The year in politics: winners, losers and more
It was the usual mixed bag in terms of performance by the country’s politicians during 2019 with some performing well while others had a year to forget.
An eventful year, 2019 saw the fall from grace of Ruel Reid, the former Minister of Education who was arrested and charged in a multi-million-dollar corruption scandal; Ann-Marie Vaz’s upset by-election win in East Portland for the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP); and a bruising presidential election campaign between Dr Peter Phillips and Peter Bunting that threatened to divide the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP).
The PNP also scored big as the Constitutional Court ruled in its favour in the case it brought against the controversial National Identification and Registration (NIDS) Act which was struck down after it was found to be unconstitutional.
And crime continued to prove to be the Achilles’ heel of national security ministers as was evident by Dr Horace Chang’s failure to keep murders below 2018 levels despite sustained states of emergency in various parts of the island.
Loop News presents below its rankings of the best and worst performers in politics in the year under review.
Dr Nigel Clarke, Minister of Finance and Public Service
Finance and Public Service Minister, Dr Nigel Clarke was barely one-year into the job as minister when he used his maiden Budget presentation in March to announce a major tax-break in the sum of $14 billion, aimed at stimulating growth in the economy.
Although it did not start under his watch, Clarke also oversaw the successful completion of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme between Jamaica and the multilateral lending agency in 2019. The programme continues to be hailed around the world as a success story. The minister was also instrumental in the successful execution of one of the country’s largest ever initial public offerings, in the Wigton Wind Farm, which raised a massive $5.5 billion and added nearly 12,000 new stock market accounts.
Clarke also piloted amendments to pension investment regulations and announced major changes to how public boards are appointed.
However, he did take some flak as the promised growth levels were not realised. The last two quarters saw 0.3 per cent and 0.7 per cent growth respectively and there continues to be concerns around the fluctuating dollar which was subjected to wild swings during the year.
Juliet Holness, MP, Ann-Marie Vaz' campaign manager
Juliet Holness, the Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew who is also the wife of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, had a very good year.
As campaign manager for Ann-MarieVaz, she orchestrated victory for the JLP in a constituency that had consistently voted for the PNP since 1989.
Such was her confidence nearly one month before electors went to the polls in East Portland, Holness was quoted in the media as saying: “The writing is on the wall (for the PNP), and the people are calling for the JLP to effect that change in restoring the basic infrastructure, providing jobs, restoring tourism, and providing quality education”.
A day after the victory, Holness took to Twitter to thank even PNP supporters for throwing their support behind the JLP.
Reactions to her “him sexy cyan dun,” speech in reference to her husband during a JLP South East constituency conference in October were mixed and would have served to dampen somewhat, an otherwise good year for the first-term MP.
Mrs Holness, while not naming Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, appeared to be taunting him when she stated that her husband, apart from boasting sound intellect, has good image and is quite agile.
"We lucky, we have a young prime minister. We have a prime minister whose body tight and firm; a prime minister who sexy cyan dun,” she said to rapturous applause and laughter.
The body shaming continued when Mrs Holness added that: “We have a prime minister who can run fi di whole day with probably about three to four hours of sleep. Him nuh sleepy sleepy none a tall, straight work”.
She said young people are drawn to the “younger” JLP team which she described as intellectually strong, creative and healthy.
Andrew Holness, Prime Minister
The international profile of Prime Minister Andrew Holness grew leaps and bounds in 2019 even as crime and stalled growth in the economy were bound to present some worries for the head of government as the year came to a close.
Like he did in 2018, Holness was again the voice of developing nations on the global stage in matters related to climate change. He, along with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, were asked by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in September, to lead a global political initiative to mobilise climate change financing for developing nations. The initiative, which requires the two nations to mobilise government and private sector support by 2020 to provide the US$100 billion per annum required for adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, was outlined in a letter from the UN Secretary General that observed Jamaica’s leadership on the issue.
While speaking at the UN Action Summit in September, Holness told his colleagues that the global financing system requires an immediate transformation. He closed out the year with visits to China, Kenya and Japan, during which major bilateral agreements were struck.
Earlier in the year, the prime minister outlined a multi-billion dollar overhaul of the Corporate Area water supply systems to address chronic water shortages in the Metropolitan area, particularly during the summer.
Under his watch, unemployment is at a 50-year low and the BPO and tourism sectors continue to grow. There is also a construction boom in parts of the country as seen in the dozens of multi-story apartment buildings springing up across the Corporate Area.
However, the projected growth of 1.5 per cent to two per cent did not materialise as the second and third quarters recorded growth of 0.3 per cent and 0.7 per cent respectively. Of primary concern for the prime minister must be the fact that 2019 will end with more murders than 2018. This is despite the fact that the administration’s main crime-fighting tool, the state of emergency (SOE) has been in force in seven police divisions spanning six parishes for most of the year.
