Whither the ESF?

Finance Minister, Audley Shaw has made a revelation which has come as a shock to me. He has told a private sector grouping that money which the then Opposition – of which he is a member- earmarked for use in its One Point Five Million Dollar Tax Relief Plan is not available. He says the Energy Stabilization Fund which was pitched to Jamaica as the receptacle for a special gas tax did not exist or if it does exist there is no money in it.

The special gas tax money instead went into the consolidated fund! It is an open secret that the consolidated fund is like a black hole – everything that goes in is swallowed up – never to be seen again. What with the Education Tax which was meant for use in building the education system going into the consolidated Fund?

This is part of the reason for my shock – this is how the Jamaica Observer captured then Finance Minister’s (Dr. Peter Phillip) announcement about the Energy Stabilization Fund – this was published in that newspaper on the 25th March, 2015.

During the closing of the 2015/16 budget debate Wednesday, Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Peter Phillips announced that the Government will establish an Energy Stabilization Fund to receive and manage the resources generated from the oil hedge programme.

Resources will come from a portion of the additional J$7 per litre of specific Special Consumption Tax (SCT) on petrol – specifically J$5 per litre – as well as any future payment from the hedge contract, should future oil price movements lead to such payments. 

“These resources will flow into a dedicated sub-account in the Bank of Jamaica for the (Energy Stabilization) Fund, which will be administered by the Development Bank of Jamaica in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance,” Dr Phillips informed. 

Minister Phillips said that the resources will be made available to service the cost of implementing the initial hedge transaction, any future hedging, as well as other possible energy stabilisation initiatives, where the resources permit.

This is how RJR quoted then Minister Phillips on the 25th March, 2015 regarding the Energy Stabilization Fund.

“These resources include the proceeds from a portion of the additional seven dollars per litre – specifically five dollars per litre – as well as any future payments from the hedge contract, should future oil price movements lead to such payments,” he explained.

He said the resources targeted will be placed in “a dedicated sub-account,” in the Bank of Jamaica, and will be managed by the Development Bank of Jamaica, “in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance & Planning.”

Unless I am slow at interpreting the near mirror image sentiments expressed above, there should have been a dedicated Energy Stabilization Fund. Into that fund at least $5 out of every $7 per litre of petrol should have been deposited.

  • So where is the dedicated sub-account at the Bank of Jamaica?
  • Where is the dedicated sub-account that the Development Bank of Jamaica should have been managing?
  • How and why did the special gas tax get into the consolidated fund? Who authorized it and who knew of its authorization?
  • Were we told about the movement of the special gas tax into the consolidated fund and did I miss it?
  • Isn’t it the case that money that goes into the consolidated fund is used for recurrent and capital expenditure?
  • Was the special gas tax as placed in the consolidated fund used to shore up the current deal we have with the International Monetary Fund in any way?
  • Did it prop up the primary surplus?
  • Why is it that at no point at all when the JLP in Opposition stated that it would use the surplus in the Energy Stabilization Fund did the then government say there is no Energy Stabilization Fund – the money is in the consolidated Fund?
  • Why is that generally people who should know how the affairs of the country are run, don’t have information they are supposed to have about such important aspects of our financials?
  • How is that Audley Shaw who chaired a crucial committee of parliament looking into these and other matters did not know the seat of the special gas tax?
  • How is it that the then Opposition’s special economic team comprising among others Aubyn Hill and Fayval Williams did not know that there was no surplus and probably no Energy Stabilization Fund?
  • How come?

As to the current government and its promised One Point Million Dollar Tax Relief Plan – sleep not – perhaps death is near.


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A Machiavellian mind

Three women have been included in the cabinet of Andrew Holness. They are:

  • Kamina Johnson Smith – Minister of Foreign affairs & Foreign Trade;
  • Shahine Robinson – Minister of Labour and Social Security ; and
  • Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange – Minister of Entertainment, Sport, Culture & Gender.

Marlene Malaho-Forte who will be Jamaica’s Attorney General is not a member of the cabinet. The Attorney General is a constitutional position. By that instrument, the Attorney is “the principal legal advisor to the government of Jamaica”. She sits in cabinet meetings but is not a member of cabinet.

Law is Malahoo-Forte’s passion. Added to that, this position as AG is an accelerated route to taking silk. She, in short order will be invited to the ranks of Queen’s counsel – a position reserved for Attorneys-at-law who are the pinnacle of their careers and who after more than 10 years of service have distinguished themselves at the Bar.

