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Mark Wignall | Big pay increase – accountability next?

Published:Sunday | May 21, 2023 | 1:08 AM
In this June 2021 photo Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaks at the sitting of the House of Representatives.
In this June 2021 photo Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaks at the sitting of the House of Representatives.

Based on polls over the years and an acute understanding of our people’s religious, social, and cultural predispositions it was a given, born out of reality that both the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP) would always have to tippy-toe on three main issues that directly involved the people’s sensibilities.

If a party in power decided to end the buggery law and made it legal for men who were so disposed to express their sexuality in added dimensions, and/or the Government made abortions legal, that party would face a wipeout at the next elections. Jamaicans have been selectively conservative on those two issues while below the radar a significant education deficit attached itself to the national position.

As example, a 56 year old taxi driver who told me recently that ‘abortion is Satan business’ also lectured me that a woman’s monthly menses was ‘original sin coming out of har.’ To argue with such a man would be a most painful abuse of my ears.

DROVE FEAR

The other item that always drove fear into the party in power is the executive making salary increases to itself and its peers in its proximity. In past instances where single- digit increases have been made, they have mere shuffling of paperwork than useful, significant, and comparative increases. In awarding those increases, the Government of the day does it almost like apologies are part of the package.

But there would be a solid reason for that approach. The politicians knew that the general résumé that they presented to the nation, year in, year out, was big on the non-delivery of promises made and bathed in a continuous swamp of corruption. Many countries that were behind us at the dawning of our independence have sprinted past us.

But let us now move our focus and try to navigate our way through the bomb that Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke left ticking on our living rooms, our rear porch, and in our lives. Massive salary increases for those in the political leadership (200 per cent), the parliamentary branch, and senior civil servants.

Some questions first. Did the JLP commission any private poll before this was done? I think not simply because I could not see any more than say, 15 per cent of our people who would support giving that level of increase to politicians. If the answer was no, what was the primary motivator for that move at this particular time, especially in light of recent, various salary negotiations of groups in the government service where the firm impression was given at times that the fruit had no more juice to be squeezed out of it?

My position on pay for politicians is a simple one. Pay them attractive salaries and make it a constitutional condition that there would be no special law or ‘untouchable’ rule to keep them out of prison if they misappropriate the people’s funds. The rules governing recall and impeachment must be included in the Constitution in the new republic.

Of course, it will be problematic to decide who will guard the bodyguard and who will be that person or persons adding up the wrongs to be presented before the high council in the heart of the town square.

In the meantime, the other obvious question is, will the new, massive salary package be viewed as the political directorate being out of touch with the sociopolitical directions of our people, especially those in the age group 25 to 45? Could it be seen as an insult?

I suspect that the prime minister knew that a good deal of political gamesmanship had to be employed. According to Robert Nesta Morgan, minister without portfolio with responsibility for information, the PNP knew that the big spread at the feast was on the way. Plus, it sounded like he said that it was certain people in the Opposition PNP who were silently egging on the JLP administration to haul up the bulldozer with the big bucks.

The Opposition has been caught in a vice for now. All PNP MPs, including the Opposition leader and PNP councillors, will benefit. If the PNP is to wring anything political out of this massive pay increase and come out strongly against it, it will have to invoke its liberty to refuse the increase. That will not happen.

So his Majesty’s loyal opposition and his members will have to enter the matrix, and in an extended quantum moment, be on both sides of this issue at the same time.

Another key question is, will the voting public respond with hostility towards the JLP over this huge increase in pay for politicians? A June poll would be useful.

In the seven years I spent at Nationwide FM hosting the Friday slot of Cliff Hughes Online I had no guarantee that I would see the A1 journalist in his office. When I saw Abka, it was the standard stance. At his desk, slightly hunched over in interest at what he was listening to via earphones attached to his laptop or desktop.

Recently, he joined the ranks of the JLP senate. I must confess that I did not see it coming. Like me, I didn’t sense that he saw much in the PNP to wander over to their side of the paddock. Of course, I write with obvious biases. We both share the same alma mater, Kingston College, and I suspect that if we were closer in age, we could have even called ourselves friends.

The criticisms I have heard from young people is that politics corrupt and “It nah do nutten fi wi.”

If a country is to move forward, it must mulch the land. That mulching places those politicians who have run out of ideas just below the topsoil, and eventually, far away from sucking out the nutrients.

Young people like Abka are the nutrients, and much will be expected of them as another set of young Turks get set to trigger those whose leg bones have calcified. Abka can learn from veterans on the outside like Pearnell Charles Sr. Especially in learning what not to do. And, not so long ago, Tom Tavares Finson was a member of the young Turks. Excitement lies ahead.

Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.