Sunday 23 September, 2018

Blundering politicians caught with ‘foot in mouth’

Rudyard Spencer

Rudyard Spencer

Jamaican politicians, like their counterparts in other jurisdictions, are known to make serious verbal and in some cases, non-verbal gaffes.

Such blunders often prove to be embarrassing not just to the persons who made the offending remarks, but to the political parties to which they belong.

Below, Loop News has compiled a short list of some more recent blundering Jamaican politicians, who, having spoken or gestured, no doubt wished they could have taken back their remarks or actions.

 In most instances, an apology was offered, but generally, only after public condemnation of the offending remarks or actions, and really, after the ‘damage’ was done.

The politicians on our list who had a bout or two of ‘foot in mouth disease’, noticeably displayed elements of some among the traits of arrogance, tribalism, offensiveness, juvenile behaviour, and in instances, reflected plain and simple stupidity.

Here are some examples of the scenario outlined above:

MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, DR DAYTON CAMPBELL

Then governing People’s National Party (PNP) Member of Parliament (MP) for North West St Ann, Dr Dayton Campbell, scored zero with what many considered at the time, his offensive and immature remarks that were directed at a beauty pageant contestant.

In July 2013, Dr Dayton Campbell was forced to apologise to one of the finalists in the Miss Jamaica World Pageant following public backlash over a comment he posted on his Twitter page.

Shortly after Jenaae Jackson was announced as the contestant with the 'best shape' in the pageant, the MP took to the social media website tweeting: "’bout best shape; she shape like the Jamaican economy".

The comment triggered widespread condemnation from Twitter users, who regarded the post as irresponsible and inappropriate.

Dr Campbell would later remove the post, stating that he was sorry for his comment. He said: "To whom much is given, much is expected, I should know better. Sorry madam. Apologies also to people in Twitter land."

‘Shapely’ Jenaae went on to be placed first runner-up to the 2013 Miss Jamaica World, Gina Hargitay.

STATE MINISTER RUDYARD SPENCER

Some political commentators have privately said it was mind-boggling how State Minister Rudyard Spencer, the MP for South East Clarendon, came to make remarks on a political platform for which he had to apologise in early April. This was the view of many, since when Spencer started telling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters at a party meeting in Bellefield, Manchester in late March, that they and other members of the governing party were now in a better position to get help from the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), he was cautioned by some in attendance that members of the media were present.

Spencer would continue fulsomely with the remarks.

His decision to proceed despite the caution, landed Spencer in the midst of a firestorm of criticism for telling Labourites that with a member of the JLP chairing the RADA board, whatever issues they had faced with receiving assistance from the agency which provides agricultural extension services, were of the past.

“We have a system where we will now have our own chairman of RADA, and things have been happening and things can happen at RADA. But naturally, you will meet some bottlenecks, because we have just taken over the system and we are trying to find our way around the system. Where you never have a parish manager for RADA, you now have a Labourite being the chairman of RADA, so whatever problems you used to have… I believe now most of those problems would have gone away, because you have your own manager to assist in the management of RADA… So, therefore, you can't say that you are getting no attention; you can't say nothing is happening, because in fairness, you have your own manager to report whatever problems you have, and expect him to solve those problems,” Spencer dished out as more than a mouthful at the meeting.

Following the backlash and a meeting with the Political Ombudsman, Donna Parchment, plus a directive from Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Spencer apologised profusely, almost from media house by media house.

According to a letter sent to Spencer from the Office of the Political Ombudsman, and copied to the media, Spencer “voluntarily extends a complete and unreserved apology to the people of Jamaica, the Opposition and the Jamaica Labour Party” for the statement.

He also condemned political tribalism in “all its forms”, and indicated that the statement from him did not reflect his values and beliefs or those of his party leader and the Prime Minister, Andrew Holness.

Additionally, Spencer committed to upholding the values of Jamaica's democracy, and to serve all the people of Jamaica equally, the ombudsman stated.

Former State Minister and Member of Parliament (MP) for North West Clarendon, Michael Stern, who lost his seat in the 2011 General Elections, was appointed RADA Chairman in August 2017.

OPPOSITION LEADER, DR PETER PHILLIPS

Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, was recently forced to apologise not for something he said, but what he did.

Dr Phillips ‘flipped the bird’ not once, but twice in the House of Representatives, during a heated and contentious debate on the myriad problems facing the Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James.

The gesture last month has been described as ‘juvenile’, although it has largely been accepted that Dr Phillips meant no ill will toward anyone.

However, following what some thought were ‘tongue in cheek’ calls for him to resign, Dr Phillips offered the required apology. He did so during a press conference at the PNP’s headquarters at Old Hope Road, St Andrew. He had been faced with mounting criticism, including from the youth arm of the governing JLP, for the gesture, during which he gesture with both of his middle fingers.

Phillips told journalists two days after the incident that during the debate, he sought to get a two-minute extension for Opposition Spokesman on Health, Dr Dayton Campbell, to allow him more time to highlight “the deepening crisis at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, and the failure of the Government to address this crisis with the urgency it deserves.”

He said, “In seeking this two-minute extension, I used a gesture which has become the subject of controversy, and (has been) interpreted as (being) offensive. As the records of the Parliament will show, at no time was any offence meant and none was taken either by the Speaker, who is the presiding officer of the Parliament, nor by any member of the Parliament on either side of the aisle,” Phillips stated.

He added that, “in light of the misinterpretation, and in some instances misrepresentation, I regret using this gesture in what was a lighthearted moment of banter in the House, in fact, intended to diffuse any tensions which were arising.”

