Tuesday 16 July, 2019

Year in Review: the big winners and losers in politics

As any other year, 2018 was one in which some politicians shone and others had their lights dimmed.

There were also retirements, as in the case of the veteran Derrick Smith who bowed out of representational politics after nearly 30 years. Then there were the newcomers such as Dr Nigel Clarke, who won a by-election for the seat that Smith vacated, and who was immediately propelled to the position of Finance and Public Service Minister in Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ Cabinet.

With the year rapidly drawing to a close, Loop News gives below its rankings of the best and worst performers in the political arena in the year under review.

 

1. Andrew Holness

Despite some challenges, especially on the crime front, there were many positives that ensured that Prime Minister Andrew Holness emerged top of the pile, in pole position. It was the year when Holness emerged as a leading voice for developing nations, in particular on matters relating to climate change. This was underscored in June with his address on the subject, at the Summit of G7 nations in Quebec, Canada.

This was followed up by other invitations in November when the prime minister participated in the International Monetary Fund's Conference on Building Resilience to Natural Disasters. He was in fact the keynote speaker. That same week, Holness  addressed the G20 Leaders' Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on climate change and energy transition.

Back home, the prime minister presided over a Government that is seeing consistent and  significant growth for the first time in a long time. The construction sector is booming, unemployment is at record low numbers and the so-called legacy projects to improve and expand major thoroughfares in a bid to ease traffic congestion across the Corporate Area are well underway. All this is happening while tourism continues to see record numbers both in terms of arrivals and earnings.

However, there were some negatives, including the ongoing Petrojam scandal which continues to hobble the administration while a major blow was struck to perhaps the most significant plank of the government’s crime-fighting measures when the parliamentary Opposition withdrew its support from three states of emergency that were imposed to combat the crime problem across the country.

In terms of the Petrojam scandal, public sentiment was that Holness took too long to drop then Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley from his Cabinet. Nonetheless, Holness appears to continue to command the support of a significant percentage of the populace. That support will be tested when he calls the next general election which is constitutionally due in 2021.

 

2. Damion Crawford

The People’s National Party’s (PNP) Damion Crawford was not given the chance to defend his East Rural St Andrew seat in the 2016 general election, making him a one-term MP, rubbing the shine off a promising career. He had fallen out of favour with the leadership of the party despite being one of the most popular politicians in the country, especially among young people.

This is despite his propensity to put his foot in his mouth, including being publicly critical of his own party.

But, Crawford would not be sidelined for long as, shortly after Dr Peter Phillips assumed leadership of the PNP, following the retirement of Portia Simpson Miller, having led the PNP to a second electoral defeat, he was welcomed back into the inner circle of the party.

Some people argued that this was done to burnish the image of the Opposition leader who is much older than the prime minister and who his critics say has problems connecting with young people. Whatever the reasons, Crawford emerged with most votes of the four persons who contested vice president positions at the PNP’s annual conference in September. He topped fellow challengers Phillip Paulwell, Mikhail Phillips (son of the Opposition leader) and Dr Wykeham McNeill.

Crawford appears to have gotten back his voice and is expected to be a major force for the PNP in the lead up to the next general election.

 

3. Dr Nigel Clarke

The newcomer to representational politics scored big in 2018, romping to a comfortable victory over the PNP’s Keihsa Hayles in a March 5 by-election held to fill the North West St Andrew seat that was vacated by Derrick Smith.

Three weeks after his by-election victory, Clarke scored another major win, when he was drafted into the Holness Cabinet as Minister of Finance and the Public Service, effectively demoting Audley Shaw from the most powerful job in the Cabinet outside of prime minister.

Clarke appears to still be finding his way around the ministry, and despite the many positives in the economy, time will be the judge of his stewardship.

 

4 Fitz Jackson

The South St Catherine MP was one of the most visible members of the Opposition during 2018. He started the year on a high when he went after financial institutions, in particular the large banks that make billions of dollars in profits each year but which continue to charge exorbitant banking fees.

While his efforts to get relief for customers failed because there was no support from the Government side in the House of Representatives when the private members’ motion was debated, Jackson’s stocks went up among ordinary Jamaicans.

He also acquitted himself well with his usually tough line of questioning of technocrats who appear before the various parliamentary committees on which he sits, in particular the Public Administration and Administration Committee which unmasked the corruption scandal at Petrojam and several other entities that fell under the now splintered Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology.

As opposition spokesman on National Security, Jackson, usually demonstrates that he is prepared and thus knowledgeable, before making public pronouncements on the area that he shadows.

Despite his relatively good showing during 2018, Jackson lost some of his shine when he scored an own goal when he sought to politicise the issue of the neon-coloured motorbikes and vests which were procured for the newly-created Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force. For a while Jackson insisted the motorcycles and vests were green, the colour of the Jamaica Labour Party. He quickly dropped the issue when he realised it was not gaining any traction. 

