Thu | Mar 21, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | Low-energy Throne Speech

Published:Monday | February 18, 2019 | 2:00 AM
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen delivering the Throne Speech in Gordon House last week.

Not even the governor general seemed convinced about what he had been given to read in Parliament last Thursday. If there had been an altar call after his low-energy presentation, few would have responded.

For instead of outlining “the policy agenda for the Executive and the general direction of the Government”, more than half of the tedious, hour-long Throne Speech was a regurgitation and apologia for everything the majority party claims to have done.

This year’s legislative agenda for the Parliament was the minor part.

Who wrote it anyway? For this was a political stump speech with endless ‘forwards’ from the very people who display frenzied delight to hear themselves congratulated by themselves. Could somebody please tell them that pleasuring yourself is unproductive in politics, too.

After the years of austerity, I went there, in this the fourth year of the current administration, to hear the confirmation of the solemn promise made to the people of central Kingston and elsewhere, that in this budget year of grace, five per cent inclusive, sustainable GDP (gross domestic product) growth would be realised. Instead, we are being asked to stomach a measly 1.5 percent, which Nigel Clarke says we must appreciate because, after all, it is more than it used to be.

Really? Not even the two per cent, which Andrew Holness latterly redefined as the new development threshold?

So where in the Budget are the “blessings” and “hope” (Sir Patrick Allen, I am quoting you) for the majority of people who are at the mercy of the $140 (current US exchange rate), wondering what the squatter survey will do for them and how the minimum wage or PATH pittance will stretch?

Sir, “Reespeck!” But you sounded like Queen Victoria, whose Jamaican throne you now sit on, when she advised the landless and unemployed Jamaican underclass in 1865. Who then, as now, could be arrested and many killed without cause, to work industriously, remain peaceful, count the blessings bestowed by the Raj (white or black, local or foreign, martial law or chronic state of emergency, does it really matter?) and wait on Jesus’ advent for a decent life.

And please, Sir, following your own advice to take this Throne Speech seriously, what is the substance of your appeal for “partnership to build a new Jamaica” when it is abundantly clear that this Government has no intention of listening to anyone but themselves?

WHAT ABOUT CORRUPTION?

Listen to the words, look at the figures.Agriculture, which is supposed to be the engine of prosperity: three paragraphs of coverage and less real resources than before. Audley Shaw looked wan and bored through it all.

Platitudes regarding the National Housing Trust; not a word about the long-promised regeneration of the inner cities where crime breeds and no amount of aeroplanes and boats can affect.

Education: recurrent flat and capital slashed. No mention of curbing the oppressive financial system which rifles poor pockets to engorge those few who masquerade as our economic saviours.

It is 45 minutes into the presentation: most members of parliament have taken refuge in their telephones, emerging to clap on cue; others to sulk or jibe.

Partnership? Is so it set...

Robert Montague has begun to intone “Second term, second term”. He will repeat this incessantly to ensure that we all know what this occasion is really about.

There is not a word about corruption. How could there be?

The good thing is that there is more money for the Integrity Commission, INDECOM, micro-credit and small-scale tourism.Great, too, the allocation for rural water, farm roads and the promise of regulation of tobacco, alcohol and teachers.

But one had hoped for so much more, what with the bouyant revenues and the hyperbolic public relations.

This Government, like so many before it, is caught within a web of entropy, where the ineffective elements of State structures and bureaucracy crowd out programmes (like vastly expanded work and resocialisation for youth), which could really make a difference and where the unquestioned imperatives of the political cycle squash creative destruction and radical change.

But ceremonial, it all surely was. Prayers for the Royal Family and all.

But I left thinking of the Roman ruling class who used to give the serfs and slaves bread and circus to keep them quiet and persuade them that they were part of a “prosperity train”.

By contrast, we are long on the circus but short on the bread!

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