Petulance as public policy

Some days ago, two events of note occurred. Minister of Transport Mike Henry declined to attend the reception marking the inaugural flight of Virgin Atlantic to Jamaica. Also, Minister of Trade and Industry Karl Samuda announced a suspension of the trade in scrap metal until further notice. These sudden assertions of ministerial decisiveness come amid a growing climate of concern for governmental drift, which we noted in a recent editorial.

But petulant actions of this nature do not dispel the impression of lack of a firm grasp of the reins of government. In fact, they have quite the opposite effect – they give a feeling of a government which lurches from a strange passivity on fundamental issues, such as crime control, to ill-thought-out bluster on secondary issues.

We hold no brief for Sir Richard Branson and Virgin, but the fact is that, as he pointed out, he is in possession of a valid contract with Air Jamaica and the Government of Jamaica. If Mr. Henry objects to the contract, it is churlish to express his objections in this crude manner. It gives the impression of a government which cannot keep its cool and does not know how to proceed on matters of difference in a calm, dispassionate and rational manner. Hot-headedness may win kudos for Mr. Henry but is totally inappropriate in a government minister. It is as if he and the Government, as a whole, have not woken up to the reality that they are no longer the Opposition.

Mr. Samuda’s case is different in the specifics but raises the same general issue of impulsiveness. It is true that the scrap metal rampage has got completely out of hand, with reports of persons dismantling the rails of bridges in broad daylight. But that is hardly a reason to lock down the scrap metal trade in one fell swoop. As persons in the business have pointed out, they have legally binding contracts to fulfil with overseas buyers.

This seeming ‘act of God’ by Mr. Samuda threatens such contracts and is likely to result in real hardships to business persons and their employees. In a situation in which there are already serious increases in the cost of living, this is a thoughtless step indeed. It suggests a picture of a minister who acts first and thinks later, without any serious consultation with the parties likely to be affected by his ill-considered actions.

Shooting from the hip is never good public policy. It is still early days yet in the life of the new government and a certain rustiness in the arts of governance is apparent. The country’s level of tolerance for long learning curves is limited. Mr. Golding needs to have a heart-to-heart talk with his ministers and to inject more sobriety into their policy-making actions.

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