Dr Wheatley's political gift to Jamaica

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

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The People's National Party (PNP) is expectedly gleeful but the resignation yesterday of Dr Andrew Wheatley is far more significant than a victory to one party. It is a political gift to the people of Jamaica.

Indeed, we find no joy in Dr Wheatley's departure from the Government which, in effect, represents a loss of a bright and nimble mind in the key portfolio of energy, science and technology. That, of course, is a whole different issue from saying that he should not have stepped away or been fired.

We say it's a political gift because of the potential for helping to reassure young Jamaicans, in particular, that the ability to do what is right still resides within the system of governance and that there are still men who can be moved to put country above self.

For sure, Dr Wheatley should have removed himself from the portfolio from the moment he realised that he had lost control over some of the agencies under him, specifically at Petrojam and the National Energy Solutions Limited (NESol), assuming that is what happened.

The prime minister moved slowly and may have been over cautious by taking away the energy aspect of the portfolio before belatedly, it seems, coming to the conclusion that Dr Wheatley had to leave the Cabinet to restore some semblance of public confidence in the Ministry.

If Mr Andrew Holness was awaiting the results of the investigations into Petrojam being led by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency; the Financial Investigative Division; the Auditor General; the Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch and the Integrity Commission, he might be afforded a measure of forgiveness.

But it was clear, at least up to the point where the umbrella group of churches, the private sector leadership, the Opposition and the National Integrity Action met to discuss the alleged corruption at the state agencies, that public confidence had been deeply eroded and Dr Wheatley's continued ownership of the portfolios had become untenable.

The departure would moreover be a political gift if it represents a signal that Prime Minister Holness is serious about his self-imposed role as a transformational leader who, even if late, can take the hard decision that this must have been.

Recall that the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) continues to have a pencil slim majority in the Parliament and is always at risk of losing disaffected MPs to the Opposition. Not that anyone would expect Dr Wheatley to cross the floor to an Opposition which just went for his jugular.

We are hopeful that on the eve of our 56th anniversary of Independence we have been given a reason for celebration - that accountability in government will become the norm. We are still pinching ourself to determine that we are living a reality and are not just hapless dreamers.

Politicians don't resign or get fired in this neck of the woods, unless whatever they did stinks to high heaven. And even then only if the public demonstrates clearly that votes would be lost. It's just not our culture.

Would that this could mark a new beginning.

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