The government was also given a black eye with news that former Education Minister Ruel Reid was arrested and charged in a multi-million dollar corruption scandal involving the ministry and some of its agencies. Despite his best efforts, the JLP continues to be hobbled by scandals and investigations are ongoing at several state agencies.
And Holness also came under personal scrutiny for the inordinately long time it took for the Integrity Commission to clear his annual filings. On this front, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips whose integrity filings were promptly cleared by the commission, sought to score political points by threatening to take the prime minister to court over the issue.
Peter Bunting, Opposition MP, Spokesperson
Despite coming out on the losing end of the PNP presidential election, Peter Bunting saw his stock rise in 2019.
On September 7, his 59th birthday, Bunting was hoping to pull off what no one has ever done in either the PNP or JLP – challenge the party leader and win.
Bunting came closest, having lost the special delegates election by only 76 votes out of the nearly 3,000 ballots that were cast. In the end, it was a crushing defeat for the former national security minister who, as a successful businessman, is not accustomed to losing.
But all was not lost for the Central Manchester MP.
He ran an excellent campaign in which he positioned himself as an agent for change and energised the PNP, which had been badly trailing the JLP in public opinion polls.
Also, despite the loss, he was retained in the shadow cabinet (but now shadows the education portfolio) and is now widely seen as a frontrunner to replace Phillips as PNP leader when the time comes.
Ann-Marie Vaz, East Portland MP
Political neophyte Ann-Marie Vaz pulled off a hard-fought victory over the PNP’s Damion Crawford in the April 4 by-election in East Portland to win a seat the JLP had not won in more than 30 years.
She won the PNP stronghold by 319 votes in a close election that will be long remembered for controversial remarks made by her opponent against her during the campaign. Crawford suggested that the contest pitted a beautiful face (hers) against a beautiful brain (his). He also suggested that Vaz’s potential was limited to being “Mrs Vaz”. That comment was interpreted by many to mean Mrs Vaz could only be successful because she was the wife of government minister and MP for the neighbouring West Portland constituency, Daryl Vaz.
Crawford was accused of injecting class in the race and the PNP was accused of defending him.
In her maiden contribution to the Constituency Debate in the House of Representatives in December, Vaz, called ‘Action Ann’ by those close to her, took swipe after swipe at Crawford as she reeled off what she said were her achievements in the eight months that she has been MP for East Portland.
“It’s not beautiful speaking, is action do that,” she said repeatedly to applause from her government colleagues.
'On the Bubble'
Dr Peter Phillips, Opposition Leader
Phillips came out on the right side of a hotly-contested presidential election to remain at the helm of the 81-year-old PNP.
It was third time’s the charm for Phillips who won by a mere 76 votes from the nearly 3,000 ballots that were cast in the special delegates conference that took place on September 7 inside the National Arena after nearly three months of often bitter campaigning that threatened to split the party.
Some comrades were lined up behind Phillips’ OnePNP campaign while others threw their support behind Peter Bunting, the Member of Parliament for Central Manchester and his Rise United campaign. During the campaign, comrades got downright dirty and personal on social media as both camps attacked each other. Philips was seen by Bunting supporters as unelectable and out of touch with young voters. On the other hand, Bunting, a successful businessman, was seen by those backing Phillips as an upstart who was unwilling to wait his turn.
Some wounds are still festering despite Phillips, in his victory speech, promising to be president for all. The situation was not helped when he left out keep members of the Rise United camp from the new shadow cabinet that he named in October.
While Phillips savored the win, concerns remain about his electability in a general election most pundits expect the prime minister to call in the first half of 2020. He still fails to excite young voters and will be going up against a popular prime minister. Additionally, Phillips, who led a series of anti-corruption rallies against the government earlier in the year, held a crime summit and forced the government back to the table in stakeholder talks around crime, appears to have gone cold towards the end of the year. His position was not helped with the party seeming to have an incoherent message with party spokespersons talking out-of-turn.
Julian Robinson, PNP General Secretary
Opposition Spokesman on Science, Technology and Information had a mixed year. He scored big after successfully mounting a challenge against the controversial National Identification and Registration (NIDS) Act, which was struck down in a unanimous decision by the Constitutional Court.
The decision dealt a major blow to the Andrew Holness-led administration that had argued that the NIDS would, among other things, improve the country’s national security while making it easier for persons to conduct business.
Robinson had brought the case on behalf of himself, his constituents and the PNP.
But while the government was forced to wheel and come again, regarding NIDS, Robinson’s performance as general secretary of the PNP continues to show signs of weakness.
