “favoritism” – merely jobs for the boys, or in this case girls. The long battle between Ms. Pusey and Ms. Llewellyn could easily have been between two men. And yes, both women are eminently well-qualified and not “fiddled.” Does that mean we should not have quotas? The 51% Coalition has a long list of well-qualified women willing to serve on public sector boards etc. who are mostly side-lined because of the “old boys’ club” or the patriarchy, one should say.

    Yes, that was a very strange interview with the Public Defender! Poor Dionne…


    1. Jobs for your buddies, boys or girls, is favouritism…cronyism, for some; merit is not the basis.

      I alluded to the possible spat between the DPP and the RM simply because it could happen if they had been males and therefore we see little or no difference in behaviour, which some argue that a shift in gender balance will give. More interesting is that women are reputedly ‘over represented’ the legal profession.

      My issue with quotas is about confusing numerical equality or near equality with a clear quality improvement. When details of how quotas may be determined emerge we may see much we like or dislike. I remain a skeptic.


      1. Most UWI law graduates are women – the vast majority, I believe, so the “over-representation” is to be expected and it will remain so. Yes, many government appointments are party-political; former ministers now head government agencies, etc. This is a separate issue really. It is a common practice and a hard nut to crack. And can you honestly say that many of the male appointees to boards and other positions are “quality” appointments?


    2. I think the PD in the person of Earl Witter leaves much to be desired. I see someone who is struggling to be objective; someone who tries to win with bombast; a poor listener; someone who thinks he can win by belittling another professional; sound and fury and less substance. I’ll stop! We deserve better public officials.


      1. Yes, this Public Defender has been very hard to handle. Admittedly he has a basket to carry water, with a small staff etc.. But he hasn’t won hearts and minds, at all… The Tivoli Gardens affair was the straw that broke the camel’s back, it just overwhelmed him I think…


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