Over analysed and under performing, Jamaica loves twiddling its thumbs when it could save lives-June 9, 2021

It’s a sad truth about this lovely island that most of our problems are well-known, much analysed, but we’ll short of corrective action.

It doesn’t have to go to major socioeconomic or political issues. It’s there in the little or everyday things.

For the second time in a week, a car has plunged off Flat Bridge; a basic bridge with no side barriers, over a raging river. What could go wrong?

Many accidents, including suicidal ones happen there. Yet, the plain sight problems stare us all in the face and simple solutions are languishing.

Much like Jamaicans don’t know about defensive road behaviour such as warning a reversing driver or not walking behind a reversing vehicle, we’re not much into preventative barriers. Drive on any of our hilly or mountain roads and warnings and barriers for dangerous curves are as visible as pink elephants.

Why do we resist tried and tested life-saving measures?

Simpletons like me have said often that Jamaicans don’t really treasure lives, despite their ready hang ringing. Look across the range of instances that involve lives put at risk. You’ll find a level of negligence that’ll make you shiver.

We’re our own worst enemies.

Gleaner Editorial | Shame at the Public Accounts Committee-May 21, 2021

This timely editorial came after a week when the integrity of the Auditor General was called into question by Parliamentarians, some of whom don’t appear to know Jamaica’s Constitution and the independence it gives to the Auditor General, for obvious good reasons.

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There is comfort in the fact that criminal libel is no longer an offence, that a sitting auditor general cannot be removed on a whim, and that Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) members who have been attempting to turn Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) into a Star Chamber against Pamela Monroe Ellis are likely to be on frolics of their own, rather than being under central direction.

With respect to the latter point, we hold that conclusion on the presumption that Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his key advisers would not encourage, or be knowing or willing parties to, any effort to undermine the auditor general on spurious grounds. For while that may appear good for short-term politics, it is antithetical to the good governance to which the prime minister has declared himself committed.

The auditor general is the Government’s chief auditor – a post established by the Constitution. Her job is to ensure that the financial accounts of government ministries, departments and agencies are properly kept and taxpayers’ resources are accounted for. From time to time, the auditor general conducts special or performance audits of entities and projects, which sometimes unearth inefficiencies and probable corruption, which may not only result in criminal charges, but prove embarrassing to governments.

In recent times, the Mrs Monroe Ellis’ probes of the Petrojam oil refinery and the education ministry are cases in point. They discovered nepotism, cronyism and other apparent acts of corruption. They led to the resignation of one minister and fraud charges being brought against another. Other public officials are also before the courts. Boards of institutions were forced to resign en masse

NOT THE ONLY ONES

But this administration, and the party from which it is formed, are not the only ones to have been discomfited or embarrassed by the work of Jamaica’s auditors general, including Mrs Monroe Ellis, who has been in the job since 2008. For instance, an audit by Mrs Monroe Ellis of the Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ), covering the tenuring of the former People’s National Party (PNP) administration, disclosed a range of problematic issues, the Cabinet’s approval of the sale of more than 11 and a half acres of land, valued at J$164 million, ostensibly to a community trust for J$10,000. 

Up to the time of the release of that report, shortly after the PNP left office in 2016, the trust was not registered, and its directors were three private individuals. “…We noted that the title did not include a restrictive caveat to prevent the unauthorised disposal of the property in whole or in part,” the auditor general said. “Consequently, we were unable to determine the terms and conditions governing the transfer.” 

Only months after that report came the auditor general’s revelations of a fat gratuity/golden handshake payout to a former boss of the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), who was already entitled to three hefty pensions. Other managers were also awarded pensions outside the scope established by the finance ministry and without the ministry’s permission.

Apparently failing to appreciate the potential of their behaviour to weaken accountability, the JLP members of PAC seem to believe that they can best protect their party by undermining public confidence in Mrs Monroe Ellis, which, ultimately, is an attack on the office of the auditor general. In so doing, they scraped for purchase via an audit of her office, conducted, as is required by law, by the finance ministry’s internal auditor. 

In the normal scheme of things, the matters flagged by the finance ministry’s audit – some of which have been walked back – would be considered minor and noted for action. But they have become causes célèbres for the likes of first-time MPs Dwight Sibblies and Robert Miller, and second-termer Heroy Clarke, who has recently found a voice.