 

5. Edmund Bartlett

The Tourism Minister set all kinds of records in 2017 from visitor arrival numbers to actual earnings. He is set to break even more records in 2018 based on his recent pronouncements.

Among other things, Bartlett was the Caribbean Tourism man of the year in 2017 as he and Jamaica chalked up numerous awards on the global stage.

However, despite the many positives emanating from this rather important industry, there were some less than stellar moments that cast a negative light on the local tourism product. Chief among them were allegations of sexual assault against visitors to Jamaican resorts with one leading publication, USA Today citing a litany of such cases in an article in October. The article also alleged that Jamaican authorities sought to cover up these cases.

Bartlett was also forced to be on the front foot in January to assure the country's international partners that Jamaica was open for business when a state of emergency was imposed in St James to contain a runaway murder rate. Despite the fears, tourism continues to grow in leaps and bounds.

 

6. Dr Peter Phillips

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips was off to a slow start in 2018 but got his mojo back towards the middle of the year at the height of the Petrojam saga which he described as the “mother of all scandals”.

In fact, Phillips was in full stride by the time the PNP’s annual conference took place in September and has kept up a visible presence since, commenting on matters of national importance. He was relentless in his calls for Andrew Wheatley to resign from the Cabinet over his stewardship or lack thereof of the entities over which he had responsibility.

Phillips took some big political risks but always appeared ready to defend them. These included the Opposition taking the Government to court over the controversial National Identification System (NIDS) Act and withdrawing his party’s support from the states of emergency which were very popular with crime-weary Jamaicans. The constitutional court will rule by next April on which aspects of the NIDS are unconstitutional while only time will tell whether Phillips and the PNP did the right thing in withdrawing support for the SOEs.

 

7. Olivia “Babsy” Grange

The Minister of Gender, Culture, Entertainment and Sport, Olivia “Babsy” Grange deserves her top 10 spot for getting reggae music recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

In November, Grange successfully made the case for reggae music to be included on UNESCO’s representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity worth protecting. Grange must also get some credit for the Reggae Girlz’ historic qualification to the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.

Otherwise, she has maintained a high profile as a minister, in particular on matters relating to culture and sports. Grange also presided over another successful staging of the Independence Gala held inside the National Stadium on August 6.

 

8. Kamina Johnson Smith

Usually reserved, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson Smith, had another good year as Leader of Government Business in the Senate.

The usually unflappable Johnson Smith was her usual steady self as she skillfully managed the affairs of the Government in the parliament’s upper chamber.

 

9. Senator Matthew Samuda

While Daryl Vaz, the Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, will get the credit for the ban on single use plastic bags more commonly referred to as scandal bags, it was Senator Matthew Samuda who led the way, first calling for the ban in the Senate.

The ban, which takes effect on January 1, also covers styrofoam containers which, like scandal bags, severely pollute the environment and clog gullies and drains.

While the impending ban may be the highlight of his political career so far, the young Samuda is known to be an attack dog of sorts in the senate, never flinching in taking the fight to his more seasoned Opposition counterparts, regardless of the topic or issue.

Of note is that Samuda is always well prepared whenever he makes an intervention.

 

10. Dr Wykeham McNeill

The affable Dr WyKeham MCNeill who chairs the parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, gets high marks for keeping committee proceedings from falling apart in particular during the summer, at the height of the Petrojam scandal.

As government and opposition members viewed each other with heightened suspicion and stopped just short of citing motive, McNeill, with steady hands kept things under wraps, even when there were suggestions that he gave opposition members more time to speak than their government counterparts.

In the end, the PAAC under McNeill’s leadership, helped unravel not just the Petrojam scandal but the less than above board happenings at the Universal Service Fund (USF) and National Energy Solutions Limited (NESoL)

With the damning report of Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis which followed her department’s probe at Petrojam and with the Integrity Commission and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency still conducting probes at the state-owned oil refinery, McNeill has been vindicated for sticking to his guns despite cries that he was merely trying to embarrass the Government.

 

11. Phillip Paulwell

It matters not that he is not considered a paragon of virtue. It matters not if you do not like him. The fact is that Phillip Paulwell, former Energy Minister, is largely responsible for bringing to light, the scandals in the energy sector that are proving to be the achilles heel of the Holness administration.

It was Paulwell who made it known that the former General Manager at NESoL, Carolyn Warren had criminal convictions which she initially denied. Warren would later admit to multiple convictions which she did not disclose at the time of her employment.

With the Opposition Leader brushing aside calls for Paulwell to resign as Opposition Spokesman on Energy since he was Energy Minister when some of the 600,000 barrels of oil went missing, Paulwell will likely continue to reveal scandals wherever they may exist in government.

