31 May 2009

Gaming the System

John Maxwell

If you don't believe that Jamaica is a suffocatingly small country consider this: I was at school with the fathers of three of the four JLP candidates who were foreign nationals when they contested the most recent general elections.
I was at Calabar with Peter Fakhouri, father of Shahine Robinson and at Jamaica College with Douglas Vaz and Desmond Mair.
In a letter to the Editor earlier this week I said believed that the Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal were wrong when they decided that voters had not thrown away their votes when they voted for people who they were warned were not qualified to be elected. I need to withdraw that opinion and apologise for not having paid proper attention to what the judges actually decided..
According to the judges, the voters were entitled to believe the then
Director of Elections when he vehemently and quite erroneously, assured voters that they could ignore the PNP's warnings on the subject. As the law stands, the voters need to be unambiguously certain that they are voting for a candidate who is unqualified before they can be judged to have thrown their votes away.
There was no way they could be assured of the actual situation in time to do much about it.
What is sad and unforgiveable is that such a situation could have arisen at all.

Caveat Emptor

    The problem faced by the judges was not simply between the interest of the candidates, but with the public interest, and since they were dealing with the votes of tens of thousands ofd people they would have been remiss, as I must admit, to disqualify candidates and to install in their places people who did not win a majority of votes.
The cases have opened a serious can of worms, because the constitution and the Represenation of the People Act (ROPA) clearly never envisaged such a situation.
We need to revise the constitution and the ROPA to make sure that the people are not let down by a system which failed in its due diligence to guarantee that the
Director of Elections was actually qualified for the post and failed in other ways to ensure fair and decisive elections.
The revisions also need to protect the public interest against the possibility of innocent or wilful misunderstanding of who is and is not eligible to vote or to be elected for any office subject to electoral choice.
When my own father was disqualified in an election petition 75 years ago it was because a judge decided that he was too poor and did not pay sufficient taxes to be elected a member of the then Jamaican parliament. The man he thrashed was declared elected in his stead. My father, according to lying testimony accepted by the judge, was not a taxpayer of sufficient weight. N.W Manley, who represented the successful petitioner, was nonetheless saddened that the law should be able to deprive people of their preferred choice simply because the man they chose was judged to be too poor to represent them.
Fortunately for my father his opponent collapsed and died soon after the judicial decision and whatever deficiencies existed in his papers were corrected for the ensuing bye election, which like the first, he won by a landslide. His opponents said my grandmother had worked a little obeah on his behalf!
Members of the Jamaican parliament wield tremendous power over the lives and destinies of everyone in this country. As I said earlier, I went to school with the fathers of three of the four affected MPs and I don't consider them to be either wicked or dangerous. But the point is not whether we can trust Messrs. Vaz, Mair and Mrs Robinson. The question is what we will do when someone unscrupulous discovers this backdoor to power and decides to exploit it. What would happen if Mr Mark Rich or Mr Derepaska were to plant a mole or two for the next election?
In curing the present defects we will need the goodwill and good faith of all members of parliament and of the electorate who must be part of the decision and the cure..
But is it realistic to expect that this parliament will move to cure its own deficiencies and, in the process, lose its majority?

Practical men

The world is full of practical men and Jamaica seems to be cursed with more than our fair share.
One product of the practical men is that towering white elephant known variously as the Forum hotel and the Adventure Inn which has sat, balefully mouldering, for nearly forty years, near Port Henderson at the western edge of Kingston harbour. In the 80s Mr Seaga bought this totally useless lump of concrete, glass and steel from the developers, the Matalons, and our taxes are paying for this and other mistakes of the practical men.
We do not understand that even if an investment is made by the private sector as the Forum was, we Jamaicans eventually must pay for it in a variety of ways, by increased interest on money borrowed by the state, on lowered bond ratings, in loss of alternative employment for capital, and so on.
The practical men are even now advancing the plan for the Nauru-isation of Jamaica. Some of us have known for years that Jamaica west of the Wag Water, is essentially half bauxite and half limestone and this fact, newly discovered by practical men, gives us licence to dig down and despoil our landscape in search of foreign exchange.
The Prime Minister made an important statement recently but one which I am afraid, will be ignored by the practical men of the press and the battalions of the MBAs. Mr Golding advised us to look to agriculture for our future prosperity, to seek opportunities to add value.
I have been in the Netherlands for the past six months and I cringe when I see all round me, evidence of opportunities lost by Jamaica because of the demands of practical men.
In the Amsterdam street markets and supermarkets you will find the tubers we call coco (taro, eddo etc) which have an assured market because they are hypoallergenic food; they can be consumed by people who are allergic to all kinds of other things. Some Jamaicans call it 'hog-food'. Our practical men want to sell bananas and sugar, while the Costa Ricans, Panamanians, Moroccans, Turks and others are making lots of money selling five or six kinds of melons, pomegranates, peppers,custard apples, mangoes, pumpkins, yams and all kinds of fruit grown better and tastier in Jamaica. The mangoes and avocados are especially pathetic. Jamaican sorrel is imported from the US.
Fifty-two years ago, in a column in Public Opinion (go look it up) I proposed that we should transform our fruit exports by ripening them in Jamaica and shipping them by air freight to pinpointed markets in Europe, getting rid of Elders & Fyffes, refrigerated steamships and ripening rooms and long distance rail and road haulage which produced wealth for English workers and merchants.
Guess what? Lots of the exquisite honeydew and other melons and other fruit on sale in Amsterdam have most of their value added where they are grown and are flown to pinpointed markets in Europe ready for consumption.
If we were to turn Trelawny's sugar estates into fruit growing cooperatives I believe we would from one parish, earn as much as all Jamaican agriculture does now.
But I said more or less the same 52 years ago. In between then and now we destroyed the JAS, the Agricultural Extension Services, the Farm School, the Agricultural experimental stations and the idea that farming was a means of growing wealth and building prosperous and peaceful communities.
Meanwhile the practical men tell us: forget about sports, militarise the youth and dig down the countryside.
If we had had Environmental Impact Assessments in 1972 we probably would not now be paying for the white elephant at Port Henderson. On the other hand we had EIAs in 1999 and yet we have the Doomsday Highway and pretty soon, all of Treasure Beach will be under water courtesy of the National Works Agency and NEPA..
That just tells you what is possible when the law is not a shackle!
Copyright ©2009 John Maxwell

No comments: