Lord Acton’s dictum about absolute power corrupting absolutely is probably the most quoted cliché in politics and quite rightly so, because holding too much power for too long eventually makes even honest men lazy and arrogant.

One clear lesson of history is that leaders rarely do much good after 10 years or so in power, and often do a great deal of harm. Many countries try to protect themselves against this possibility by incorporating term limits in their constitutions. But in mature and healthy democracies term limits are usually superfluous, for when allowed a free and fair choice voters rarely let anyone hold sway over their futures for more than ten years at a time.


Britain for instance has elected leaders for longer than anyone else, and only Lord Liverpool (1812-1827) and Margaret Thatcher (1979-1980) have held continuous power for more than a decade. And Mrs. Thatcher’s popularity collapsed so badly in her 11th year that out of sheer concern for their own necks her party colleagues swiftly replaced her with someone who had a chance of being re-elected.  


Now while the Jamaican electorate has made some mistakes over the years, in my opinion it has always gotten the big picture right. Indeed an objective historian would be inclined to say that we have voted the right party into power in every election. Some argue that perhaps it would have been better for Jamaica if the PNP had lost the 1976 election and not gotten the chance to drag the country into an ideological battle that almost impoverished us. But socialism is like measles – it is a disease which almost every country is going to catch eventually and better to get it earlier rather than later and so eliminate it from the system. Certainly Michael Manley ended all arguments as to whether capitalism is the best economic system for this country or not, proving to even die hard leftists that while socialism is very attractive in theory it is a disaster in practice. For as the old joke goes, men will die for their country but they are not willing to work for it.


One thing Jamaicans have never done is grant any leader three consecutive terms in office. If one believes the so far unerringly accurate Stone polls this pattern will be upheld in the next election, and the PNP is definitely giving Jamaicans very good reasons not to vote for them. For the government’s performance so far in 2002 can only be described as a comedy of errors, or at least it would be a comedy if the consequences for us Jamaicans weren’t so painful.


It really seems some sort of cruel joke that after hundreds of millions have been squandered on Netserv and Operation Pride the Jamaica Tourist Board would be so cash strapped as to have to pull all overseas advertising. Can you imagine how much scarce foreign exchange this blunder cost us? And instead of vowing to punish whoever messed up and promising never to let it happen again, tourist minister Portia Simpson abrogated all responsibility by saying she didn’t wish to get into any ‘kass kass’. Apparently Ms. Simpson and her colleagues Phillip Paulwell, Colin Campbell and Karl Blythe are all disciples of Shaggy and not Harry Truman, having rejected ‘the buck stops here’ in favour of ‘it wasn’t me’.


Dr. Blythe is in a class of himself. Despite an official report showing that his high handed attitude to public finances cost the country at least a billion dollars, he continues to trumpet his complete innocence and lack of repentance daily. This in effect accuses the Angus Commission, which was appointed by his own party leader, of being biased and corrupt. Dr. Blythe apparently thinks it impertinent for any of his actions to be questioned, even when there was clear evidence of conflict of interest. And he boasts of bypassing the bureaucracy which was put in place precisely to prevent the kind of waste which happened under his watch from occuring.


Dr. Blythe seems to be completely unfamiliar with the words transparency and accountability, and clearly rejects any notion of checks and balances. His idea of government boils down to ‘Trust me, I’m always right.” Frankly it is populist demagoguery of the worst sort to claim that wasting a billion dollars of tax payers money ultimately benefited the poor. Personally I find it strange that his PNP colleagues allow him to continue ranting and raving, for he is only making a bad situation worse. Every time I hear him talk these days I shudder to think what would happen if the PNP won re-election and he was brought back into the cabinet. For this is a man who obviously believes only in government of the Blythe by the Blythe for the Blythe supporters.


The most entertaining minister of the year award however must go to Bobby Pickersgill. Only a man with a wonderful sense of the absurd could watch his ministry spend over five years trying to fix a 100 mile stretch of road and then publicly promise that within a year Jamaica will be pothole free. But of course the North Coast Highway itself is a source of endless hilarity. Who – except those poor souls who have had to travel this gravel trail daily since 1997 - can fail to burst into laughter whenever yet another completion date is mentioned? Yet the piece de resistance was surely the announcement that a just completed 20 mile section of this highway will have to be dug up this month to allow water pipes to be laid - another textbook example really, of how not to co-ordinate government ministries.


A few years ago when the labour party was constantly shooting itself in the foot and its members were continually stabbing each other in the back I used to tremble at the thought of a JLP administration running this country. However they seem more or less united these days and are behaving reasonably sensibly - Mr. Seaga even seems to be learning how to keep his mouth shut. But while the labour shadow cabinet is forever telling us what the PNP is going wrong, we still hear very little of what the JLP would do to put things right. And yet this is beginning not to matter. For this government’s performance of late increasingly brings to mind Washington Irving’s remark


“There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse; as I have found in travelling in a stage-coach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position and be bruised in a new place.” changkob@hotmail.com

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