Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Prime Minister's assault on the Public Services Commission

I have had grave reservations about the whole controversy over the firing of the Public Services Commission and the mess surrounding the appointment of the Solicitor-General. The PM thought he was being cute by citing misbehaviour, when everybody knew it was about the Commission's refusal to back down from their recommendation to appoint Professor Stephen Vasciannie, a man who compared Bruce Golding's return to the JLP as akin to someone flinging a dead cat on the deck of a ship...i.e., it would stay there and stink up the place, and then someone would wash it off. A particularly nasty comment, I thought, but if you are like me, you revel in these moments when the gloves come off and nastiness rules among people who really ought to know better...ahem...your petticoat is showing...

The PM dipped into the controversy during his presentation on the Budget Debate. Perhaps it was unwise, as he really didn't score any points, in my humble opinion. He trumpeted the letter written in 1977 by the then Chairman of the Public Services Commission, written to the GG, tendering the resignation of the members, and tried to use that letter as proof of the rectitude of his position in forcing the firing of the last board of members, since they were defying his wish for them to resign on the change of government.

Someone should have told him not to read that letter. It does not advance his position one bit.

For those who didn't hear the Budget Presentation, simply put, the then Chairman, Prof. Gladstone Mills, related in the letter that PM Manley had demanded their resignation on the basis that ideological positions had been staked out in Jamaica, in light of the mandate Manley believed that the PNP had received in the December 1976 elections. Prof. Mills pointed out in his letter that the position of the PM was fundamentally wrong, and unprincipled, in light of the constitutional protection afforded to the members of the PSC, as distinct from statutory boards etc., who were expected to resign on a change of government. He stated quite eloquently that no such requirement existed in relation to members of the PSC. He related a meeting that was held with Manley, where their position was put to him, and Manley basically told them to fuck off, principle notwithstanding. Prof. Mills went on to state in the letter that while he maintained the PM was wrong, he wasn't about to pick a fight with the PM however, and so, with regret, he and the other members would resign.

How does this support our current PM's position? I submit it does not. All it does is put him in the same unfortunate position that Manley found himself in, in pursuing a wrong-headed ideological position, flouting principle and the Constitution and bullying public servants to do his bidding. Daisy Coke and others did not want to back down and either resign or appoint the favoured choice for Solicitor - General, as they are entitled to do. Does our current PM mean that because Manley did it, he is entitled to do it? Clearly that is untenable. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now.Then he tried to cloak his position with noble aims...saying that he could not blame 'other people' (i.e., the PSC) if he failed the public in his mission, implying that he needed to get the former members of the PSC out of the way in order to do his work.

What that did - which is interesting - was betray that his real aim in firing the PSC was not the charade of misbehaviour as claimed in the papers, but in order to push through his agenda, whatever that is. It is still unsupportable.

Once we begin to jettison principle and the Constitution on the altar of political expediency, we begin to walk down a slippery slope. Where do we draw the line and who is entrusted to draw that line?

Mind you, I understand the PM's dilemma in that he feels it necessary to stack the deck in the way he wants, in order to move full speed ahead. I suspect that the PNP did its own hatchet job on the impartiality of the civil service, and probably deserve a large portion of the blame. In fact, I would wager that the subversion of principle is something that Jamaica has been living with since the 1960's. It probably reached fever pitch in the 1970's with the ideological fervour of the PNP's socialist position and the creation of odious bodies such as the Pickersgill Committee, and everything since then has been a reaction to the monster that was then created, to wit, an ideologically charged civil service. The Gladstone Mills letter would be exhibit A in my submissions on that point.

I do not, however, believe that continuing down that path is the method of correcting it. My own view is that the PM should simply have let the PSC continue and then deal with the issues as they arise. One wrong does not deserve another. If the PSC appoints someone who misbehaves in the execution of their job, then let the chips fall where they may and fire that person's rass. I also think that we might be inventing a problem that either does not exist or can be tamed. I say this because I do not see Daisy Coke, whether she is a PNP sympathiser or not, or the others on the PSC, defiling their reputation by presiding over the appointment of unqualified persons to critical positions, whether those persons are PNP sympathisers or not. I therefore think that the risk the PM perhaps saw might have been just a little bit exaggerated. I also think it is more important to get people in positions who are competent than politically aligned to you.

