What’s wrong with Zhivargo Laing?
The short answer: nothing. There’s nothing wrong with him.
An interesting thing happened in Jamaica recently. Political junkies didn’t miss it, I’m sure. Prime Minister Bruce Golding, 63 years old, stepped down and his Jamaica Labour Party has selected 39-year-old Andrew Holness, the minister of education, to be their leader and consequently, prime minister.
Jamaica goes into another election in 2012.
Golding, a true child of the JLP (his father became an MP when he was 2) had himself languished for years as he waited for Edward Seaga to step down from the helm of the party. In frustration, he resigned as Chairman and created the National Democratic Movement in 1995, only to return to the JLP in 2002 and eventually succeed Seaga as leader in 2005. (He did not defeat Seaga, Seaga stepped down). Golding ended 18 years of the JLP in Opposition, defeating Portia Simpson-Miller and the People’s National Party narrowly in 2007.
Given his own arduous, trying road to power, one would think Golding would insist on staying on as leader, despite Opposition calls for his resignation after the damaging revelations that he actively resisted the extradition of the drug don of Tivoli Gardens and head of the Shower Posse, Christopher “Dudus” Coke. (Tivoli Gardens is in Golding’s West Kingston constituency). Clearly though, Golding was persuaded to think about more than his own aspirations. And Holness is no slouch. He has already been an MP for over 10 years, first being elected in 1995. He served as a special assistant to Edward Seaga and was polled as the most preferred choice to replace Golding.
Hubert Alexander Ingraham’s stature as a Bahamian leader is established. His place in history as a reformer, as a nation builder, as an agent of democratic progress in The Bahamas is assured. His rivals may not like hearing it, but he is second only to Lynden Pindling in terms of his overall importance to our nation’s growth and development. He has no living equal; he has no match, plain and simple. His longtime friend, compatriot and now, adversary, Perry Christie, may defeat him in 2012, but no one believes it will be because Christie is considered a more effective leader. I maintain that people vote against Ingraham or they vote for the PLP, but they do not vote for Christie.
The 64-year-old Ingraham is, despite his stature and long list of accomplishments, standing at a crossroads, one perhaps no less significant than the one he stood at when he was swimming in “shark infested waters”, as an independent way back in 1987 (he was 40 years old at that time). Having first been elected to parliament in 1977, he will have served 35 years in 2012. Many want to see new personalities heading the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and Free National Movement (FNM). The last 4 years have been painful for many Bahamians and it is reasonable to expect that, despite his record, Ingraham may not be able to deliver victory to the FNM next year. The McCartney-led Democratic National Alliance (DNA) is likely to take a significant bite out of both party’s support, leaving them both with only the die-hards.
Could Ingraham, seeing the signs on the wall, pass the baton to someone and win over the thousands who want change, but don’t want Christie? Where would he find a successor? He tried this before, remember? He stepped down (sort of) and handed power to Tommy Turnquest. But Ingraham never seemed fully certain that he could walk into the shadows and leave the race to Turnquest to win. Turnquest lacked popularity in the country and the PLP “won big”—always an odd term to use when we discuss our elections.
Is Turnquest still heir apparent? Is Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette the man? What about those other two wily FNMs, Dion Foulkes and Carl Bethel? I don’t think any of those four can have the mass appeal necessary to convince the working poor, middle class and the wealthy that they have all of their best interests at heart.
Many speculate that Dr. Duane Sands could be the man: he’s smart, sober, analytical, articulate, and genuine. But I doubt seriously that a walk-on, however respected and accomplished, can take over the FNM. He hasn’t earned it and we know party insiders always want you to “earn” it. Even Ingraham, though a walk on to the FNM in 1990, was Chairman of the PLP in 76, MP since 77, Minister since ’82 . . . you get my point.
Who does that leave? Well, you guessed it; that leaves Zhivargo Laing, minister of state for finance. Now, I have raised the issue of Laing to FNMs and gotten two responses: Yes, he’s the one, he can do it; or, no, he’s too arrogant. Interesting. Here’s my assessment.
