Sat | Jul 21, 2018

Ronald Thwaites | Wheatley's ignorance the real scandal

Published:Monday | July 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It was clear last Tuesday afternoon in the House of Representatives that about half of the government members had taken the decision to circle the wagons around the defrocked minister of energy as he struggled to answer questions to do with the Petrojam scandal.

And since Dr Wheatley acknowledges no wrong and expresses no regret, they, who by now must know all the details of the scam, are adopting his version of the events. Many were suspiciously absent and there were about six of their number who were clearly fed up with the deception and the circumlocution.

So what does that mean for the credibility of an administration that obviously places party solidarity higher than the national interest?

Paulwell asked if the prime minister would be making a statement given the gravity of the corruption. Samuda equivocated, having earlier, in near panic tones, warned that the Opposition intended to stage a protest during the sitting. "You must did drink grass tea," came the opposition taunt. "Shut yuh mout, muss-muss!" was Warmy's predictable response: he who wandered around the chamber shouting bromides to distract whenever the questioning got too hot for Wheatley.

It went on for three hours. In the main, the minister parried well but clarified little or nothing. Whenever pressed, he claimed non-interference in company matters, passed the buck to staff, or told us to wait on the auditor general's findings.

None of the allegations were refuted, and there are glaring contradictions between what was said in the House as against testimony at the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee.

It felt like the sessions in 2010 and 2011 when it was nigh impossible to get to the facts about Government's defence of 'President Dudus'. Then, as now, the truth had to be gleaned from extra-parliamentary sources.

This is where the functioning of a free press becomes so crucial because the stonewalling is set to continue. "How Julian could get those invoices?" That seems to be the big question: not the irregular and probably corrupt processes that led to all this.

The same mentality of authoritarianism is what is manifested in the Government's attitude towards weekly press briefings. The suggestion that social media provides an acceptable channel of interaction between the State and the press is trumpish and asinine.

It is the same conceit of "Shut yuh mout, muss-muss!" and the inadequacy of government spokespersons to answer questions directly and deal with contentious matters that are behind the desire to truncate communication.

 

WOBBLING MONTAGUE

 

On another matter, the minister of transport wobbled all over the place in answering questions about the efficiencies of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company. He wants us to buy into the illusion that a streamlined bus service is about to happen. Robert Montague could not give me even an approximation of what the company's daily operational losses are or how it is proposed to reduce these by promoting further competition on JUTC routes. The public better be prepared to shell out more billions in subsidy or pay higher fares even as congestion and inconvenience increase.

Nigel Clarke brought the annual resolution adjusting posts in the civil service. But when are we going to stop fiddling with the numbers and classifications and have the detailed, time-bound plan for public-sector reform? We have been avoiding this for decades.

Last week, the Speaker made a much better effort to control proceedings fairly. The two memorable quotes came from Peter Phillips, who flattened Samuda's charge of obstruction by reminding him of the proverb about "the wicked man who flees when no one pursues". Later, Peter Bunting, reacting to Andrew Wheately's boorish answers, quipped, "One should never underestimate the predictability of arrogance."

Let us see what the prime minister has to say on Tuesday as the nation's teeth remain on edge and as Parliament drifts towards its summer recess.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.