Opposition Leader Mark Golding is seemingly not impressed with the Cabinet recalibrations announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, slamming the reshuffle as useless.
Golding, speaking at a People’s National Party (PNP) press conference on Tuesday (January 11), said the poor attempt at damage control couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Government as it struggles to control simultaneously rampant crime and coronavirus (COVID-19) waves.
“It really is a fairly trivial exercise because if you ask yourself the question ‘Will it lead to better healthcare outcomes?’, the answer is ‘No’. If you ask the question, ‘Will it lead to a better response to the crisis in education caused by the pandemic and chronic problems facing the education system long before the pandemic?’, the answer is ‘No’. When you ask yourself ‘Will it address the crisis in crime and violence in the country?’, the answer is ‘No’,” Golding said.
Golding was particularly critical of the ‘superministry’ fashioned by Holness, which merges Information with the expansive Economic Growth and Job Creation portfolio under the helm of the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
The new ‘superministry’, led by Holness himself, also sees the appointment of six portfolio-less ministers—all without clear direction or purpose, according to the PNP leader.
“But I have some objections to it, in addition to those fundamental points… The Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation are together a superministry comprising the prime minister himself and six ministers without portfolio. With no clear structure or mandate,” he argued.
“It used to be the place to house the geriatric politicians who refuse to go home. It is now the ‘naughty corner’ to park former ministers who have disgraced the Government,” Golding added.
Perpetuating Golding’s sentiment is the OPM appointments of Robert Montague and Floyd Green as ministers without portfolio.
Green, who resigned as Agriculture and Fisheries Minister last year, finds favour in Holness’ Cabinet yet again following the lockdown scandal, while Montague was stripped of the Transport and Mining Ministry after the sagas involving First Rock investments from the Airports Authority of Jamaica (AAJ) and contracts awarded by Clarendon Alumina Partners Limited (CAP).
The jarring and polarising governance method of the Holness Administration is most evident in the maligning of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which remains tethered to the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.
This, Golding added, even as the ministry is yet to produce any tangible results towards same.
“In an era where climate change is recognised as the greatest existential threat to the survival of mankind on Earth, the prime minister insists on keeping NEPA under the ministry that is responsible for delivering high levels of economic growth—albeit that it has failed spectacularly to do so. That is a clear conflict, it is a structural aberration. It is why mining is being allowed in over 2,000 hectares of land in the Cockpit Country area; a unique region vital to the country’s water supply,” the Opposition Leader contended.
“It is why three extensions have been granted to a mining company that was in breach of its permit timeframe for posting the performance bond. This is all in an effort to allow mining in the ecologically sensitive, virgin forests of the Dry Harbour Mountains, which NEPA had originally refused the permit for but that prudent and appropriate decision was later overturned by the prime minister’s representative on appeal,” he said.
Golding also lamented the toothless National Resource Conservation Act (NRCA), which he argued needed steeper penalties. That way, companies “that damage the Jamaican environment”, would be forced to reconsider their toxic habits.
“Sadly, words and deeds are two very different things, very far apart when it comes to environmental protection and the fight against climate change nowadays in Jamaica,” he told members of the media.
The decision to ‘split’ the Ministry of Justice into a separate Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, headed by ex-Attorney-General Marlene Malahoo Forte, was criticised as nonsensical by the Opposition Leader, who surmised Delroy Chuck is left “twiddling his thumbs”.
“It really looks like ‘more jobs for the boys’ at the expense of the taxpayer,” Golding added.
While welcoming the newest Attorney-General, Dr Derrick McCoy, Golding noted the appointment with unease as he cited larger accountability concerns with McCoy not sitting in Parliament.
“This new Attorney-General will not sit in Parliament, and so, he cannot be held accountable to the Jamaican people, even though he is a political appointee who advises the Cabinet on matters that do come to Parliament. This is an unacceptable arrangement…especially at a time when the prime minister has been talking up a storm about constitutional reform,” Golding asserted.
When asked who would have been ‘better’ appointments, the Opposition Leader offered up his own members Angela Brown-Burke, Morais Guy and Peter Bunting to steer the ministries of education, health and national security respectively.
Holness announced his Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, January 10.