Andrew Holness’ Mansion: A Study In Wealth-Shaming
When did it become a thing of shame to be wealthy in Jamaica? It is quite possible that in the government’s austerity campaign I missed this new phenomenon, but clearly such a thing exists. Wealth shaming must be the new order of the day. Why else would there be “concerns” and “observations”surrounding the house being constructed in Beverly Hills by Leader of the Opposition Andrew Holness?
I admit myself genuinely puzzled that Mr. Holness is being made to give account for the grandeur of his family home. Those who lead this farcical crusade of accountability argue that in a democracy, the private expenditure of a former Prime Minister and sitting Opposition Leader is fair game. I’m not at all convinced by this; chiefly because I believe the argument is a smokescreen designed to achieve sinister political motives.
Make no mistake, by raising this issue, Holness detractors are hoping to cement in the minds of the majority of the Jamaican people the idea that he is not one of them. His wealth creates a distinct “otherness” which makes him somehow unfit for the Office of Prime Minister. The very suggestion should be offensive to all Jamaicans striving towards success and wealth. It is the lowest point in the long running saga of Jamaica’s divisive politics of class and poverty. It is necessary to confront and dispel the idea which suggests to the electorate that growing up or living in poverty is a prerequisite for political representation. Political narratives centered around this kind of thinking are ultimately more destructive than they are helpful to our political culture. How will we hope to attract successful Jamaicans to the political process if we continue to make wealth a thing of guilt and shame?
In the grand scheme of real estate development, is the cost (some $200,000,000) really that expensive? When one considers the location, the current land prices in Jamaica and the other incidents of home construction/renovation, have Mr. and Mrs. Holness really offended any principled position? I take no position on the attendant costs of constructing a house in that area, and whether they legitimately amount to $200,000,000, but I believe it may be helpful to the discussion, since we are intent on having the discussion, if some context were brought to it all. Otherwise, we leave it wide open to the snide asides and the petty political posturing we are currently witnessing.
To be sure, I can appreciate a constructive conversation around campaign finance reform and parliamentarians making financial declarations of wealth and assets. That certainly is desirable in a robust process to ensure transparency and accountability. But the ongoing fascination with Holness’ house is not that conversation, it is but another attempt to undermine Andrew Holness as a credible candidate for the Office of Prime Minister. Those of us who believe in celebrating rather than shaming individual success must reject this, and challenge those who would seek to establish this new order in our political narrative.
It’s true that public officials are inevitably subject to scrutiny, I do not dispute that. However, we must satisfy ourselves that in subjecting our elected representatives to the probing lens of accountability, we are reasonable. We must also ensure that we are sensitive to issues related to private family life; at the very least that should be off limits as far as is practical. What exactly is the message we send to the young Holness boys about their parents success when we subject it to such searching and sinister review? I can only imagine a child would conclude that there is something negative about acquiring and displaying wealth in Jamaica.
That shouldn’t ever be a message we want to send.