My view is that if your (i.e., the political directorate's) policy aims are legitimate and credible, competent professional people will be on your side. The need for people who are sympatico is only critical when you are trying to do shit, and you need people who will hold their noses as they shovel your shit. That may have been why the PNP felt it necessary to stack the deck, one might argue!

So my advice to Bruce in a quiet moment would have been this - "If you believe that what you are doing (in terms of various policies) is correct, then press ahead. If apparatchiks in the civil service block you, then get rid of them. But don't fall into the trap of subverting principle for pereceived expediency, because all you are doing is behaving like you are just another politician, as opposed to a leader".

In politics, as in life, it is never sufficient to simply fall back on trite explanations like those that have been proferred to justify the PM's railroading of the PSC. Leadership demands an elevation of perspective, vision and conduct; that certain quality that says "I am the leader because I deserve to be, as shown by my exemplary approach".

That is why I felt Portia was never qualified to lead the PNP or this country, despite her cheerleaders in the media, i.e., Mark Wignall et al. They know themselves and have thankfully already said their mea culpas.

Bruce has strong 'leader' potential. He is also a skilled politician, but don't hold that against him. Leadership is not perfection. Truth is I am expecting him to eventually join NW Manley, Michael (despite his glaring flaws) and Eddie as our top tier of leaders. He must live up to it. This episode does not help him in that journey and is a needless blot in his copybook.

Do we amend the constitution to solve the problem? Tricky tricky question. As I have said before, it is dangerous to legitimise the politicisation of the PSC and by extension the civil service. When ideology begins to take priority, it is principle that suffers. In the USA, political appointments to places like the Supreme Court, the Federal bench etc., makes for law that is more expedient than correct, and I don't know if in our fragile democracy we will be well served by going down that path.

Why can't we simply have an arrangement where our Governor-General exercises his absolute discretion to appoint 3 members of the PSC, and have the PM and the Leader of the Opposition nominate one each? Could that work, or am I being naive?

We have to believe in the sanctity and primacy of the law, because it is the law which protects us all regardless of our political allegiances, from the excesses of the political directorate. Call it myopic if you will, but that is the root of our objection to the PM's approach. Laymen are fond of saying the law is an ass, until such time as they run behind it for protection. I am not advocating a static approach to the law however, but the issue here is how best to deal with what is, and also a debate on what it should be.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Japsey Thursday

This one takes the cake, the bakery, the whole thing...

MONTEGO BAY, St James - A strong police/military presence was maintained along sections of Barnett Street and Barnett Lane up to late yesterday evening following a massive demonstration by patrons attending the popular 'Japsey Thursday' dance which was shut down at midnight by cops. Thursday night's police action, in accordance with the Night Noise Abatement Act, took some patrons, who normally attend the popular dance after midnight, by surprise. The sound was locked off by the cops before the dance got into full swing, much to the ire of the patrons.

Yesterday morning, traffic was forced to a standstill after the angry demonstrators mounted numerous blockages which they lit afterwards. Early morning commerce suffered in that area of the town as most business establishments were forced to keep their doors closed later.

Under the Night Noise Abatement Act, entertainment sessions are allowed to go until midnight on week days and until 2:00 am on weekends. One week ago, the hierarchy of the Area One Police Division, who have adopted what they described as a zero-tolerance approach toward offenders of the Night Noise Abatement Act, invited all promoters to a meeting where they sensitised them to the consequences of breaches of the act.

But the patrons are in opposition to the law which, they argue, is "unreasonable", and are demanding a "compromise". "It can't work so. Nuff enemy from all bout come here and them haffi hold them order and know say a so it a go, you see it. So wha mek them come turn off the sound 12 midnight?" one patron fumed yesterday morning. "You don't know how me feel when me see 12 o'clock and me no ready yet and sound turn off when nothing no start yet. A foolishness."