Fayval Williams, a first time Member of Parliament for Eastern St. Andrew will along with a veteran, Rudyard Spencer serve as State Ministers in the Finance Minister.

Rudyard Spencer in the Bruce Golding years was a Minister of Health. This is the first I am seeing someone who served as a full Minister in one dispensation accepting what must be seen as a big demotion as State Minister in another dispensation. However these are extra-ordinary times. And for Rudyard Spencer to be included in the executive of the Holness administration at this time is an indication that Holness recognizes in a major way the political challenges he may come upon and therefore the need to keep all parties at one.

Big portfolio surprises in the cabinet placement

  1. Robert Montague – Minister of National Security.

This portfolio assignment was totally unexpected. Montague is the Chairman of the Jamaica Labour Party, JLP. It has been said that he has sights on becoming the leader of that party one day.

It may never be admitted but Holness’ move in putting Montgaue in this portfolio, wherein success is as difficult as rolling a boulder uphill, is politically strategic. I have no doubts there are other good reasons for this appointment.

Montague is a hard worker; He has street presence and street credibility and may be able to lift the morale of the police; If he hopes to become leader of the JLP and ultimately Prime Minister he now has a great incentive to work extremely hard. If he can put policies in place to impact crime, he will forever be loved by Jamaicans.

A love for Montague at the moment would translate into love for Holness. However, if Montague were to fail, he would need to say goodbye to any desires he harbours of becoming leader of the JLP. Holness could simply replace him and move to finding another Minister.

Though this be madness, there’s method in it.

  1. Chris Tufton at Health Ministry

Tufton is viewed by many in Jamaica as a good political catch. He is publicly palatable and highly respected – though not equally liked by all. The perceived internal political machinations of the party in getting him an ‘easy seat’ in the lower house of parliament was to increase the executive stock whenever the JLP forms the government. That time is now.

But who would have thought in this portfolio. Health Ministry? Why? A neophyte to matters of health, Dr. Tutfon takes over control of this Ministry when it is crying out for decent and credible leadership following a disastrous period by Dr. Fenton Ferguson.

The assignment of Dr. Tufton to this ministry by Prime Minister Holness, as well as the assignment of Montague to Ministry of National Security originate in a Machiavellian cranium. There is great cunning and political strategy at work – give my greatest challengers the greatest challenges. If they succeed, my stocks will rise as will theirs. If they fail, I will act and cut them down. Theirs stocks will fall, not mine.

  1. Audley Shaw – Ministry of Finance

A promise made by Holness, promise kept. I believe Audley Shaw handled the Finance portfolio well during the time he was minister in 2007 – 2011. The only failing that others point to is the falling apart of the IMF deal which the then JLP administration had entered into.

Dr. Peter Phillips has taken the country through 10 tests designed by the IMF. We have been told that we have passed them all.

Shaw needs to ensure that trend continues to the end of the agreement. Holness knows all too well what failure of any of those quarterly reviews will mean for the country and for his administration.

Shaw continues to have a strong core support of members in the JLP who still fancy that he should lead the party. In being the Finance Minister, he knows that he is also proving himself worthy of their continued support. If he can maintain the IMF programme and if there can be more than anemic growth under his watch as Finance Minister, his stocks will rise, but so too would Holness’.

If he fails to hold the IMF deal together it would be immaterial that the State Minister, Fayval Williams, has been given the responsibility for IMF negotiations. Any failure of the IMF agreement would be a Shaw failure. He would be removed, his stocks would fall, Holness’ stocks would rise as any removal of Shaw would be seen as Holness being accountable to the people of Jamaica.

This game is a win-win for Prime Minister Holness. The successes of his greatest challengers for leadership in the JLP are twinned to their abilities to deliver in the very difficult ministries to which each of them is assigned. The harder they work, the greater the reward for the country and for Holness as Prime Minister. If they succeed they will be admired for their hard work so too will Holness for this politically brilliant strategy – crafted, calculated with great cunning adorned in political brilliance.

More anon.



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My cabinet picks!

These are the people I would love to see in an Andrew Holness cabinet.

