Two Cabinet appointments yesterday for ‘surprised’ MPs

TWO surprises in a single day. That is how a couple of veteran Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) legislators recalled yesterday’s double announcement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness of appointments to fill vacancies in his Cabinet.

First, Holness surprised 78-year-old Member of Parliament (MP) for St Andrew North Central Karl Samuda by announcing that Samuda would become full-time minister of education, youth, and information with immediate effect.

He made the announcement at the council meeting of the controversy-ridden Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) yesterday morning.

The vacancy was left by former senator Ruel Reid, who was forced to resign last October after several scandals at CMU over alleged malpractices linked to budget spending which created national outcry.

Then came the news later yesterday that Clarendon Central MP Mike Henry had accepted an invitation from Holness to take over the Ministry of Labour and Social Security following the May 29 passing of St Ann North Eastern MP Shahine Robinson.

Henry told the Observer last night that he was surprised when Holness called him about half-hour before the scheduled 2:00 pm start to yesterday’s meeting of the House of Representatives, and asked if he would accept the position.

“I didn’t expect it, but he called me about half-an-hour before the House was to start and he asked me if I would accept the position, and you know it is not that easy to reject an offer from the prime minister, so I said ‘yes’, and that was it,” said Henry, who turns 85 today.

Henry lost in his first attempt to become elected to Parliament in 1976 in the Clarendon Central seat. However, he returned in 1980 and has easily won the seat at every election since.

Over that time he has served as minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, which was his job up to yesterday; minister of transport and mining (2016-2018); minister of transport and works (2007 -2011); shadow minister of transport from 1993-2007; shadow minister of local government 1989-1993; minister of state for culture (1983-1989); and minister of state for tourism (1981-1983).

“Half of my life [in politics] has been on the Opposition benches, fighting in the trenches,” he said, recalling his political journey which includes being wounded in the leg while campaigning in Clarendon in the 1970s.

But that did not stop him from becoming president of the Premier League football club Humble Lion, as well as chairman of the Premier League (football) Clubs Association which he still heads.

Samuda has also faced his fair share of challenges in politics, including resigning from the JLP and representing the People’s National Party (PNP) in the 1993 General Election, defeating current Senate president Senator Thomas Tavares-Finson by 171 votes.

Samuda, who is also leader of government business in the House of Representatives, told yesterday’s meeting of the House that the prime minister had surprised him by making the announcement at the CMU board meeting.

“He surprised me, actually, because we were at the function where he was making a speech, and it is not customary that you make a speech and make that kind of announcement,” Samuda told his colleagues. “But he did, in his wisdom, and so I am very appreciative and humbled by it in a very genuine way.”

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