Laing in my opinion is the right fit for the job. He is the right mix of youth (he is 44) and experience—having first been elected to parliament at the age of 30. He is sober, smart, hard working and eloquent. And he has had the opportunity, as early as 1993 I believe, to work very closely with Ingraham and, consequently, to learn; and by learning and testing himself by, for and against Ingraham, to form a mature political vision. His working class sensibility, his passion, his institutional knowledge, his lack of pretense, and ironically, his humility (don’t forget, Laing lost the Fort Charlotte seat in 2002) have made him the most clear, incisive and fiery FNM debater in the House outside of Ingraham himself. Nothing demonstrated to me that he is already the FNM’s de facto number two than his budget contribution earlier this year.
Here is Laing responding to PLP’s accusations that the 2011 budget was rigged to win votes:
“As sure as night follows day this much is true, if there is an election coming up in any year, there will be a Budget passed before it is called and will therefore, by its very nature, be an “election budget”. The suggestion here by them, however, is that the government proposes to use the public purse to buy votes for the upcoming general elections. This is coming from a group of people who less than five years ago when they were in office, just before they were kicked out of office, within weeks of the general elections:
• Awarded more than $80 million in contracts;
• Hired hundreds of people on six months contracts;
• Promoted hundreds of police officers;
• Promoted scores of prison officers; and
• Agreed to sell BTC to a shell company owned by foreigners whose identity remain today a great mystery.
Here is more of his speech:
“The opposition says incredulously, ‘they are taking your tax dollars and using them to give you jobs, etc.’ Daaaa!!!!! There is only one way for government to get any money to do anything for the public and that is through taxes collected from the people. Even borrowed money by the government represents future demands on the pocket books of citizens or taxes to be collected on some future date in order to pay for those borrowings. So when the Opposition got up and bragged about ‘Urban Renewal’ resting almost the entirety of their government’s performance on it, they used taxpayers’ money to hire the people, rent the buildings and buy the supplies, etc. They did not find some secret stash in a closet or went into their own pockets to fund it….ANYTHING THE GOVERNMENT DOES FOR PEOPLE, IT DOES WITH PEOPLE’S MONEY. WHAT IS SICKENING IS WHEN $800 MILLION IS SPENT OF THE PEOPLE’S MONEY AND THE PEOPLE CANNOT SEE WHERE THE MONEY WAS SPENT FOR THEIR BENEFIT.
“Mr. Speaker, the suggestion by members opposite that we focus on things and not people is simply silly. The budget is about public money, spent largely on salaries and things…JUST GO DOWN THE LIST OF ITEMS . . . The money, which is a thing, will be paid to people for salaries, rent, utilities, supplies, contracts to get or build things…THINGS THAT WILL BE SUPPLIED BY PEOPLE AND USED BY PEOPLE TO SUSTAIN AND BETTER THEIR LIVES…
“Go and search the contributions of members opposite and examine what often they complain about in their constituencies:
• MICAL – school, clinic, jumbae, community center;
• Eleuthera – road, docks;
• Exuma – docks, roads, school, etc,
• St. Thomas Moore – pumps, wires;
• Yamacraw – water;
• Fox Hill – garbage, parks, clinics.
“What are these they complain about and ask for? They are things, things that their people desire. Why because they are useful to their lives.”
Laing’s contribution was that of a man who knows the issues well; he has the appetite of a fighter and he knows just where to hit his opponents. People say he’s arrogant. I believe they say this because he’s not a smiler; a lotioner like Christie or McCartney. But just because he’s not a lotioner does not mean he can’t be and isn’t a people person. Laing is serious, perhaps serious to a fault. But I believe he can show a warmer, more casual side.
Where Ingraham has made a mistake is that he hasn’t placed Laing in a feel-good position. He has kept him in the Ministry of Finance (which perhaps is where he needs him most). But were Laing minister of education he would be just as “liked” as Desmond Bannister is today.
It may be too late for Ingraham to step down and hand power over to a younger generation before 2012. It’s a shame. He will have to remain in charge and see his life as Christie’s alter-ego through to its bitter end. But when the matter of leadership does become relevant again within the FNM, I believe Zhivargo Laing should be at the top of the list.
Perhaps Laing refuses to be handed anything because he has long been perceived as Ingraham’s golden boy. He wants to earn it; so he might resist becoming Ingraham’s Andrew Holness. Either way, I believe he is the best man for the job.