From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, the Conservative Party in the UK enjoyed a run as the governing party – first with Margaret Thatcher at the helm and John Major by the time its run ended. The runs of both Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party ended because folks had grown tired of both and for other reasons. That Major succeeded Thatcher made no difference to the electorate who decided that Tony Blair and the restructured, reformed and, otherwise, reformulated Labour Party was now deserving of their support.
In Jamaica, we’ve had something of a parallel except that it was the PNP that had served for the longest time, 1989-2007, and had worn out its welcome. In early September 2007, the JLP finally won a general election with Bruce Golding at its helm but that is where a comparison with what happened in the UK is likely to end. For, whereas in the UK, the Labour Party is looking at an almost 15+ yr run in power, the JLP might be lucky to win another term when the next scheduled election happens in 2012 (if not before).
So, in this instance, the most logical question to ask is: how did this come to be? How is it that a party that has been in the wilderness for so long and had become so effective as an Opposition party, with a leader that had talked about being different and transformational, seemingly become so normal once he and his party became the government? Bruce, what happened to you and the JLP?
It is no secret that when the JLP, led by Bruce Golding, won the general election in September 2007, they would be taking over a Jamaica that had been wrecked by the PNP governments of P.J. Patterson and Portia Simpson-Miller. The Jamaican economy under the PNP averaged barely one per cent economic growth per annum for the 18 years they were in power. Government became big and bloated and crime soared. The changes that should have been implemented to seriously address and, otherwise, fix the problems of state were never done and corruption seemingly became more entrenched and ingrained in government and governance.
The JLP came into office determined to tackle crime and corruption and to get the economy growing at a more robust rate than it had been when the PNP was in power. So far, the results have not been encouraging and with this global economic meltdown, the results, possibly for the next two years, are not promising to be so rosy either. The problem is that you basically have around two years, at best, in which to get the economy growing at around a five per cent-or-better rate to improve your re-election chances.
Mother Nature has not been too big a help but when you’re located in the tropics that’s something you just have to live with. We know that other countries in the tropics elsewhere have experienced remarkable economic growth even when they have had to deal with hurricanes, typhoons and other natural disasters and we don’t hear the moans or are offered excuses for why their economies don’t grow as they should or as their folks expect. Why should Jamaica be different? Why should this government keep referring to the state of the economy they inherited from the PNP-led government? Everyone and their momma knew what you were being given once you took over from the PNP, so why act like it’s all new to you?
Most Jamaicans with half a brain can tell you what should be done to turn things around. In editorials and columns in both The Gleaner and the Observer newspapers and elsewhere, there have been calls for bold and decisive leadership from the government and the Opposition on crime, education, corruption and cronyism in government and its respective agencies, business and on the allocation of resources to help Jamaicans improve and better their lives.
So far, there have been no bold and decisive leadership and/or political will from both the government and the Opposition. There have been some individuals within both major parties and elsewhere in society who have proposed some creative and worthy ideas about addressing the problems but they’re not in positions of leadership.
It’s easy for government supporters and its apologists to claim that governing with a small majority and having your legitimacy questioned because of the citizenship status of some of your members will cause you to govern rather tentatively. To that I say, ‘Bunk.’
Jamaicans are clamoring for true leadership from its elected representatives and they deserve it. Not the spin, lies and obfuscation that has come to define government.
People want to feel engaged and feel as if government has their best interests in mind when it undertakes any actions. In turn, the government needs to find a better way to communicate its actions and intentions to show why and how they’ll benefit the wider society. This means getting someone to effectively convey your message and policies and explain your actions. Don’t just express your disgust at crime and your indignation at corruption but do something bold, decisive and concrete about both problems. Voting to retain hanging is not it!
Don’t criticize the PNP about the size of government and then, upon forming the government, continue with a bloated government structure. You have to do the three ‘Rs’ with, and to, government: reform, restructure and reduce. Dismiss ministers who are not doing their jobs effectively. The days of rewarding long-time supporters with ministerial positions should be over. Appoint folks who have exhibited and continue to exhibit a creative thought process in getting things done even if it means having to have a majority of younger folks running the ministries.
Bruce, by doing these things, you can and will be seen as the different and transformational leader you have talked about being. You also would have established a template and foundation for the type of good government and governance that you and the Jamaican people have been clamoring for and you would have left a legacy that others would envy.
It is possible that this JLP government will only serve one term and be voted out of office. That said, if they were to introduce, adopt and implement these measures, they would have accomplished more in one term than the PNP did in the four terms it governed prior. The biggest beneficiaries: the Jamaican people and democracy.