The shine on the Andrew Holness-led Administration is disappearing — Part 1Sunday, December 05, 2021
The frank and very necessary chastising by former Prime Minister Bruce Golding at last Sunday's Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) annual conference, its 78th, was a godsend. I similarly warned the JLP in my The Agenda piece 'Drop the hubris! The JLP has unwisely stepped onto a road which dethroned the PNP', published in the Jamaica Observer on August 29, 2021.
Those who tell party leader Andrew Holness that all is well, clearly are not listening to the mounting and the justifiable dissatisfactions of spectators. Many Jamaicans are experiencing the worst of times. We are not happy that some ministers in the Holness team are misjudging bad balls, others are exposing their wickets carelessly, and some are playing injudicious shots way outside the off stump that would embarrass even schoolboy cricketers.
Several of Holness's squad need to spend long, long hours in the practice nets. Some need to have their physical fitness reassessed. And some need to be demoted. I think the sooner the better.
Indeed, there can be little dispute that the shine on the Andrew Holness-led Administration is quickly disappearing. And quite a bit of ugliness has come to the surface.
As I see it, in addition to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, there are eight ministers who are doing a commendable job regarding the management of their portfolio responsibilities. I will discuss Holness's management of the country in a separate piece.
By far, the number one performer in the Holness Cabinet is Edmund Bartlett, our minister of tourism. He deserves high commendation for his outstanding work. Jamaica's tourism sector has been ranked as one of the fastest to recover globally. If I were to list all the regional and international awards Jamaica has won in the last 5½ years, for the high quality tourism product she has, I would not have enough space.
On May 12, 2020 sections of the media reported that, of the 170,000 Jamaicans employed in the tourism industry, only a mere 17,000 were employed due the fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic. By June, just over a year later, media reports said 80 per cent of the workers had gone back to work. I am told that today 98 per cent are back at work.
The local cruise industry is back up and running, as evidenced in these headlines:
Headline: '50 cruise ships set to dock before year end' ( Jamaica Observer, November 10, 2021)
Headline: 'Carnival commits 110 cruises to Jamaica' ( The Gleaner, September 29, 2021)
Figures that I have seen attest that, for each of the 170,000 Jamaicans who are directly employed in tourism, some 450,000 are indirectly reaping a tangible benefit; and, of course, we know that tourism is a major contributor to the national foreign exchange purse.
Notwithstanding the numerous and overlapping difficulties of the pandemic, Bartlett is achieving results that thousands of Jamaicans are seeing on their dinner tables and feeling in their pockets. I think he is a credit to the Holness Administration.
Based on his real and praiseworthy stewardship, it is clear Bartlett has his hands firmly on the wheel of his ministry. His good captaincy is obvious in keen policies and operations. He could/should teach some others a thing or two.
Kamina Johnson Smith
Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, in my humble estimation, is second to Bartlett with respect to the churning out of tangible results that are having a significant developmental impact on, especially, ordinary Jamaicans. It has been a long time since I have heard legitimate claims of Jamaicans being mistreated abroad.
She is highly respected on the international scene. I think she has brought back respectability to the portfolio responsibility of foreign affairs and foreign trade. She thinks on her feet and is comfortable addressing numerous matters of national importance.
Johnson Smith is also well-liked nationally, and I gather is also admired for her mental acuity and respectful approach to matters within the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
I understand perfectly well that the blanket of collective responsibility covers the performance, or lack thereof, of an Administration, but, even so, I think Johnson Smith deserves special commendation.
She has done a fantastic job by helping to source thousands of doses of the life-saving COVID-19 vaccine — 50,000 from India; 75,000 from South Africa; 65,000 from Mexico; and more and more.
I think her stewardship as a senator has been very impressive. Her calm demeanour under constant pressure — especially from a senator of the opposite side who imagines himself as an amalgam of two great PNP senators of the past, but does not have the intellectual sharpness — is a credit to her high level of emotional intelligence.
I think Dr Nigel Clarke is a consequential performer based on verifiable results and the impact on the majority. I place him at third.
As I noted previously, but it bears repeating, Dr Clarke has quieted the raging sea that was the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service. I have not heard legitimate calls for the resignation of the finance minister as was common in the past in recent years.
He is highly regarded internationally. Clarke has been a very good steward of the national purse. Under his leadership, our international credit rating has remained positive.
There have been significant improvements in Jamaica's fiscal health. The Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) is finally an independent entity with the charge to, among other things, focus on inflation like a laser beam. This is a best practice in responsible Western, liberal democracies.
Consider this: The BOJ reported last month that our gross international reserves, as of November 17, 2021, totalled approximately US$4.7 billion. The best position we have been in since we gained political independence in 1962.
This is good management by any objective measure.
A fair assessment of Dr Christopher Tufton must, of course, centre greatly on his management of the ongoing pandemic. Any dispassionate measurement will reveal that the Ministry of Health and Wellness which Dr Tufton leads started on a high in relation to the management of the crisis. This high was maintained for the first few months following the landing of the coronavirus on our shores on March 10, 2020. Recall, Jamaica received glowing commendations regionally and internationally.
