Current Affairs

Current Affairs




PM to name new Cabinet tomorrow
Observer Reporter
Thursday, October 24, 2002



PRIME Minister P J Patterson announced yesterday that he will name his new Cabinet tomorrow and have ministers take their oath of office by Saturday.

"...Suffice it to say that that the Cabinet, its composition, will be announced no later than Friday, to permit a swearing-in ceremony at King's House the following day," Patterson said in a speech shortly after taking the oath of office for his third consecutive term as prime minister.

In the week since the October 16 general elections, in which Patterson's People's National Party (PNP) won 34 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives, there has been great speculation over the kind of Cabinet the prime minister will fashion.

Not only did Patterson's party lose 13 of the seats it had in the previous Parliament, but three members of Cabinet who went to the elections lost seats:

* Colin Campbell, the information minister;

* Arnold Bertram, who held the local government portfolio; and

* Anthony Hylton, the mining and energy minister.

Much attention has been paid to whether there will be any job in the government for Hylton, who won wide international respect as the trade negotiator when he was the minister for foreign trade -- a job that kept him out of the country for long periods and was substantially blamed for the loss of his seat in Western St Thomas.

When Patterson shuffled his Cabinet a year ago and gave Hylton the mining and energy portfolio, it was felt at the time that the aim was to allow Hylton more time in Jamaica to attend to his constituency that had gone wobbly. In the end, however, Hylton was beaten by the Jamaica Labour Party's James Robertson by 1,262 votes.

But for Hylton to return to the Cabinet, Patterson would have to appoint him to the Senate, something that the prime minister has shied away from with people who have lost at the polls.

"This is one exception the prime minister should make since there seems to be a consensus on this (Hylton's value in international trade negotiations) that transcends politics," said Danny Roberts, a vice-president of the National Workers' Union (NWU).

There is also focus on how Patterson will reward the PNP's general-secretary, Maxine Henry-Wilson, and the party's campaign director, Paul Robertson, who were credited with engineering the PNP's victory.

Henry-Wilson was a member of the Senate and the information minister, and Robertson was the foreign minister when they left the Cabinet last November to focus on rebuilding the PNP, which was trailing the JLP in opinion polls.

There have been suggestions that Henry-Wilson, who won a seat in the House, will be rewarded with the education portfolio, possibly with information.

While a Cabinet post is a possibility for Robertson, who retained his South-Eastern St Catherine seat, there have been suggestions too, that he might be kept in the party to manage its restructuring and modernisation which Patterson, on the day after the elections, said was one of his missions before he retires. Patterson is expected to leave sometime after mid-term.

When Patterson goes, the current betting is for a race between Peter Phillips, the national security minister, and Portia Simpson Miller, who is in charge of tourism and sports.

Phillips is expected to remain in charge of security, but there have been suggestions that Simpson Miller will be shifted to the local government ministry with a mandate to complete the reform of the local government system and oversee a general clean-up of the physical environment. Insiders, however, say that Simpson Miller's preference would be for a return to the labour ministry in which she served for nearly a decade.

If Simpson Miller is in fact moved from tourism, it could mean a promotion for her deputy, Wykeham McNeill, although political watchers say the more likely scenario would be a switch of John Junor, the health minister, to the tourism ministry where he has served before.

Such a move by Junor would possibly open space for one of the younger, second-tier ministers and one prospect being suggested for the health ministry is Dr Fenton Ferguson, who has been deputy to Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke.

Another newcomer seen as a strong possibility to be made full minister is Aloun N'dombet Assamba, who last November was made junior minister for technology and commerce when Phillip Paulwell ran into trouble over the loose lending of hundreds of millions of dollars to technology start-ups.

The suggestion is that Assamba would now take control of the ministry and Paulwell, who is personally liked by Patterson, shifted to mining and energy, if not dropped from the Cabinet.