At a PAC hearing 10 days ago, they spent much of the time haranguing and niggling Mrs Monroe Ellis with the question of why she (with an office of a senior director, two deputy auditors general and two heads of sections of similar rank) was not at an exit interview more than a year ago with the finance ministry’s auditors. It turned out that she was scheduled for a meeting of the PAC (which was postponed at the last minute), so had delegated the task.

NIGGLING RESUMED

On Tuesday, the largely uninformed niggling resumed in seeming search for a “gotcha”. 

Mr Sibblies wanted to know why the auditor general’s whereabouts at the time of the meeting more than a year ago had made it into this newspaper before the information had made it to the committee. She could not answer, except to say that she had been asked by a reporter to confirm the date of the exit meeting. 

The Gleaner knew because having confirmed the date of the meeting, it checked with Parliament and the minutes of committee meetings on the day. Mr Sibblies made heavy weather of the matter.

Mr Miller insisted that Mrs Monroe Ellis name the journalist who contacted her. She declined. Mr Clarke harrumphed about Parliament being “the final” that “supersedes all courts”, so when MPs bring someone who is “employed to Parliament” for questioning “we expect to get the answer”. Others joined the charade. There was a question about the respective qualifications of the auditor general and the finance ministry’s internal auditor. She is a Fellow Member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. He has a first degree in management.

Mr Clarke persistently questioned whether the auditor general had line responsibility to the Cabinet or to Parliament, and remained seemingly suspended between dissatisfaction and incomprehension when it was explained that the auditor general did not fall under a ministry, and has its own budget head. Nothing changed when Section 122 (3) of the Constitution was read to illustrate the basis of her independence. The section explains that in exercise of her functions the auditor general “shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority”. It was a depressing episode. But it underlined the foresight of the framers of Section 122 (3) and the security of tenure the Constitution provides to auditors general. They retire at 60, which gives Mrs Monroe Ellis 15 more years in the post, unless she resigns or does something that warrants impeachment. 

Further, in another time The Gleaner might have been hauled before the Parliament to answer to Mr Sibblies et al.

#COVID19Chronicles-354: March 25, 2021-Lenten reflections 36-Politicians changing their spots because of COVID mistakes?

Angela Merkel will be stepping down as Chancellor of Germany later this year; she announced in 2018 she would not seek a 5th term:

That perhaps gives her a freedom of action that comes from not needing to worry about seeking re-election. So, it is interesting that she took a strong step yesterday in reversing an Easter-period 5-day lockdown plan announced just the day before (Easter is usually a 3-day holiday). More importantly, she said the reversal was a “mistake” and fully hers.

Merkel said it couldn’t be implemented well in the short period before it was to take effect. She added that there were too many unresolved questions about lost wages at shops and companies.

Germany has floundered with its management of the pandemic, with vaccinations running very slowly, struggling to reach 10% of the population:

So, German public confidence is low, with a leader whose reputation had been built on crisis management. Add to that the now-familiar public fatigue with COVID restrictions.

Just this week, Jamaica’s PM announced a series of tighter measures to address a significant surge in COVID cases, which includes a lock down during most of the Easter holiday period. Concerns about this idea have been raised, not least because it’s not clear that lockdowns are really going to address the surge significantly, but also whether the actions are coherent and well-thought out. I’m not sure that the idea of retracting the plan is circulating around Cabinet, nor the idea that the PM would stand up and say he made a mistake.

But, politicians accepting their mistakes about COVID policy are worth noting, a year on from the start of the pandemic.

It’s been part of the news from the UK, this week, where PM Boris Johnson stated he regrets his actions at the onset of the pandemic.

“I think in retrospect, there are probably many things that we wish that we’d known and many things that we wish we’d done differently at the time.”

Politicians are not usually ready to step up and accept blame, but the pandemic has given many the chance to make mistakes often over a short period. It could be a trend starting?

#COVID9Chronicles-294: January 26, 2021-Heading to the second Trump impeachment trial

The article of impeachment of Donald J. Trump was walked to the Senate by the House impeachment managers, yesterday evening:

It was delivered:

It was read:

It will not be presided over by the Chief Justice, as it involves a former president:

The trial will begin on February 8:

Many are concerned that as time passes, the natural pressure to see conviction will abate. it will be difficult to see where 17 Republicans will vote for that, fearing backlash as well as some concerns about the legitimacy of the process. But, in the minds of many politicians and the public, the question will always be that if the actions that can be laid at the feet of the former president do not amount to impeachable events, what does.

Each day, brings out more evidence of a larger conspiracy to overturn the legitimate election results, driven directly by Donald Trump, so his intent to subvert the democratic process is clear.