But Deputy Superintendent of Police Paul Stanton defended the cops' actions. They (promoters) were sensitised. It is not that it came upon them suddenly, they were told unconditionally," Stanton said. "For every permit that was issued, there is time stipulation that governs the staging of such functions. So last night, we turned off the music at midnight and the people took to the streets in protest this morning."

The patrons had high praises for 'Japsey Thursday', which has been running for the past four months. They claim that no illegal activity is allowed at the dance.

Now, seriously this not why we cyan reach nowhere in this country?? My favourite sections of the article are highlighted in red. Let no-one fool you...we Jamaicans are very serious about our entertainment. No guy cyan come roun' 'ere and lock off no %$@# dance...yuzimi?

When did the fact that "no illegal activity is allowed at the dance" become a point of supporting the breaking of the law? Twisted does not even begin to describe this 'logic'. The fact that there is a law, and the law puts certain requirements on the promoter apparently means nothing. But the truth is, with these things, that the blame rests squarely on the authorities, because since the passing of the Noise Abatement Act, the amount of dances etc, that breach it has multiplied significantly. It is probably fair to say that there is a dance every night of the week in Jamaica, in most major towns/cities. They didn't start overnight. Nope, they started slowly, incrementally and citizens probably called in and complained to the police and the police did nothing and so they took hold. Had the police simply acted at the time, this phenomenon of dancing 7 days a week would not have grown. Now we are trying to cut down the tree after its roots have spread deep and wide.

There are legitimate interests here...the interest of people to enjoy themselves and be entertained. How do we accommodate those interests without infringing on a superior interest, namely the interest in not being disturbed? Not sure...indoor events will have to resume their place in the spectrum, I guess. Those infringe on other people's rights to a far lesser extent than outdoor ones, which from personal experience, are capable of sending you into the abyss of madness. The state does not have a hand in providing an alternative; let the promoters sort that out. All the state has to do is maintain a correct balance in protection of the wider social interest, and they have finally started to do so, at least to this limited extent.

Now to move on to the open-air bawl out clap han' 'churches' and such like...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Comrade Mugabe

I must confess I am conflicted about President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Don't take this to mean that I am not clear on how I feel about him. What I mean is this: his cartoonish attempts to hold on to power are just that, but they are also tragic, to be honest. I remember Zimbabwe's struggle for independence, being of a certain age, and I remember it was Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo and Abel Muzorewa who were the prime characters of that struggle, with a wonderful triumph of good over evil in the end. Bob Marley, the I-Three and the Melody Makers performed at Zimbabwe's independence celebrations.

And now, here we are. Mugabe allowed his despotic characteristics to come to the fore and not content to simply hold Zimbabwe in his vise-like grip, he has proceeded to ruin it.

But here's where I become conflicted on Mugabe...

The righting of ancient wrongs, i.e., the transfer of land from whites to blacks is, at first blush, completely unjust, defying the law of property and all that lot. However, the truth is that he was really righting ancient wrongs and I support it in concept, though not in execution...some white man did push off black people from the best land and take it for themselves, albeit a few centuries ago, and Mugabe is the only African leader to have addressed frontally one of the root causes of persistent African poverty, which is the acquisition of its resources by the Europeans centuries ago, and the consequential failure of Africa's wealth to serve as the engine of growth of its society. We in the Caribbean have much the same issue, except the Europeans came first, dragging us later across the Atlantic to work on their plantations, so we don't have the same case as the Africans. But the issues are the same...export of wealth gets a country nowhere over time.

But so hamfisted and corrupt have Comrade Mugabe's efforts been that it will be a brave man to get up and say he is right to re-distribute land. I mean, the concept of land re-distribution is something with which many leaders have grappled...including those in Jamaica, most notably NW Manley and Michael. However, had they tried Comrade Mugabe's stunts, we too would have had 100,000% inflation, as if the 5 flights per day weren't bad enough!

So, the tragedy is that Mugabe has destroyed his legacy by running a stable prosperous country into the ground with a justifiable policy that was ruinously carried out, with his neighbours looking on and cheering him on.

