Minister of Technology, Science and Commerce, the Hon. Phillip Paulwell has yet again made a mess of his portfolio responsibilities. Constant calls for Paulwell’s resignation are coming from the Opposition, some quarters of the media and some in civil society. He has incompetently watched the cement dilemma grow from a problem to a colossal crisis. The cabinet has now splintered into three opposing factions and Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller is being increasingly seen as ineffective, indecisive and simply unable to manage the responsibilities of her new job. She is fast becoming the national symbol of mediocrity.
The cement crisis grew out of the recall, by the monopoly Caribbean Cement Company, of tens of thousands of tons of faulty cement from the local market. The recall went on to worsen the already short supply of cement from the cement company. The construction sector has since then come to a virtual halt. As many as 300,000 Jamaicans are said to have been negatively affected by the stoppage of construction activity across the island. The ripple effects of the crisis are being across the length and breadth of the society. Most construction workers and their families are now struggling to make ends meet. Already the economy has taken a direct hit. According to the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) the current cement crisis has brought about a 6.3% decline in the construction sector during the first quarter of the year. The Financial Gleaner estimates that the cost of the crisis to the country is over $100 million per day. This to some industry leaders is a very conservative estimate.
Despite the painful consequences of the crisis thus far Minister Paulwell has shown a level of incompetence and nonchalance that boggles the mind. The May 17, 2006 Gleaner editorial noted that the cement crisis is, “… the direct result of transparently bad policy on the part of Mr. Paulwell as his apparent inability to respond with alacrity and clear-headedness in the face of problems.” The May 21, 2006 Sunday Observer editorial stated that, “The government, through a recalcitrant minister of industry, Mr Phillip Paulwell, and a rather preppy and officious minister of development Colin Campbell, has flip-flopped through the cement crisis at the expense of the country.” Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller has also deservingly so taken some hits. Her management of the first real crisis since her ascension to the top job is absolutely atrocious. The Sunday Observer editorial noted that, “The intervention of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in the cement catastrophe, we believe, is an early indication of poor crisis management by her government and her personally.”
SERIES OF BLUNDERS
Blunders are not new to Minister Paulwell, his performance over the years as Minister of Technology, Science and Commerce has been marked by tremendous failure. He is now being touted as the Minister of Waste and Mismanagement. Now rivaling his equally profligate boss Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller. The NETSERV scandal for instance saw over $200 million of public (INTECH Fund) funds going up in smoke. The INTECH fund scandal is another major foul-up. Both Minister Paulwell and now Minister of Information and Development Colin Campbell had mismanaged the INTECH Fund. It was originally created in the late 1990s from the sale of cellular licenses to help develop the information technology industry. It is now being funded from a tax on incoming overseas calls. The gross mismanagement of the fund has led to the loss of almost $1 billion, which includes, the renowned Netserv $200-million swindle. The promised creation of 40,000 jobs by Minister Paulwell in the Call Centre sector has also turned out to be farce. The industry is yet to have 10,000 employees, despite the promise being made years ago.
DOLLY HOUSE MANAGEMENT
Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and her cabinet have again illustrated their inability to proficiently manage the affairs of our country. The most rudimentary problems seem to automatically fester into unimaginable crises in the space of a few days or weeks. Yet despite these crises, no one is held accountable. For how much longer can Jamaicans continue to allow this government to play dolly house with our country’s affairs?