#COVID19Chronicles-287: January 19, 2021-Almost there; the final day of the Trump administration

Reports are that President Trump will leave the White House tomorrow, January 20, early in the morning, before the Inauguration, and have a farewell ‘ceremony’. He will not attend the Inauguration (and president-elect Biden rebutted that he was glad about that). He has recorded a farewell address, which will be released during the day:

It will be another demonstration of narcissism as he tries to upstage the new president and keep attention on himself, even though he could just go quietly. He’s refused to act like a graceful loser and may never utter the words of concession that almost all of his recent predecessors have. He will not have shown the simple grace and good manners extended to him and his wife by outgoing President Obama and his First Lady by welcoming them to the White House.

He displays many traits of toxic masculinity that feeds on the idea that displays of strength, rudeness, disrespect for others, especially those weaker and unable to defend themselves are what ‘make a man’. ‘Weakness’ in this optic captures all the things that represent empathy or a hint of caring for others.

He will go down as a sourpuss. He will go down as rude. He will go down as a hypocrite. He will go down as a terrible president. A man who openly said he finds losing hard will show that he actually doesn’t know how to lose. Yet, if you look you’ll see that he’s actually been a serial loser, with business failures far exceeding real business successes, and a list of grifting activities.

He’s a serial liar! It’s on record, so you can see, read and hear it for yourself.

He’s shown he’s a really bad judge of character, if only because so many of his choices are soon dismissed by him! The rate of turnover in his Administration is enough to make desserts for all for life. 🙂

He’ll probably rue the fact that he could have won the election handily had he grasped the ‘Hail Mary’ pass tossed to him by a pandemic, where he could have done all the things that make someone look like a leader. Instead, he fumbled it (extending the American football analogy), by denying it was a problem, recovered it when he was struck by the virus, and then ran it back the wrong way by readily discarding his mask and holding ‘super-spreader’ events at the White House to score for the opposition.

He got more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016 and far outstripped the total votes for any loser. He was more unpopular than any president in recent history, but still amassed 74 million votes out of about 150 million. He wasted the support he has, whether we like to acknowledge that his base is huge (to use one of his favourite terms). The presidential election was actually his to lose, and he lost it! He probably right to think he couldn’t lose, except for the Trojan Horse that was his own set of personal failings.

He will go down as a divider, not a uniter. He could lead, if it was the rabble.

In the end, he also divided the party he leads, resulting in the previously unthinkable of Georgia voting against him as president, and eventually voting in Democrats as Senators, and leaving the Senate tied, not with its previous Republican majority. He burnt down the barn!

For his departure, the Pentagon had already indicated it would not be giving the traditions Armed Forces Farewell tribute:

The White House announced that last weekend Vice President Mike Pence delivered “remarks to sailors on the Trump Administration’s historic foreign policy achievements at Naval Air Station Lemoore,” and then to the 10th Mountain Division, in Fort Drum, New York.

The First Lady gave a farewell speech, yesterday:

It was filled with platitudes that were at stark variance with what her husband had espoused for four years. In that sense, it’s par for the course: living in an alternative reality, where truth is what the White House want to make it.

For those who don’t understand these things, this is classic for autocracy.

Since, the election on November 3, 2020, the vast majority of Americans have believed that Joe Biden won:

Sadly, many Republicans didn’t and don’t and now does Donald Trump. He said he’d accept the results and at every deadline to do that, which confirmed him as the loser, he’s refused to accept the results.

Also, what we’ve seen played out with Trump and the presidential election in 2020/21 is exactly what he promised would play out in 2016/17, if he didn’t win. That much has been a consistent stand. The fact that he said in October 2020 that he was prepared to accept the result, so long as it was not “fake” seemed to miss people and a clear indication that he believed only his winning would not be fake. His true position had been stated back in July—that he won’t agree to accept 2020 election results because it’s “fake”:

The snake oil salesman has to make his sale and he’ll make his pitch, and if you buy the pitch and the products you’re likely to end up with a pig in a poke.

A BBC news reporter pointed out this morning that Trump got his wall, except it’s a series of barricades around Washington DC. That about sums it up.