But I say cheers to Zambia for having the nerve to do something about the elections crisis by calling for the meetings, and brickbats to that blasted idiot President Thabo Mbeki, a disgrace to his father and to the legacy of Mandela, for continuing to suck up to Mugabe and maintaining that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe. Perhaps he has another explanation as to why so many Zimbabweans are crossing the crocodile-infested Limpopo River, dodging barbed wire fences and armed border guards to get into South Africa. Blasted idiot.

But then, HIV does not cause AIDS either, in Mbeki's twisted world.

May he and Mugabe both retire to some estate for the bewildered in short order. Africa is better off without them both.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Crash Plus/Minus

I know...must I too add to the thousands of words/electrons/hot air expended on this topic? Yeah...because it reaches right back into the key theme of this blog...namely the madness of life around me.

I was really stunned at the collective willing suspension of disbelief in which thousands of Jamaicans engaged during this whole foray into la-la land with the pony-tailed Carlos Hill and his merry band of crooks. I first heard about Cash Plus sometime in 2005 when I noticed a sign in Red Hills, near the square, advertising a Cash Plus Distribution Centre. I was headed to the country, I think, and avoiding the Gorge by going via Sligoville, a wonderful road for would-be rally drivers like myself. I had a moment of curiosity about it, and then pushed it out of my mind, focusing instead on the driving at hand.

Some weeks later, a (then)recently-widowed old family friend whose sole asset was the cash from the proceeds of sale of the family home that her husband had left her asked me whether she should invest the lot in Cash Plus, and gave me details on the scheme. Apparently another biddy friend of hers had invested her retirement savings in the scheme and was smugly reaping rich rewards. I told her I knew nothing of it, and could not tell her what to do about it. I did ask her if she knew more than what her fellow biddy had told her, which she didn't but I got the sense she was pretty much determined to press on and invest the lot...some $13M at the time. I do not have the heart to ask her now the inevitable question: whither the money? I don't want to know.

My barber once asked me about it, as he cuts the hair of a member of the Cash Plus management team who was singing its praises. This was now some time late last year. This time, I was unequivocal in telling him "not a backside". He rang me last week to remind me of the conversation, even as Senor Carlos was being led off to jail.

I have friends...educated, smart folks...professionals, lawyers even, who were invested in it. I thought that their smugness and their happiness bordering on delirium were interesting, not least because it reminded me of the experience I had when I first bought a lottery ticket in Jamaica. It was a large jackpot, and a man who was a few places ahead of me in the line bought his ticket, and I could not help but notice his face as he left the shop...he was beaming with pleasure, as he no doubt - in his mind - held the only winning ticket, which he had clearly just managed to wrest from the gods. Poor fool, I thought...which is the same thing I thought about my friends who chortled about their regular cheques received with the promptness of Swiss trains.

Even more interesting was their aggression whenever hard questions were posed, like...oh, I don't know...what does Cash Plus do to make money??? They would first trot out what would become the stock responses...."Oh, they own the Hilton, Drax Hall' etc etc. I would then mention that the Hilton does not appear to be a net generator of cash since it has changed hands so frequently in frequent years you would be forgiven for thinking that it resembled, at least in that regard, the 'ladies' who frequent its pool bar. Then I would mention that Drax Hall managed to help drag down at least one other company before (Dyoll Life) and as it was vacant land, it was unlikely to generate cash this year or the next. That's when things would get ugly and they would pull the trump card...namely, "Mi nuh business wid wah yuh waan seh, but mi get mi cheque dem every month!!!", to which I did not usually respond, because I realised they had been drinking, nay, swimming in the Kool-Aid and there was little point in introducing an unpleasant thing like logic into the equation.

Of course, I have to tip my hat to a friend of mine who said he was not interested in Cash PLus because he had two simple rules which Cash Plus offended....

Rule 1 - Do not place your money with a man named Carlos.
Rule 2 - Do not place your money with a man named Carlos who also has a pony-tail and bad teeth.

I think we should commend those rules to the FSC.

Fun and joke aside though, what the backside were these people thinking???? I just hope that this episode will give people some pause to think about what they do with their money, and realise that they should simply give it to me, for investment in my OWN scheme, which will be much more simple...I will accumulate assets for my own use and enjoyment, and then run off to Brazil with the cash when I find I cannot beat off the investors with a stick any more.