Optical illusions and allusions: politicians living in the twilight zone

One group of people are constantly in the public eye in Jamaica (and in other countries, too, but to a lesser extent when the country is large and the political structure different)—the members of parliament and senators, especially those in the government. To that extent, what happens so often to them is peculiar. What they have allowed to happen in recent weeks is even more strange than usual. I have a general view that politicians in Jamaica see things quite differently to others in society. I’m not able to summarize what that outlook is, but it manifests itself in behaviour that suggests the MP or senator in the Cabinet is immune from criticism for the most absurd and even childish behaviour. Without going deep into the when and why, I will just list some things that have passed my eyes and make go “Eh? What? You must be joking!”

The most recent series have tended to congregate around matters of national security—much because crime has taken the front burner spot and many who can, see this as the crux of whether Jamaica will progress in the short-term or not. But, if one looks carefully it is prevalent in many portfolios.

1. Declaration of ZOSO and series of bungling that would make many a politician reach for the standard resignation letter, but…

2. The authorities charged with licensing firearms keep seeping evidence of deep-seated corruption…yet, winds of change dont seem to suggest that the political directorate think that more than a quick brush over will not be needed.

3. Admitted the PM is the minister of defence and his minstry of national security covers both police and armed forces, his taking the reins in the matter of ZOSO seems to show that his minister is ‘not up to the task’ (talk yesterday of ‘reshuffle’ only heightens the feeling that ‘three strikes and you’re out’ have already been passed and ‘job vacant’ is already post in the office of the minster of national security).

4. The minister of security’s offhand offer of a seat on a new security committee to his Oppistion counterpart via a tweet should have raised such a big red flag that a formal letter ought to have been on said counterpart’s desk so fast that he’d wonder if he were still in yesterday. But, oh no. It had to await the painful public refusal of the post by the Opposition leader—himself a former national security minister—for the current minister to agree that he should now make a formal offer. Today’s Observer editorial on the matter was cruelly kind, or kindly cruel, depending on your perspective. This extract says much:

‘Mr Montague must have known better than to extend such an invitation in that careless and insincere manner. Was that the same way in which he invited all the other members to the committee? We hate to think that he was merely playing old-time politics.

It suggests that had no real interest in having the Opposition on the oversight committee that he said was designed to hold him and his ministry accountable. One wonders whether he wanted to make it impossible for the Opposition to accept, while giving the impression that he wanted a bipartisan committee.’

5. A by-election is due to be held in a St. Mary seat where the general election was decided by a mere 5 votes. The PM then announces a road improvement project in said general area. Now, even with the best wish in the world, it can only be someone terrible naive or terribly out-of-touch or awfully self-confident who would not have seen that this looked like simple jerk pork. Whatever merits there may be in his argument that politics is far from his mind must be lost on the simple bad timing of the announcement. Would it have choked in someone’s mouth for this so-called ‘neutral’ project to have been announced weeks ago.

6. The visceral tone of the education minister chastising schools over fees, and calling them ‘corrupt’, only to have back down and apologize shows an attitude to governing that doesn’t really fit our democracy.

7. The utter disconnect that was shown in the matter of fighting crime and providing justice in other areas reached a new low point when the director of public prosectuation and the Chief Justice publicly aired their frustrations at not having had full clearance to increase staff numbers in order to deal with the excessive backlog of court cases. Within hours, the needed clearance was coming from the ministry of finance.

One of the things I had noted with the previous administration was how its mantra of ‘joined-up government’ was often show to be hot air. This administration does not have such a mantra, but seemed to have put a premium on being both transparent and better communicators; both are seriously in question.

The obverse of this is easy riding on the economic front that has kept the finance minister out of too much oral trouble. The other major portfolio of foreign affairs has also been able to float on various waves of good-feeling, and world events have allowed Jamaica to look good on a world stage, and not have to put out too many begging bowls.

One other area that seems to have been escaping too much flak is the environment, even though that portfolio has many dark clouds hovering, especially regarding Cockpit Country and other areas of environmental degradation.

Where the administration’s activities have seemed most odd is in the context that the government only has a one-seat majority, and their behaviour is more benefitting of an administration that has a strong and comfortable majority. For the moment, the one seat has grown to three, with two PNP MPs resigning and the death of the MP in St. Mary.

One reason that situation persists is because the Opposition is weak. Talk is cheap but serious alternative policies matter more to non-partisans that knee-jerk opposition rhetoric.