This is more than ironic considering that Paulwell, during his long political career, has arguably been caught up in more scandals or the resemblance of scandals more than any other politician currently serving.

 

12.  Dr Christopher Tufton

While he competes with Bartlett in terms of who gets most stories out in the media daily, the health minister appears to run the smoothest public relations machinery in Government.

Tufton has taken what has long been considered one of the most boring ministries where political careers are killed off, and has thrived.

Despite the distraction posed by the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) sick building debacle, Tufton came out looking good in 2018. He must be quietly thankful for Dr Wheatley and the Petrojam scandal which broke just around the time the Opposition was piling pressure on him over the CRH issue.

His Jamaica Moves campaign which is aimed at getting Jamaicans to lead healthier lifestyles has been embraced by CARICOM and his compassionate care programme, which is being rolled out across various hospitals, has been embraced by the public.

Tufton also deserves kudos for taking steps to reduce the sugar content in drinks that are sold on, or near school premises, effective January 1. This, in a bid to reduce obesity and non-communicable diseases which affect a significant number of Jamaicans.

 

THE BIG LOSERS…

The ‘B’ list which is made up of politicians, who lost some of their sheen in 2018, is made up exclusively of those belonging to the governing party. But, that is not surprising since the spotlight usually shines more intensely on those in Government.

 

Andrew Wheatley

The biggest loser among the political class in 2018 is Andrew Wheatley, the former science, energy and technology minister. Wheatley’s star was rising when it fell like a streak across the night sky. He was the minister who had overall responsibility for Petrojam, NESoL and the USF and should have known what was taking place at the scandal-hit agencies.

Wheatley’s position was not helped when the Auditor General’s report showed that taxpayers were left holding the tab, for more than $1 million, for a so-called “surprise party” for him, that was arranged by Petrojam’s former General Manager, Floyd Grindley. A topsy turvy cake for the party was purchased for US$1,000 and drew widespread criticism from a wide cross section of Jamaicans.

Wheatley has since said he intends to make restitution.

With two separate probes still underway at Petrojam and with the Prime Minister ordering a forensic audit into the oil losses, Wheatley may yet have cause for concern.

 

Marlene Malahoo Forte

The attorney general appeared flustered and at times out of her depths and even unsure of herself as she attempted to respond to relentless questioning by the three-member panel of judges who heard the case brought by the PNP challenging aspects of the NIDS.

Chief Justice Bryan Sykes who headed the panel of judges, was particularly tough with his questioning and at times appeared impatient with the responses given by the AG. As the Government’s chief lawyer, one could argue that Malahoo Forte did not appear to have done the best job.

 

Pearnel Charles

The Speaker of the House on several occasions appeared to have lost the handle on proceedings at critical points when strong leadership was required, resulting in sittings descending into chaos.

What was obvious on several occasions was that he has lost the respect of the parliamentary opposition whose members see him as being partisan in his decision making.

The loss of respect for the Speaker was on full display on April 24 when, despite his attempts at maintaining order, Charles failed as Daryl Vaz and Dr Dayton Campbell challenged each other to fist fights. It quickly became a free-for-all as their colleagues on either side of the isle joined them in the full throated brawl.

The sitting was delayed for close to an hour as Charles begged MPs to behave themselves but they ignored him.

Apologies were issued the following week but, during a June sitting, tempers again flared and once more Charles struggled to bring order to the proceedings.

On that occasion, Central Manchester MP Peter Bunting defied Charles and refused to take his seat when instructed to do so. He was quickly joined by his colleagues, including the Opposition Leader who all stood and refused to take their seats.

The Opposition members stood several times, along with Bunting, and refused to take their seats in a move described by Government MP Everald Warmington as “unprecedented disrespect shown to a Speaker.”

Bunting said Charles needed to be “fair and balanced in giving equal time to Government and Opposition in this House.” He also told the Speaker that he was tired of being picked on by him and that he would no longer tolerate such treatment.

If Charles does not quickly show that he is up to the task like when he first started in 2016 and when no one could say with much truth that he was biased, then the Prime Minister may consider replacing him in 2019.

 

Montague, Shaw, Henry and Samuda

Other big losers in 2018 were Robert Montague and Audley Shaw who, were demoted from two of the top positions in the Cabinet.

While Shaw has already made a name for himself at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries after he was replaced at the Ministry of Finance by Clarke, Montague appears to be still trying to find his way around the Ministry of Transport and Mining

Meanwhile, Mike Henry and Karl Samuda, having been stripped of Transport and Mining and Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries respectively, are now in what many consider the departure lounge. Both are minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister.

 

Get the latest local and international news straight to your mobile phone for free: