War in the east, and struggles with Westminster
Martin Henry , Contributor
Young, new parliamentarian Damion Crawford is romping with his political future.
Before he proceeds further with holding 'hard end' against 'let-off' spending in his East Rural St Andrew constituency, he should have a word with former parliamentarians of his party, Danny Melville and Heather Robinson.
Danny Melville quit representational politics because of the unbearable demands upon him to be a godfather MP. Heather Robinson quit, she said, because she was not about to hug up gunmen who wanted to defend her cause for a price. Or, more likely, the party elders and senior leadership, who have mastered the game and have survived, will have a quiet word with the 'yute' that 'is not so politics go' in the Jamaican version of Westminster parliamentary democracy. Some of the most senior party leaders hold garrison constituencies, and others have been doling out bun and cheese to favoured constituents at Easter and other goodies at other times.
Danny Melville's quit statement, back in 2000, read: "My role as a parliamentarian seems to be defined as an attender of funerals, coordinator of patronage and a symbol of tribalism ... . I find I can no longer be a part of a system that glorifies mediocrity and denigrates any vision of excellence." Mr Crawford has set out to change the system.
You can be pretty certain that if Damion Crawford changes his tune and flies his white flag of surrender, he has taken advice from the older heads and is prepared to put party above principle. But for the moment, the self-styled 'People's Gladiator' has defiantly told the media, "If it is even one term I get, I want to make sure that I did my best for the people. I wouldn't want 10 terms just to make sure that I win back each time. The biggest problem with politics in this country is the need to win back, because then you play to the loudest, who are not necessarily the masses, and I am not going to do that."
At the heart of the dispute among 'Comrades at war' in East Rural St Andrew is how the 'lickle hurry-come-up MP' from outside the system is spending government money.
"Where I am hurt," cries Oliver Clue, the councillor for the Harbour View division of the KSAC and a former MP for the constituency, "is to know that since the election and all the funding that the MP received, not even one cent has been spent in the Harbour View division which caused him to win the election."
Other members of the party machinery in the constituency are complaining that MP Crawford's failure to consult with them before work is done in the constituency has decidedly put them off. Another councillor is complaining that he just woke up one morning to find 'roadwork a gwaan' without him being advised or consulted.
Accused of being "past rude",MP Crawford rudely announces, "the fact of the matter is, I am clear in my mind as to how Govern-ment's resources should be used and as to what I want to achieve, and I don't think many of the persons understand the concept of opportunity cost, so I am not going around the corner."
His examples of constituency demands may be more than hypothetical. "If a man calls me about a car, I will tell him that that is not what the Government's money is supposed to do", he told the Sunday Observer. "If they tell me they need $350,000 to work on a house, I tell them to go to the National Housing Trust." Crawford emphasises that while on the campaign trail he had warned that he would not be giving "Guinness money" to constituents. A few weeks back, The Sunday Gleaner carried a story interviewing some first-time MPs about the demands being made upon them by constituents. All of them are in Crawford's burn-toe shoes.
MP Crawford's priority, apparently unilaterally arrived at armed with Constituency Development Fund (CDF) money, is education. Each MP, given state money to spend in a clear corruption of Westminster, is free to decide his or her own priority. Right now, Damion Crawford must wish that he never had a dollar of CDF money.
In one previous iteration of my regular railings against the CDF, a fund which enjoys universal support within the Parliament and near universal support outside, I pointed out that the grounds of support for the CDF are that the people's representative has to have a little something in hand to assist constituents and to undertake 'development' projects in the constituency, at his or her own discretion.
OPEN TO CORRUPTION
But there are at least two things fundamentally wrong with this: It is not the job of the MP; and when these functions are usurped, it is bound to have a corrupting influence on the political system.
Ask the average MP, not to mention his or her constituents, what are the roles and responsibilities of a member of parliament, and at the top of the list is likely to be providing some kind of direct benefit to the 'people'.
The Jamaica Constitution, rooted in Westminster parliamentary democracy, categorically states at Section 48 (1) that: "Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Parliament may make laws for the peace, order and good government of Jamaica."
It is true that the Constitution immediately goes on to say in Section 48(2): "Without prejudice to the generality of Subsection (1) ... Parliament may, by law, determine the privileges, immunities and powers of the two Houses and the members thereof."
Presumably, this could include the instituting of a Constituency Development Fund, giving revenue to MPs for discretionary expenditure in their constituencies. It is my considered view that such a course of action is, indeed, prejudicial to subsection (1) both in principle and the known results of practice. In light of the Crawford War, it is evident that the CDF does not engender "peace, order and good government".
Dr Herbert Gayle, a sociologist of violence, argued to The Gleaner sometime ago that "we must remove all monies that members of parliament receive from the State, which I assure you are used in mobilisation and negotiations". An arrangement like the CDF "creates a relationship between the don and the people and the politician ... instead of central government and the people - the kind of country in which persons do not relate to Government but to people on the ground. [This] provides you with a political economy of violence."
That is the diabolic fight over scarce benefits by hostile tribes which has so debased our politics and stymied our development.
The war rhetoric is strong in East Rural St Andrew, although for the time being only metaphorical and involving only one tribe against itself. Trenches have been dug, bayonets fixed, and white flags burned.
RONNIE GONE ROGUE?
Cabinet minister the Rev Ronald Thwaites, minister of education, has received wide support for publicly disagreeing with the imposition of GCT on items of poor people's food. People have mostly cited freedom of speech in defence. And then a lover of the poor bravely standing up against a hard-hearted colleague minister of finance in defence of the poor.
I am not one to call for resignations, but the call by the Opposition for the minister of education to resign or be fired has been too lightly dismissed. Rest assured that any executive in any company who so publicly disagreed with a management decision would have been instantly fired.
Mr Thwaites, a Rhodes scholar lawyer, was in explicit breach of Section 69 (2) of the Westminster Constitution of Jamaica: "The Cabinet shall be the principal instrument of policy and shall be charged with the general direction and control of the Government of Jamaica and shall be collectively responsible therefor to Parliament."
Furthermore, the Budget, despite the alleged powers of the minister of finance and of the Cabinet, is merely a proposition to the Parliament for approval, and the Parliament, with Mr Thwaites' side forming the Government, had approved the Budget prior to the public dissent of the minister sworn to collective responsibility in the Cabinet.
Rather than further ensnaring himself in a convoluted web of explanation, never mind the support of a constitutionally ignorant public which he enjoys, the erring minister should apologise to his colleague minister, to the prime minister, to the Parliament, and to the country and cast himself upon their mercy. Or, indeed, resign on principle and oppose the Government from the backbenches.
In the first 50 years of our Independence, our version of Westminster parliamentary democracy has been bastardised. The normalised clientelism which Damion Crawford is battling is one indication. The almost flippant disregard for the rule of law finesse of the Westminster-Whitehall Constitution of Jamaica as exhibited by the CDF and the Thwaites faux pas is another. In-between, there have been the political tribalism with its worst manifestation in the destructive garrisons, electoral fraud, the weakening and politicisation of the 'neutral' civil service, the emergence of a lackey Parliament which is legislatively lazy, the blurring of separation of powers, and pervasive corruption. All these have been widely studied and commented upon. The point is to fix them.
Martin Henry is a communication specialist. Email feedback to email@example.com.