The ideal size of a cabinet for me is 15. However, recognizing the potential internal struggle resulting from the thin majority in the house and the need to give as many of the women as possible positions in the executive of the country because they are all very competent, these are my picks – 17 Ministers and 6 State Ministers

  1. Minister of Defence & Climate Change – Andrew Holness;
  2. Minister of Finance, Planning and the Public Service – Audley Shaw; State Minister Fayval Williams;
  3. Minister of & Justice – Delroy Chuck;
  4. Minister of Growth & Information – Daryl Vaz; State Minister Floyd Green;
  5. Minister of Education – Kamina Johnson-Smith (Senator); State Minister Marissa Dalrymple- Philibert;
  6. Minister of Health – Marlene Malahoo-Forte;
  7. Minister of Land, Water, Housing – Dr. Horace Chang; State Minister- Juliet Holness;
  8. Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries – Dr. Chris Tufton; State Minister Alando Terrelonge;
  9. Minister of Industry, Investment & Commerce – Karl Samuda;
  10. Minister of Tourism – Ed Bartlett;
  11. Minister of National Security – Danville Walker (Senator);
  12. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade – Dr Nigel Clarke (Senator)
  13. Minister of Local Government & Labour – Desmond McKenzie;
  14. Minister of Transport & Works- Mike Henry;
  15. Minister of STEM – Robert Montague;
  16. Minister of Youth, Sport, Culture & Entertainment – Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange; State Minister – Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn; and
  17. Minister without portfolio with responsibility for Water, Climate Change & Housing – Shahine Robinson.

Derrick Smith can and should continue to be Leader of Government Business in the house. An assignment Ministry of National Security would not give majority of Jamaicans any confidence in the government. He was Bruce Golding pick in 2007 and he was replaced.

Pearnel Charles is a good politician but his better days are behind him.

Rudyard Spencer was the Heath Minister before. However that portfolio now requires a lot of energy, initiative and a fresh look.

There are some vibrant who I have not included in my pick. They will make for a healthy back bench.

I would also love Audrey Marks in the Senate and also see her occupying a place in the executive. Her experience in business and her role as Ambassador to Washington would be assets that the country would be richer to have more of.

I expect that Ruel Reid will be returned to the Senate. However, I would love to see Kamina Johnson-Smith as Minister of Education. I believe as much as Minister of Information is an important portfolio, her energy would be wasted there when education is so critical and she has had great learning shadowing that portfolio.

More anon.


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Holness’ first pickle – choosing a cabinet

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has the unenviable task of selecting a cabinet. Unenviable because he has the slimmest of margins ever seen after an electoral victory by any political party in Jamaica- 32:31. His party the Jamaica Labour Party, JLP, won by a mere 1 seat majority over the now Oppostion, People’s National Party, PNP.

This is Holness’ pickle – any person who believes he or she should be in the cabinet and who is not selected by Holness, can, by crossing the floor to the Opposition PNP, change the balance of power and force Holness to go back to the polls almost instantly. Needless to say, depending on how soon that happens- if at all, Holness could be, the shortest serving Prime Minister – a title no one is eager to wrest from Donald Sangster.

The second reason his role in selecting a cabinet is unenviable is because he cannot select a large cabinet.

By the constitution, the cabinet cannot be smaller than 12 members. There is however no constitutional maximum. Based on public reaction to previous selections, it seems to be agreed that anything over 16 (my preference is 15), is a large cabinet.

Former Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller in 2012 named a 28-member executive. There were 20 Ministers and 8 State Ministers. The Gleaner reported at one time that that cabinet cost taxpayers close to $200 million per annum, at then rates, in salaries and allowances.

Former Prime Minister, Bruce Golding named 18 Ministers and 8 Ministers of State in 2007. In Mr. Holness’ first and short stint as Prime Minister in October 2011, he named a 17-member Cabinet and 9 junior ministers.

The electorate will not accept that a small cabinet cannot do the job – especially at this time. The last mega size cabinet of Portia Simpson-Miller was not seen as having provided value for money. The explanation at the time from Mrs. Simpson Miller was that she needed a mix of youth and experience so the youth could under-study those with experience. The results are known.

Holness’ greatest challenge now is his success at the polls. Approximately 17 or 18 of the people who were part of the Golding 2007 Cabinet (either as a full Minister or a State Minister) have won their seats on a JLP ticket in 2016. These are: – Andrew Holness, Audley Shaw, Dr. Chris Tufton, Delroy Chuck, Rudyard Spencer, Derrick Smith, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, Pearnel Charles, Mike Henry, Ed Bartlett, Dr. Horace Chang, Karl Samuda, Robert Montague, Daryl Vaz, Everard Warmington, Shahine Robinson, James Robertson.

In 2011 when Holness became Prime Minister after Golding’s resignation, except for James Robertson, all others in Golding cabinet were included in his- then.

All of them are perhaps now expecting to be back as Ministers.