Finally, to anyone who thought Trump was fit for office or doesn’t think he deserves to be impeached and convicted, I offer one simple observation. When the mob was laying siege to the Capitol, he was again handed the moment to show that he should be president. President-elect Joe Biden went on television and social media and demanded that Trump appear on national television to “fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege.” Instead of grasping that moment, he doubled down on rejecting it. He was essentially missing in action. The worst of it was that his Vice President and the leaders of Congress were on the verge of being attacked and maybe assassinated. However, you play that, here was a potential win-win to ‘save’ Congress, quell the riot, show the world that you are the one who can hold the nation together. Instead, a series of huffy tweets and an insincere call to quell activities. Again, that only makes sense if you see that Trump is only about himself.

At some future date, I hope Mike Pence explains what he thought and why he did not immediately resign, knowing that the president never checked on his or his family’s welfare (as they were also in the Capitol to witness the certification of votes). What we know, too, though, was at those crucial moments, the decision-making was done by the Vice President, not the President. When you keep dropping the ball, it’s best to just leave the field and go sit on the bench.

#COVID19Chronicles-284: January 16, 2021-The deeper plot behind the US insurrection?

More than a week on from the insurrectionist siege of the US Capitol (and I’m sure that the historical term has still not yet been set), we’ve learned a lot about the events of January 6, 2021 that are disturbing and suggest a deeper plot was in play and that the political divisions that were behind it are not going to subside quickly. This is just a sample of what has surfaced.

The timeline looked like this:

It shows that credible and disturbing evidence existed within official security circles to have forwarned of the violent events, but a serious lack of coordination of that stopped mobilization of personnel to at least suggest these were credible threats.

On the day, after others speakers (especially Rudy Guiliani and Don Trump Jr.) had done and while President Trump was making his remarks to the rally, the mobs were on their way at about 1pm. President Trump finished his remarks about 1.15pm, then spent some two hours berating his VP and complaining about the election being “stolen”.

At about 2:25 p.m. Trump tweeted criticism of Vice President Pence: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

Around 4.15, Trump tweeted a video downplaying the events of the day, repeating false claims that the election was stolen and sympathizing with his followers, saying: “I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. … You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace.”

This was while the mob was laying siege to the Capitol, not acting to put in place resources to quell it. His ‘calming’ tweet at 6pm is damning: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”

The policy vacuum and failure to anticipate the disruption are now part of the focus of various government agencies:

What also needs to be established, but for a different set of investigations–maybe, if/when the Senate looks at the impeachment charge–is what the president knew (from official briefing and other sources-phone and messaging logs) and how did he act ahead of, during and after the siege of the Capitol. Reports are that at the time he was watching it play out on TV–apparently pleased with what he saw. What he didn’t do was issue orders to quell it–in fact, refusing to approve National Guard responses. His actions were late and too little, and reports suggest that he was not in favour of doing the little he did with ‘softer’ tweets and scripted videos. He issued a denunciation only after being impeached.

As information emerges, there are clear signs that ‘inside’ help was involved, not least in knowing the layout of the complex Capitol building. The matter has led to an Inspector General review.

Wider spread disruptions happened on January 6 and are likely for the near-term. Already, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have warned about potential violent and armed protests in all 50 state capitals.

Arrests and charges are beginning to flow in as culprits are identified. More than 200 case files have been opened. According to the FBI, more than 100 arrests have been made in connection with the Capitol siege. The F.B.I. has received more than 100,000 tips, including photos and videos, and that number does not include tips that people have submitted by phone; the number of arrests is expected to “geometrically increase.” He noted that some defendants had been charged with misdemeanor crimes so they could be quickly arrested, but those people could be indicted on more significant charges, including sedition and conspiracy.

Planning for the presidential inauguration is now seeing a series of cancellations as the security threat widens; the rehearsal, due Friday, has been postponed till Monday, due to security concerns. President-elect Biden will not travel to Washington DC by Amtrak due to similar concerns.

DC has already gone into lockdown ahead of the presidential inauguration:

The National Guard has been deployed in large numbers (20,000+) to DC, with many camped out at the US Capitol:

This response reflects a serious under-estimation of the risks that were emerging last week.

Businesses nearby are also taking precautions and trying to do things that won’t feed the needs of potential troublemakers. For instance, AirBnB has cancelled all existing bookings and blocking any new bookings in metropolitan DC area for inauguration week.

Airlines have invoked ‘don’t fly’ rules for people seen and identified as participating in the insurrection.

Lawmakers are also openly expressing fears for their lives, including risks that may come from Congressional colleagues!

Those who have opposed President Trump in recent days have found themselves harrassed when trying to travel and some report death threats at their homes and offices. Add to that growing evidence that the insurrectionists included people whose intent was assassination.

Retired and current members of the military and police forces are being identified amongst the insurrectonists.

