Golding too Good to be True?
Published: Sunday | May 4, 2008

Hard-core tribalists feel their party can do no wrong, and the other side no right. Criticism of their team or praise of the opponents - no matter how justified by the facts - is unmitigated bias.

But to non-diehards, it's usually no better herring, no better barrel. Wearing orange or green does not make a politician better or worse. The important thing is to swap them every 10 years or so. And honest commendation or blame must be based on actual performance, not party allegiance.

Now, even the most partisan comrades must be disheartened by the current state of affairs in the People's National Party (PNP).

Needs to unite

On the one hand, you have the light bulb scandal, the still unresolved Trafigura affair, and the massive uncovered wastages at the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) and the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA).

On the other, we see finance spokesman Omar Davies and general secretary Peter Bunting and Opposition leader Portia Simpson Miller contradicting each other on free health and education in their budget debate speeches.

And then, there's Peter Phillips publicly answering the question of whether he will challenge for the party leadership with a resounding "Not yet".

Is this any way to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the country's oldest political organisation?

For the sake of Jamaican democracy, the PNP needs to unite around a strong, competent leader and, as Maxine Henry-Wilson put it, purge itself of even the hint of corruption. The last thing this country needs is another unelectable opposition like we had in the 1990s. For unchallenged governments too often degenerate into corrupt ones.

This eight-month-old Labourite regime probably deserves a preliminary passing grade of about seven out of 10.

It has carried out the election manifesto free health and education promises, and exposed a good deal of wastage and corruption. And some ministers, like Ed Bartlett in tourism and Mike Henry in transport, have really hit the ground running.

But the JLP has been just as useless as the PNP on the country's biggest problem - crime. Can anyone think of a single positive thing the new security minister has said or done since assuming the portfolio?

Passion for the people

Right now, Prime Minister Bruce Golding seems more popular than his party. Moves like having House committees chaired by the Opposition and allocating $23 million to set up an office for the Opposition leader are showing him to be man of his word.

His uncompromising stands on things such as the allegedly unlawful Riu Hotel fourth floor, are making a mockery of the old 'He's an indecisive flip-flopper' taunt.

While on his popular Jamaica House Live monthly call-in show, he comes across as very humane and down to earth.

As someone said to me after Wednesday's programme, unless this man is an academy award actor, it's obvious he has a genuine passion for helping people.

My vox pops garnered one common reaction to Golding's recent budget speech - "The man know what him talking 'bout!"

And even his critics admit that when this prime minister speaks on an issue, you feel he is as well-informed on the subject as it is possible to be.

Listening to the woes facing the country - massive debt burden, soaring oil prices, worldwide food shortages - I personally felt reassured to have a man of his intellectual calibre in charge. Anyone can sail a ship in calm waters. But when the seas get stormy, you want the best available captain at the tiller.

Ignoring crime

Given the untoward world situation, this budget was probably as good a balance of targeted social welfare and responsible national accounting as could be expected.

Some even say Golding sounded a bit like a fiscally responsible Michael Manley. But once more Golding inexplicably ignored the elephant in the room - crime - devoting less than one out of 29 pages to it. And that one page was basically a collection of clichés we've heard many times before.

Crime is so obviously the biggest issue on Jamaicans' minds that when Don Anderson takes polls nowadays, he asks "Other than crime, what is the greatest problem facing the country?" This is hardly surprising, considering that our world-leading murder rate shows no signs of declining.

When the then opposition JLP rolled out its much ballyhooed MacMillan plan, it castigated the governing PNP for being gutless on crime. It was not a lack of resources that was the problem, the Labourites loudly proclaimed, but a lack of political will.

They listed 33 measures that would cost no money and promised to push them through parliament as soon as they got into power. So why are the media not holding the JLP to its word? Are the promised measures being put in place? And if not, why not?

Still a mystery

The argument that our politicians can't do anything about crime is sheer nonsense.

Look at Colombia. Since Alvaro Uribe came to power on a get-tough platform six years ago, murder and kidnappings have plummeted.

If they can do it, why can't we? Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime - that should be the national mantra.

Yet, Golding is hardly alone in his see-and-hear-and-say-no-evil approach. Why none of our politicians will address crime with the seriousness it deserves is one of this country's innumerable mysteries.

Commanding respect

One striking aspect of the budget debate was the unchallenged respect the prime minister commands from his peers. There was much jeering during the other presentations.

But during Golding's speech, as a friend put it, "Not a dog bark!"

A telling moment came during the finance minister's summing up speech, when Audley Shaw, Omar Davies, Mike Henry, and Peter Phillips all got into heated argument and Speaker Delroy Chuck seemed almost to have lost control of the House.

Then Golding got up, made an apposite point about Standing Order procedures, and everyone calmed down. It was like a father quieting a quarrelsome group of children.

Golding increasingly comes across as if he's been preparing for this job all his life.

Indeed, when you compare his decisive clarity to other English-speaking leaders like America's inarticulate George Bush, Canada's bland Stephen Harper, and even Britain's dithering Gordon Brown, well, it seems to me Jamaica has a world-class prime minister.

Now, history is not kind to man on horseback leadership, for democracy and personality cults go ill together. So it's a touch worrying to see many people investing all their hopes about the country's immediate future in Golding, the individual.

And if he truly believes what he's often said publicly about the dangers of egoism, he's probably aware of the potential problem himself.

But it can be difficult not to get carried away with yourself when you're riding high on a wave of public acclaim. Was there a hint of patting himself on the back in Golding's "I sound good eeh?" remark during his budget speech?

Perhaps, fortunately, for the nation he has a wife of many years. As Mark Twain once said "A man may be unaware of his faults, but not if he is married."

Not another let-down

Golding clearly has the potential to be one of Jamaica's greatest prime ministers. The downside is that if he disappoints, voters here will become even more cynical.

A friend remarked to me recently that Golding just seemed too good to be true, and this scared him.

Because he was afraid of building his hopes up high, only to see them dashed to Earth again, as they have so often been by politicians.

For the sake of the country, let's all hope Golding does not turn out to be just another sweet-mouth-talk let-down.

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