The Jamaican electorate is not infallible. But in my view it has gotten the big picture mostly correct since 1962 and always voted the right party into power. Certainly we were fortunate to have a pragmatist like Bustamante lead us into independence. For by sticking to the tried and true we likely escaped the economic disaster that befell many new nations who put their trust in theoretically attractive but completely untested socialist theories.


By allowing the JLP to continue its policies in 1967, voters allowed a sound financial base to be established. But high growth rates had been accompanied by endemic corruption and dangerously high economic disparities. And the quite justified election of Michael Manley in 1972 set two important precedents. It showed Jamaicans are not comfortable with one party holding power for too long. And in voting out Hugh Shearer Jamaica passed democracy’s most important test, proving to itself and the world that it could change leaders peacefully.


Some say the country might have been better off if the PNP had lost in 1976 and not gotten the chance to drag us into an impoverishing ideological battle. But socialism is a sort of political measles, a disease which almost every country catches sooner or later. And luckily Jamaica got it after building up enough economic immunity to prevent our attack from being democratically fatal.


Edward Seaga was undoubtedly the right choice in 1980. For Michael Manley proved to even die hard leftists and himself that however attractive socialism may be in theory, it is a disaster in practice. As the old joke goes, men will die for their country but they are not willing to work for it.


Many cite then and now crime and growth figures as proof that we would have done better to leave the JLP in power in 1989. Yet for all its mistakes the PNP has presided over a profound yet peaceful transformation, and has to its credit overseen a shift of the Jamaican economic climate from heavily controlled statism to market driven globalization without any real social disruptions. In 1989 suitcases were searched for foreign currency and motor car licenses were strictly controlled. Now funds can be electronically transferred around the globe and cars are almost too easily available.


As the self-styled ‘poor people’s party’ and the leftist intellectuals’ choice, the PNP was able to implement necessary but painful policies which if carried out by the ‘big man party’ JLP might have led to the kind of scenes witnessed recently in Argentina and Venezuela. And the electorate was likely wise in 1993 and 1997 to allow the PNP to see through the tricky undertaking it had begun. True the job might have been done better, but it could also have been done a lot worse. And though he might be unpopular now, future historians will probably rank Omar Davis as one of our better finance ministers.


One thing Jamaicans have never done is grant any leader three consecutive terms, and the so far unerring Stone polls suggest that this pattern will probably be upheld in the next election. Certainly P.J. Patterson’s government is giving Jamaicans very good reasons not to re-elect it. For its performance so far in 2002 has been a painful comedy of errors.


It really seems some sort of cruel joke that after Netserv and Operation Pride squandered hundreds of millions, the cash strapped Jamaica Tourist Board had 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 indisciplined ministry cost the country at least a billion dollars, he continues to trumpet his innocence and lack of repentance. This in effect accuses the Angus Commission, which was appointed by his own party leader, of being biased and corrupt. The words transparency and accountability obviously mean nothing to Dr. Blythe, and he 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. By not disassociating themselves completely from Dr. Blythe’s dangerous ravings his PNP colleagues are only allowing a bad situation for their party to get worse. For many Jamaicans now shudder at the thought of the PNP winning re-election and maybe bringing back into cabinet a man who patently believes only in government of the Blythe by the Blythe for the Blythe supporters.


The most entertaining minister of the year award must go to Bobby Pickersgill. Only a man with a wonderful sense of the absurd could watch his predecessors spend over five years trying to pave the road from Mobay to Negril and yet publicly promise that within a year Jamaica will be pothole free. Of course the North Coast Highway is itself 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? The piece de resistance was surely the digging up of a just paved – after 5 years! - section of this highway to allow water pipes to be laid. What a textbook example of how not to co-ordinate.


A few years ago when labour party members were constantly shooting themselves in the foot and stabbing each other in the back I trembled at the thought of the JLP 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 speak amiably and when to shut up. To be sure we hear a lot more about what the PNP is going wrong than about what the JLP would do to put things right. Yet this is beginning not to matter. For this government’s performance (especially since my water is off nearly every night) 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 traveling in a stage-coach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position and be bruised in a new place.”


But it is the Jamaican people who will decide, and no doubt correctly once more.

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