This is so as, having lost the crucial by-election in South East St Mary in October, 2017, the PNP, under Robinson’s stewardship, went on to lose the safe seat of East Portland to the JLP’s Ann-Marie Vaz on April 4, 2019. That victory gave the JLP a five-seat majority in the House of Representatives and some breathing space, whereas after general election night on February 25, 2016, the JLP held a one-seat majority of 32-31.
The party also continued to slip further behind the JLP in public opinion polls in 2019 and often struggled to deliver a coherent message. Robinson also appeared powerless to stop the bitter infighting that characterised the bruising presidential campaign between Peter Bunting and Dr Peter Phillips, the wounds of which appear to have not yet healed fully.
Ruel Reid, Former Education Minister
Ruel Reid's meteoric fall from grace makes him the biggest loser in politics for 2019.
Although he was fired from the Cabinet by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in March and was under a months-long investigation, the nation reacted with collective shock on October 9 when Reid, the former Minister of Education, Youth and Information was arrested by detectives in a predawn operation at his home in St Andrew.
His wife Sharen and daughter Sharelle, were also arrested.
Simultaneous predawn raids in other parishes led to the arrests of Professor Fritz Pinnock, President of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) and Kim Brown-Lawrence, Jamaica Labour Party councilor for the Brown’s Town division of the St Ann Municipal Corporation.
The five were picked by detectives attached to the Financial Investigation Division, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency and the Constabulary Financial Unit of the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Division following investigations into allegations of major corruption and fraud at the Ministry of Education and some of its affiliated agencies, in particular the CMU.
They were subsequently slapped with multiple charges including breaches of the Corruption Prevention Act, conspiracy to defraud, misconduct in a public office at common law and beaches of the Proceeds of Crime Act. The investigating agencies said the extent of the fraud involved sums amounting to in excess of $56 million, money allegedly siphoned from the education ministry and the CMU.
Reid, a lay preacher, former senator and principal of Jamaica College, has been at the centre of the scandal.
Reid was fired from the Cabinet by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in March just days after the parliamentary Opposition made allegations of corruption at the Ministry and some of its agencies. Reid resigned from the Senate the same day.
Dr Horace Chang, Minister of National Security
National Security Minister, Dr Horace Chang came in for increasing criticism towards the end of the year when it was realised that more murders would be committed in 2019 when compared to 2018.
This was despite states of emergency (SOEs), the government’s main crime-fighting tool being in force in seven police divisions spread across six parishes for most of the year. As at December 21, murders were up 3.7 per cent when compared to the corresponding period in 2018 with 1,302 victims. Incidents of shootings were also up.
Chang and the government have insisted that the SOEs are working, in particular in the areas where they are enforced. They often argue that the security measure needs to be maintained over a much longer period to have the desired effect of a significant and sustained reduction in homicides.
The parliamentary Opposition has led the criticism that the SOEs have failed and continues to signal that it could soon pull its support for the crime-fighting measure.
Damion Crawford, Opposition Senator
Widely seen as the most popular and most liked person inside the Opposition PNP, Crawford seemingly could do no wrong. He was even expected, against the odds, to pull off a by-election win in East Portland in April but came up short.
Known for being outspoken, oftentimes controversial and for even taking positions that appear to be different from the PNP, the disappointing loss in East Portland is not the only reason why Crawford’s star was dimmed in 2019; rather it was largely because of remarks he made about his opponent during the by-election campaign.
Many commentators and ordinary folk consider comments Crawford levelled against the JLP’s Ann-Marie Vaz to be sexist. He suggested, before being forced to walk back those statements, that Vaz merely had a beautiful face while he had a beautiful brain and that the farthest her potential would take her was “Mrs Vaz”.
Commentators pointed to other factors why Crawford lost a safe PNP seat including that the party had largely neglected East Portland for 30 years and that he was parachuted in at the last minute following the brutal stabbing death of the sitting MP, Dr Lynvale Bloomfield.
Dayton Campbell, Dr Angela Brown Burke, Ian Hayles
Three prominent members of the Opposition had their wings clipped by party president Dr Peter Phillips following the bruising presidential election that saw Phillips barely retaining his presidency.
The three – Dr Dayton Campbell, the former spokesman on health, Dr Angela Brown-Burke, former shadow minister for local government and Ian Hayles, former spokesman on water and climate change had supported Peter Bunting’s Rise United campaign in the presidential election.
They were booted shortly after Phillips’ OnePNP campaign fended off the Bunting challenge in the special delegates’ vote. When Phillips announced his 20-memner shadow cabinet in October, the three were conspicuously missing.
Campbell and Hayles were particularly critical of Phillips during the campaign.
Dr Christopher Tufton
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton was forced to defend his stewardship of the portfolio amidst repeated calls for his sacking over his handling of the year-long dengue outbreak that has killed dozens of Jamaicans. Thousands of people were also infected with the mosquito-borne virus.