The Opposition Leader makes the list twice, as in August 2017 he was forced to apologise for comments which were deemed to be extremely insensitive.

Dr Phillips made the comments while addressing a PNP rally in St Ann.

During the meeting, he said the Government’s one-seat majority (at the time) in the House of Representatives could swing due to a number of reasons, and the PNP should get ready to take control of Government.

Among the reasons he cited for the likely swing was illness (within the ranks of the JLP parliamentary representatives).

Like many political watchers, JLP Councillor, Duane Smith, a son of Derrick Smith, the then MP for North West St Andrew, took immediate offence to Dr Phillips’ comment. Mr Smith said it was public knowledge that his father was ill with diabetes-related challenges, and undergoing treatment at the time.

In responding, Dr Phillips said it was never his intention to make light of the illness being experienced by Derrick Smith.

He said his statement at the rally was rather "to highlight the uncertainties of the political environment and the need to prepare for any eventuality."

Then came the apology.

"If unintentionally I have caused offence to Minister Smith or his family, I apologise unreservedly," Dr. Phillips said.

Derrick Smith retired from representational politics in January after nearly 30 years as MP. Dr Nigel Clarke contested for the JLP and won in Smith’s old stomping ground in a by-election in March.

 

MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, DENISE DALEY

Opposition MP for Eastern St Catherine, Denise Daley, was in April forced to apologise for statements she made at a PNP meeting in West Rural St Andrew, which many labelled as both tribal and divisive.

At that meeting to introduce the party’s caretaker/candidate for the St Andrew constituency for the next general elections, Daley described her opponents as “green” people, and declared that they were not welcomed in her constituency.

Green is the colour of the JLP, while orange is the favoured colour of the PNP.

Forced to issue a statement under intense criticism, Daley said her remarks from the political platform were not intended to offend. She said based on all of the subsequent commentaries surrounding the statement, she now understands that the statement was not appropriate, and regretted making such remarks.

Daley said whereas she had no intention of removing anyone from her constituency based on their political affiliation, it did not change the interpretation and the fact that the remarks could generate unease among residents in sections of her constituency.

She emphasised that throughout her 31 years as a representative at the local and national levels, she has enjoyed warm relations with political opponents, and was therefore offering no excuses for her statement.

The PNP said Daley offered a full apology to her constituents, the political ombudsman, the party, and the people of Jamaica for the remarks made, and assured that she will conduct herself in a manner consistent with peace and goodwill, and the lowering of political tension and tribalism.

TOURISM MINISTER, EDMUND BARTLETT

One of the country’s most popular and hardworking Cabinet ministers is Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett. The affable member of the Andrew Holness-led Cabinet is well loved for his disarming smile and warm personality. 

However, all that did not stop the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA) from directing a ‘scud missile’-like statement at Bartlett last week for statements he reportedly made in response to complaints that Spanish hoteliers on the island are not engaging local manufacturers in their business dealings.

The JMA cited a Business Day news report on Wednesday, stating that “Minister Edmund Bartlett, in response to complaints that Spanish hoteliers are not engaging local manufacturers in business, said that that’s an issue manufacturers will have to try and fix on their own. Bartlett reportedly added that he cannot tell investors who to do business with. (He said) manufacturers should instead focus on improving the quality of their products and their ability to supply the tourism market with what is needed.”

Based on their response, the local manufacturers are of the view that the minister was displaying a serious degree of both arrogance and ignorance.

Responding on Thursday, the JMA said the statements from Bartlett represent “a blatant disregard for the industrial sector and the resilience of our manufacturers and other entrepreneurs who continue to robustly innovate, invest and produce at world-class standards, despite existing challenges.”

The JMA said it would not support the minister’s dismissal of an industry that “continues to be the backbone of this country, contributing 8.6 per cent to GDP, $55 billion in taxes (second only to the banking sector), and 80,000 in employment.”

The association said the economic benefits of tourism are unquestionable, “but it’s extremely low impact on our national growth is undeniable”.

Further pressing home its position, the JMA said national economic sustainability entails building linkages and keeping the majority of the proceeds local. In that regard, the association said “Not only should Jamaicans be involved in tourism, but we should also share in the financial benefits derived from it.”

In respect of the minister himself, the JMA said “Minister Bartlett’s utterances reflect the very ignorance the JMA is committed to dispelling. We need to emancipate ourselves and recognise that Jamaica produces a wide range of products that are unique, superior and better priced than many imports. It is up to each and every one of us as consumers, businesses and Government to take the stance to support our local manufacturers and not be held captive by the erroneous perceptions that Jamaican-made is inferior, and that local producers are unable to adequately supply the tourism market.

According to the JMA, “if our Government and our ministers do not have faith in our own entrepreneurs, who will? Growth begins with leadership.”

Despite the rantings of the JMA, Bartlett, unlike the other politicians mentioned, is not known to have yet offered an apology or clarification on the matter. However, the JMA President, Metry Seaga, has indicated that a meeting is being scheduled between the two, to discuss the statements.

PRIME MINISTER ANDREW HOLNESS

Prime Minister Andrew Holness may not have exactly put his foot in his mouth, so to speak, on the matter of the short-lived ‘acting’ appointment of Chief Justice, Bryan Sykes (the PM said it was strategy, which, to his credit, the jury will always be out on), but from the public distraction that the move became, and the widespread criticism that it drew, it certainly warrants even a light mention among the foot in mouth political developments.

For breaking news, download our app at http://bit.ly/GetALoopJM for Android; and at http://bit.ly/GetiLoopJM for IoS.