Thu | Apr 2, 2020

Ronald Thwaites | Was Perkins right?

Published:Monday | March 23, 2020 | 12:05 AM
Wilmot ‘Motty’ Perkins
Wilmot ‘Motty’ Perkins

I USED to rail against Wilmot Perkins’ sneering disrespect for the political culture and what he saw as its regular excrescence of cruel, discriminatory, corrupt charade of governance.

I now know that although many politicians have a sincere resolve to serve and appreciate the dead-end of rabid partisanship, the economy of scarcity; the expectations of the hordes in chronic need, and the cronies in perpetual greed; the perverts who hinge their fortunes on connections to power; all consort to distort a praxis which ought to be redemptive but often ends up mostly debilitative.

We could make it different, but correction will take restraint and intentional, sustained leadership. The pity-mi-likkle 18 per cent of the electorate who bothered to turn out in the recent Clarendon by-election ought to scare us almost as much as COVID-19. Why? Because dwindling trust in the political foundations of the liberal, human rights-based democratic system, about which Nigel Clarke spoke last week, is as silently corrosive of the national spirit as is someone’s health worn down by the virus.

There still has to be hope that the perils of Corona can create that common cause which will repel the scope of consequences now evident in some other societies. Which is why it is so unfortunate that Andrew Holness forfeited the opportunity to lead in this direction last Thursday.

He spoke on the same day when thousands of workers in the tourist industry found themselves without a pay cheque at the very time they are going to need it most. Most of them are on short contracts and so would have nothing to get from a social security system, even if we had one - which is precisely the area of injustice to which Peter Phillips had pointed. Hospitality workers and port workers are considered among the most privileged of the Jamaican working class.

Money and crushing debt are not the nation’s main problems any more. The burning issue is what we do with what we have in a period when the economy is on the verge of collapse. What benefit do the everlasting speeches, the frenzied clapping, the self-congratulation, the distortion of truth, the revision of history, which Holness criticises and immediately indulges, add to the more than half the population who are facing acute cash shortage right now, and for whom any early prospects of significant relief are grim?

When you spend most of your time ogling over how much better your tendency is over your opponents (who you can make no progress without anyway); when you solemnly affirm the imperative of national (read political) unity to fight crime, disease and everything else of significance, then, without drawing a breath, proceed to denounce the infamy of the past and present of whoever is the opposition, what good do you expect?

I will tell you what. We (because it applies to both sides) display our own self-contempt, forfeit credibility and squander trust, and proceed to feel good about it. Tell me, is there a more delicate way to describe political masturbation?

Hardly a word has been said in this debate about the constipation in the public and financial sectors which will clog the dispensing of the stimulus package to those who can really benefit. We welcome the reform of some land laws, but, understand that thousands more titles could be issued under existing law if government would curb the bureaucracy. Just ask Daryl what he has to spend his days doing.

With what COVID-19 is reeking abroad as a warning to us, we should recall and reshape the entire Budget to take account of the greater needs of the health and education sectors; the likely reduction of remittances; the comatose tourist and bauxite revenues; and factor the time it will take to ramp up agriculture and agro-manufacturing.

In central Kingston, food is even less affordable than recently; PATH money can’t stretch, worse as the children are out school. It costs nearly $500 to cash the smallest cheque. The disabled lady who sells bananas and sweeties to the ‘school-pickney’ on the street corner can’t afford to replenish her stock. The DrugServ pharmacy was only able to fill one out of six items on the prescription for the NCD-stricken senior; and the out-of-school youth, who has been waiting on the skills-training opportunity for months, is about to become a ‘baby-fadda’.

Huge problems, even without the coronavirus. Current politics, even though grateful for the extra $2 million in the Constituency Development Fund, is desperately inadequate absent genuine national unity.

I concede. We may be proving Perkins right.

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.