Some senior medical practitioners, who requested anonymity, used the media to suggest that the minister was hiding the real number of dengue deaths. However, Tufton has denied doing so.
When he announced in the House of Representatives in November that Cabinet had approved $1 billion in additional funding in the stepped-up fight against dengue, he also said then that the virus had sickened nearly 12,800 people resulting in an estimated 61 deaths, 44 of which occurred in 2019.
Opposition spokesman on health Dr Morais Guy has repeatedly slammed Tufton over his handling of the outbreak, accusing him of responding too slowly when the Opposition raised the alarm back in 2018. Guy has also accused Tufton of being more about public relations than tackling the real problems in the health sector.
The problems include a severe shortage of medical staff, in particular nurses who continue to leave the island in droves for greener pastures and the shortage of equipment in health facilities.
Despite the criticisms, Tufton received kudos for taking steps to reduce the sugar content in drinks that are sold on school premises, effective January 1, 2019. This is part of efforts to reduce obesity and non-communicable diseases which affect a significant number of Jamaicans.
Dr Andre Haughton, Opposition Senator
In the less than one year that he has been in the Senate, the PNP’s Dr Andre Haughton has shown a propensity to put his foot in his mouth or otherwise make mindboggling statements.
The Opposition Spokesman on Planning and Development first blundered in October and was forced to apologise for his “breast man comments”.
The controversial comments were made as the Senate marked Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In making his contribution to the debate to mark the month, Haughton first stated that some may find it “unusual for a man to speak about breast cancer”.
He spoke right after cancer survivor, government Senator Dr Saphire Longmore had made her remarks.
He then added: “Saphire, I share your pain and I sympathise with you on what you have been through. I have a aunt who died from breast cancer, my father’s sister; Aunty Mar. Maureen Haughton was diagnosed with breast cancer somewhere about 2013. She did one operation and we thought she was safe and two years later it came back but she wasn’t lucky, she died.”
The uncomfortable moment followed:
“As a child growing up I always love breast, my mother always say I’m a breast man, even when I was one year and two months I was still drinking breast milk. So I am a breast man. When asked, 'which part of the female you prefer' - breast, otherwise, I prefer the breast."
Haughton was appointed to the Senate by the Opposition leader Dr Peter Phillips in April. His contribution to the debate was widely panned as critics accused him of belittling and objectifying women in his remarks. He was also accused of trivialising the serious issue of breast cancer.
Haughton insisted for days that he had nothing to apologise for, and even accused the media of being "interested in nonsense". However, he finally relented and his apology was well received by social media users.
The first term Senator again raised eyebrows in December when he told the Senate that the call by Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips for the Government to cut the General Consumption Tax (GCT) by two percentage points was a mere “bait” for the government.
Haughton made the remark during his maiden contribution to the State of the Nation Debate.
Phillips had posited that the cut in the GCT rate from 16.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent would ease the economic burden on poorer Jamaicans in particular. However, Haughton suggested that it was not worth it. He argued that it would cost the country far more than it would benefit individuals.
When forced to clarify his position, Haughton said “My points highlight that there is obviously a need for a reform to the tax system. We are faced with competing views, (including) the issue of equality and the need to stimulate economic activity”.
He conceded that his GCT comments “encroached on the party leadership and the Shadow Ministry of Finance,” but said “no disrespect was meant by it”.
Delroy Chuck, Justice Minister
The court system made major strides in 2019 in reducing the chronic case backlog that has been the bane of the system for many years. More Justices of the Peace were also trained and there were some significant convictions, including that of the reputed, feared leader of the notorious Klansman gang, Tesha Miller.
However, Justice Minister, Delroy Chuck’s year will be remembered for his foot-in-mouth moment related to the predawn arrests of former Education Minister Ruel Reid his wife Sharen, daughter, Sharrelle and the President of Caribbean Maritime University, Professor Fritz Pinnock as well as JLP Councillor Kim Brown Lawrence.
Speaking to reporters following a child diversion sensitisation meeting in St Mary on the day of the arrests, Chuck said “The DPP seems to have had no additional material or evidence, and what seems so unfortunate is that the arrests took place (in a manner that) looks like Nicodemus in the night.”
Chuck described the action of detectives as “salacious” “in that you put so many people at these persons’ gates…(to arrest them).” And the minister also warned detectives to be careful about the way in which they gather and present evidence before the court so as not to present a weak case.
“I don’t get the impression that these persons are actually running away. They have made themselves available on all occasions, so in fact if an arrest should have been made, they could easily have been asked to come in so that they could be charged,” Chuck said.
According to Chuck, if charges were to be laid against the person now arrested as a result of the probe: “I suspect they could easily have been granted their own bail, or they could be asked to surrender their travel documents, as the case may be.”
His comments were met with swift condemnation from various quarters, forcing him to withdraw them.