Thu | Apr 25, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | Scared and defensive

Published:Monday | December 10, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The Holness administration is as scared of the Petrojam scandal as Trump is of Robert Mueller's Russian interference investigation.

What the auditor general has reported is of the greatest national importance, and yet there is a deliberate effort to frustrate the prompt interrogation of the issues by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament.

The rake is clear. They do not believe in checks and balances. If we quint, Jamaica will lurch into autocracy.

Ask yourself, how would any of this have come to light if the Opposition, not a largely subservient press, had not insisted on answers? When they try to frustrate parliamentary enquiry, it means there is plenty more to hide.

On what basis will the Opposition cooperate in the House of Representatives tomorrow to carry on the dribbling-on-forever, detain-anybody-you-feel state of emergency while this leaking sore in the vital energy sector remains festering?

Their desperate default position is that the inefficiency and 'teefing' at Petrojam is a long-standing cancer, attributable to successive administrations.

How often must we tolerate this intellectual sleight of hand? When something goes well, it is all because of JLP acumen. But when the foolishness of the current policy is uncovered, the line is invariably that it all dates back to the PNP - as if deflection can negate responsibility.

Surely, the principle must be to investigate public affairs thoroughly and to attribute praise and blame fairly, and as a basis for fixing whatever is amiss. That was the approach which Julian Robinson took in response to the auditor general. But now we understand why the Government does not like opposition members to chair parliamentary committees, and why you got the peevish whining at the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee recently.

 

BEST OPPORTUNITY

 

For make no mistake: Right now, the activity of these committees constitutes the best opportunity to create the scrutiny and balance which the prime minister spoke of so eloquently in his inaugural address. Remember that? The nation must insist that Andrew Holness abide by his own commendable standards when he addresses, as he must, the Petroscandal on Tuesday.

But seriously, apart from the atrocious banality of the cake, the concubine, and the state-supported gym fees and more, the public should rise up against a practice where, very probably, our pockets have been, and are still being, pillaged by a pricing mechanism for fuel that is carried out beyond public understanding and scrutiny and includes whatever markup the dominant price-setter chooses to add, not least to satisfy its own loose expenditure, and worse.

This is a corrupt process that is further aggravated by the addition of unexplained payments to fuel marketing companies. The bottom line: Long suspected, now closer to proof, is that every citizen, especially the majority poor, is being exploited by the very State which entered the energy industry supposedly to protect them. That is a self-inflicted travesty.

Hubris is becoming the talisman of this Government. It is born of a winner-takes-all system that operates without the self-restraint and other refining cultural assumptions.

They take every criticism and counsel personally and respond with scorn or abuse. When you hold political power, you have to be willing to listen and deeply and sincerely engage alternative voices if the country is to progress inclusively.

Right now, the public-relations bubble has been burst by the public defender and the auditor general, and the cover-ups unmasked.

One of the most tribal governments in Jamaica's history is running scared and defensive. That does the national cause no good. Did we learn nothing from the Dudus event?

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.