Further we have: Dr Andrew Wheatley, JC Hutchinson, Desmond McKenzie and others I may have missed you were part of the Holness’ shadow cabinet and whose expectation should also be heightened.

If Holness is to grant their wishes, he would have a large cabinet without any of the new, bright and vibrant faces that have been recently elected. These faces include Marlene Malahoo Forte, Fayval Williams, Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, Juliet Holness, Floyd Green, Alando Terrelonge et al.

Additionally the constitution stipulates that at least 2 Ministers and at most 4 must come from the Senate. This is where Kamina Johnson Smith, Ruel Reid, Dr. Nigel Clarke, Aubyn Hill, (and I would strongly suggest Audrey Marks) – would come in.

What a pickle this! Holness’ current situation is #PinnedDown; #UndaPresha.

The cabinet I would like to see coming up next – if I can choose it!

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Election day watch

All the People’s National Party, PNP insiders with whom I have spoken have said if the PNP is going to the polls this year, it will want to go by the latest, the 15th December, 2015. If that is still the thinking, Sunday the 15th day of November, 2015 is a crucial day for all to look to. These are the reasons I believe this day is so crucial.

Countries are run by laws. Jamaica is no different.

The announcement of election date is left to the prerogative of the Prime Minister. That date of announcement has to be within a constitutional term of five years or within a one year extended period if there is a war or natural disaster. The moment the announcement is made, the provisions under the Representation of the People Act, ROPA, kick in.

This means that a Prime Minister has little or no control after making an Election Day announcement. Prime Ministers usually announce the dates for nomination and election at the time of making the announcement. However the calculation of these dates is fixed by law.

ROPA stipulates that nomination day must be at least 5 clear days after the date of announcement – see section 21(1A) of ROPA.

In computing clear days, the day on which the period begins and the day on which the period ends are not included.  The said statute also says nomination day cannot fall on a Sunday or on a public holiday.

Let us see how this would work by way of an example – if the Prime Minister makes an announcement on Sunday the 15th day of November 2015, nomination day must be at the earliest Saturday, the 21st day of November 2015. This is because the announcement day of Sunday, the 15th day of November, 2015 is not included so one begins counting on Monday, the 16th November, 2015.  Friday the 20th November, 2015 would be five days but remember that the day on which the period ends, is excluded. Therefore we need to find a day after Friday, the 20th November. Saturday is not a statutory exempt day as it is not a Sunday neither is it a public holiday. Therefore nomination day could be on Saturday the 21stNovember, 2015.

However I do not recall Jamaica ever having a nomination day on a Saturday. People generally tune out of hard news and use the time to recuperate after a long week. Since nomination day comes with great fanfare, it may be better suited for the first Monday after the 21st November – Monday, the 23rd November, 2015.

The said statute also provides that nomination day has to be at most 7 days after the date on which the election announcement is published in the gazette. Gazetting is a means of making something become law. This time period after publication in the gazette is important as it prevents a Prime Minister from waiting for an extended period of time after announcement for nomination – it caps the period.

The other crucial time period given in the statute is the period between nomination and Election Day. The law requires that there be no less than 16 and no more than 23 days between nomination and Election Day – see section 21A of ROPA.

Using the example above, if nomination day is 23rd November, 2015 the earliest election day can be held is Wednesday, the 9th December, 2015. The latest election day can be is Wednesday, the 16th December, 2015.

I have been told that the winter tourist season begins on the 15th December. With that consideration in mind, Election Day may be closer to 9th December, 2015.

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A struggling democracy

The democracy struggles if it is not allowed to breathe. It suffocates if the quest for renewal is stunted. Renewal of the democracy occurs when elected and selected representatives understand their roles and act honorably when there are foul ups under their watch.

An example of acting honorably in the democracy of which we are a part is a simple act of resignation. Resignation is important. It is a recognition by the elected individual that he has a duty to the electorate and if things fail under his watch, there is interpreted to be a concomitant failure on the part of the elected official sufficient to necessitate resignation.

Resignation is important as well as it serves as a marker to the next person assuming office that if he cannot reach a particular high water mark then he too must make way for someone who can, someone who must – if there is to be change and betterment for all.

Jamaica appears to struggle with this concept of renewal and accountability. Watching the debate unravel in social media following the non-resignation of Dr. Fenton Ferguson, Minister of Health following the #DeadBabiesScandal has left me concerned again about Jamaica.