Tufton's preparations for the second surge in coronavirus infections was weak, however. But he redeemed himself with the good management of the third wave. I believe his seemingly unflappable style of leadership is suited to the present health crisis.
His management of the country's health apparatus has been generally good, but the great national embarrassment of Cornwall Regional Hospital and its ever-changing completion timetable is major blotch.
Simultaneously, though, the construction of several new health clinics and very significant upgrades to dozens of clinics and several major hospitals islandwide cannot be ignored.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange is running in fifth position, as I see it. With little fanfare she has been making a very positive mark.
The ministry's Women's Entrepreneurship Support (WES) Project, in which women in medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs) receive $100,000 to assist with the sustainability and expansion of their businesses is a good move.
The Women's Centre of Jamaica Foundation's (WCJF) Advancing Secondary, Tertiary Remedial Education for Adolescent Mothers (A-STREAM) Programme has seen considerable growth under Grange's leadership since it was instituted in 2018. The A-STREAM programme provides sponsorships and mentoring for adolescent mothers enrolled in the WCJF to ensure that they, along with the fathers, can complete their secondary education and advance to tertiary studies.
The implementation of the Jamaican Athletes Insurance Plan in 2016, after years of mouthing by previous administrations, was a big deal. That facility has been appreciably expanded over the last 12 months.
Grange's unflagging support for entertainment and culture is very difficult to dispute. Good going, so far.
Education, Youth and Information Minister Fayval Williams has one of the hardest jobs in the Cabinet at this time. Notwithstanding the unprecedented circumstances, I believe she has done a decent job so far. I rank her as the sixth-best performer in the Holness Cabinet.
Last month's resumption of face-to-face learning in 376 of the island's 759 primary schools has gone tremendously well from the reports that I have seen. This was an absolutely necessary move for children, especially in the rural parts.
Williams' ministry, along with partners, from home and abroad has distributed thousands of tablets and other devices to facilitate online classes.
Her ministry has also helped with the provision of satellite Internet in dozens of mostly rural schools.
Notwithstanding the ministry's best effort, I think, it is going to be many years before Jamaica's children close/overcome an estimated 1.3 billion in-class hours lost over 20 months of physical school closures as reported in sections of the media. When the pandemic ends, it is going to take a Herculean effort on the part of every well-thinking Jamaican to overcome this staggering deficit.
Our most vulnerable children who are severely disadvantaged as regard access to remote education have been hit the hardest. They will require special interventions and national support if we are to prevent the loss of an entire generation, or more.
Outside of crime, I think addressing the learning loss as a consequence of the pandemic will be Jamaica's number one challenge for the foreseeable future.
I believe Williams' contemplative style of leadership is well suited for these times of great trials and tribulations. Education needs someone with a long view of where education and training need to be situated for the next 50 to 100 years. I think Williams, in the year she has been at the helm of the Heroes' Circle-based ministry, has shown some inclinations in that direction.
The introduction of coding in schools is also a sizeable feather in her hat. And the recent launch to signal the beginning of the implementation of a seven-year high school programme this academic year is a move in the right direction.
I am flabbergasted that some who benefited from seven years of high school are among those who are most vehemently opposed to a programme that will mean two additional years of high school for students who complete grade 11 and want alternative opportunities alongside the traditional sixth-form Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE) curriculum. It seems some folks are intent on pulling up the educational ladder as soon they get to the top.
For me, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Daryl Vaz is the 7th best performer in the Cabinet. His ministry has facilitated the provisioning of satellite Internet in just under 100 rural schools. I gather initiatives for the funding of a national broadband network, which will cost in the region of US$250 million, are advanced. If all Jamaicans get access to fast and reliable Internet service by 2025, as the Administration is setting out to provide, this will be a game changer.
Under Vaz's leadership some 600 unattached youth were presented with certificates of completion for training in information technology last month. The initiative to improve the traffic ticketing system to update payment and warrant records in real time and the work of Vaz's ministry to also expand high-speed fibre connectivity outside of the Kingston Metropolitan Area, and to connect the remaining courts, is already bearing some good fruits. The approval of the new electricity regulations by Parliament last year is a good move. The new rules will facilitate modernisation and efficiency in the sector.
Minister of Industry, Investment, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries Audley Shaw is the 8th best performer in the Cabinet, as I see it.
Admittedly, much of the good work of Floyd Green, the former minister of agriculture and fisheries, has been inherited by Shaw.
His $100 million of support for farmers to offset high fertilisers prices is a major positive for small farmers. His recent moves to re-purpose the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) are late; but, as they say, better late than never.
Foreign currency investment holdings, as a proportion of total investments, increased to 33.0 per cent at the end of April 2021 from 30.4 per cent at the end of April 2020, according to BOJ figures. Jamaicans are registering new companies in record numbers and incentives for small and micro businesses are being increased under his ministry's Priority Investment Project launched two months ago.
If Holness is to maintain his political salt he needs to 'crack the whip' and rein in those in his Cabinet who seem to be on a frolic of their own, and others who are not up to the task of ministerial management.
Next week, I will turn the floodlight on the low scorers in the team, say who should be demoted, and what I think a reconfigured Cabinet should look like.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.