Political fall out for some who supported protests on January 6, continues to be heavy, especially for Senators Hawley and Cruz.

#COVID19Chronicles-271: January 4, 2021: He said what? Washington Post publishes recording of Trump pressing Georgia officials to overturn election

Washington Post has shared an hour long phone call of President Trump talking to Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, on Saturday, and pressing him to overturn the election results: “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.” It sounds like something that’s impeachable as an abuse of power and more. To his credit, Raffensperger held his ground and responded calmly and politely, rebutting the president, as did his State General Counsel, ending with the words “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true.” These two quotations may be the political citations of the century.

The media has few doubts about the serious legal and constitutional problems the president might have created for himself:

#COVID19Chronicles-245: December 9, 2020-Reaching a safe harbour in the election saga

In most presidential election years, many people don’t focus on the arcane details of how the president is elected. Many probably know that the Electoral College (EC) actually elects the president not the actual votes in each state. That fact was clear in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won by over 2 million actual votes but Donald Trump got the EC majority.

Few note the steps to the EC decision—on December 14 this year. An important one is ‘Safe Harbour Day’, December 8, when States must conclude their official certification.

To that effect, one can see each State’s actual certification online:

Supreme Court ruled a harsh one-sentence dismissal to yet another attempt to overturn election results in favor of President Trump, this time concerning Pennsylvania: “The application for injunctive relief presented to Justice [Samuel] Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied,” said the court’s one-sentence order, which did not suggest any dissent among the nine justices.

This should put an end to any realistic legal challenges to the votes. Maybe, now, congressional Republicans can acknowledge reality.

But, it’s been a strange period during a strange year.

#COVID19Chronicles-244: December 8, 2020-PNP on the dilemma of a Horne 🤔😳 as Bunting is hung prematurely

Newly elected PNP President Mark Golding wanted to hoist the flags for his friend and former business partner and losing former MP Peter Bunting. He nominated him to the Senate to take what he assumed was a vacant seat. You see, former party treasurer Norman Horne had been nominated to the Senate by then-leader Peter Phillips and had said in October that he’d offer to resign when a new leader was elected. What a great gesture! You see, senators are nominated for a term, not at the whim of changing leadership. We’ve had a court case about pre-signed senate resignation letters involving the current PM.

However, Golding is now faced with the dilemma created by Norman Horne, who less graciously had not offered his resignation, and is now duly nominated to the Senate, with all the official writs. Yikes!

Why?

Well, money is the root of all evil, it’s said. It’s a J$10 million question.

Horne was sticking to a claim for substantial payments owed to him by the party. But was it a quid pro quo? (Get it?) Norman said no:

Whatever the truth, Norman can’t be forced to resign. He can blow his horn and no one can stop him.

Until he does, no Bunting will be flown. So, PNP will flag again as it trips itself up with another misstep.

The matter is in Horne’s hands, or on his head (Got that one?) and he said he’ll decide in coming days.

This is not Horne’s first rodeo: he’d been a JLP senator before and resigned. In fact, Horne is a serial flip-flopper, having been a PNP MP, then switching allegiance to JLP in 2002, but lost the seat. He was appointed to the Senate by Edward Seaga, but left the JLP in 2005 for PNP when it seemed Bruce Golding would be the next JLP leader. Horne had been on the campaign team for Pearnel Charles, who had withdrawn from the contest. Horne became an Independent before rejoining PNP. Phew! That’s a political chameleon.

So, roll out the Constitutional ‘scholars’:

PNP are a seat light in the Senate, with JLP having a 14-7 margin. This could be awkward as it means a 2/3 majority exists—as needed to make Constitutional changes.

This all reflects badly on due diligence PNP-style. Not a new thing, but…

What also reflects badly is that it appears unknown whether Horne is a dual citizen, especially a US citizen. This could disqualify him automatically. No wonder he’s refusing to say 🤔 To a simpleton, like me, I don’t see why the party can’t confirm that, unless…they…never checked. Where have we had this story before? Remember the candidacy of Shane Alexis and his being not being a Jamaican citizen, but a Canadian (and Commonwealth citizens can vote and hold seats in Parliament, but the optics of his not seeing the need to be a Jamaican citizen didn’t play well)?

But, if he’s automatically disqualified that’d say much about his lack of integrity in not refusing the Senate offer in the first place.

Why doesn’t another senator resign? It’s clear that they didn’t have the same magnanimous view as Horne back in November and see no reason to be so now.