Here we have a Minister under whose watch one of the most damning audits on the health care service in Jamaica- is ordered by him and kept from the public by him. The Prime Minister to whom the concept of accountability is alien, foreign, and strange – reassigns Minister Ferguson to another ministry! He remains a member of the cabinet.

Some seemingly young people on social media have asked in the wake of Dr. Ferguson’s reassignment whether people are on a witch hunt!!!! These young people in whose hands the future of the country rests do not appear to grasp one of the cornerstone principles of any democracy – accountability. For them it is a JLP witch hunt and the PNP has fallen victim.

In some ways they perhaps should not be blamed for their politically immature and shallow views. On the other hand the expectation is that having access to social media and watching healthy democracies thrive, renew and refresh themselves, they would understand that even if a Minister does not know of an act, should it mean that he is not individually responsible for any failing as a result.

We should accept it and practice it. Perhaps it can and will take us to a new place in Jamaica’s infantile and struggling political democracy.

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That crucial one vote!

The stakes are high.

The historical significance of Jamaica joining the Caribbean Court of Justice, CCJ, as its final court of appeal cannot be overstated. 180 years of Jamaica taking its cases to the Privy Council in England could stop under the leadership of one political party– a move headed by Jamaica’s present Justice Minister, Mark Golding.

No doubt the People’s National Party administration, PNP, recognizes that this moment will be written in the annals of history with some detail and it wants to be party on which history will write favorably.

There is no great urgency for Jamaica to leave the Privy Council and join the CCJ, as contrary to parliamentary submissions – Jamaicans are not now being denied access to justice because the Privy Council is our final court of appeal.

In fact there are thousands upon thousands of cases waiting to be tried either in Magistrates Courts or the Supreme Court here in Jamaica at the moment. Some of those cases have been delayed for shamefully long and unpardonable years. People’s lives have been stopped waiting for simple matters to be disposed of, let alone appealed! It can be objectively argued that the greatest denial of access to justice for Jamaicans is taking place right here in Jamaica.

The stakes are apparently so high that the administration is seemingly so caught up in the potential historical value of acceding to the CCJ that it has lost sight of what it needs to do in the present to make the vote a reality.

Why do I say this?

For the bills bringing the CCJ into being to be passed, at least one Opposition Senator must feel sufficiently moved by persuasive arguments or by a bite of conscience to vote ‘yea’ with the 13 Government Senators. That Opposition member cannot merely abstain. Abstention in our parliament is a powerful message but in this instance it would not be powerful enough to get the CCJ Bills passed. Nothing short of an outright vote is needed. That means the Government Senators must get at least one Opposition Senator to cooperate with them.

Cooperation should mean that the Government Senators would present highly persuasive arguments so that the choice is so clear that at least one right thinking member of the Opposition could vote ‘yes’. Cooperation would mean allowing the Opposition Senators to make submissions in the CCJ debate, without any angry objection, coming from any member of the government. If there is disagreement with the presentation of any Opposition Senator, cooperation should mean awaiting the rebuttal to delicately point out the difference of views.

But this is not what has happened in the Senate.

What the Government Senators led by Mark Golding and AJ Nicholson have done is to allow the small things to override the large end game. What was so offensive about Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte’s statement about the process making a “mockery of the constitution” such that Senator Golding requested an immediate withdrawal of her statement?

That statement or that coinage is not Marlene Malahoo-Forte’s. If one reads the Privy Council decision which challenged the manner in which the 3 Bills were brought in 1998, one will see at paragraph 12 where the Privy Council says:

“Adopting the language of Viscount Simonds …Dr Barnett said it would make                           a mockery of the constitution if the safeguards entrenched to ensure the                         integrity of the legal process in Jamaica could be circumvented by creating a                           superior court enjoying no such constitutional protection…” (my emphasis)

That submission was accepted by the Privy Council in that it ruled that Dr. Barnett was right and the procedure the then government used was wrong. At the time Dr. Barnett made that submission to the Privy Council, no one clobbered him about it. The lawyers for the government responded by submitting in reply that he was wrong.

So it should have been in the Senate. Disagree strongly with Senator Malahoo-Forte’s statement if you must but why ask for a withdrawal of her statement?

That moment commenced the spiraling of the Senate out of control. There was the threat of sanction by the Senate President, Floyd Morris, followed by Senator Malahoo-Forte’s refusal to withdraw the statement – then a sanction, then a change of heart about the sanction and then a carrying over of Thursday’s events into Friday 23rd October, 2015.

What we now have is a Senate that has actively participated into bringing itself into disrepute and the stalling of the debate on the CCJ Bills.

More anon

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