...but time for a change!


Sunday, September 15, 2019

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Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government… based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice; that struggle continues. — Bernie Sanders

The best thing that could've happened to our nation in the recent People's National Party (PNP) internal elections is Dr Peter Phillips coming out as the winner. This is good for our nation and good for the PNP.

My friends who study government and politics tell me that elections are a democratic necessity as they make a fundamental contribution to democratic governance. They do so because they reinforce the stability and legitimacy of the political community.
The elected are empowered to lead because of the mandate given by the electors. They, in turn, feel empowered to follow because they participated in the process. This is why I believe the recent PNP internal leadership election to be of greater significance than many may attribute.

Don't interpret my validation of the winner as a politically influenced statement. I am giving an objective non-partisan view of a significant event of national importance. For, at the end of the day, the PNP will either be returned to government leadership or remain as the Opposition.

Let's not forget that a chosen party leader is the next potential prime minister. If the wrong person, a misfit, is elected in internal party leadership elections it could spell disaster for the nation. Therefore, the strongest choice of leadership is necessary. Dr Peter Phillips seems to be that choice.

From a national perspective, Dr Phillips has demonstrated a commitment to national service. He is a technically competent politician who seems to have a heart for the needs of the people. He has demonstrated the ability to guide a team to accomplish the goals set. He has in the past as minister of finance and shown tremendous discipline and courage to mobilise stakeholders nationally and internationally to reshape the fundamentals of the Jamaican economy.

But the election must also now force the PNP to check itself. For it has shown the party that it has a leadership problem. This election should now force the party to take the time to look at renewing itself and planning carefully for the future.

Though Dr Phillips is the best option, he has little to offer in terms of longevity of time to serve. He is already 70 years old. He must therefore pick up the pace if he is to make any further significant contributions to party or nation.

What's more, this outcome has clearly shown that there is no future leader currently in view after Dr Phillips exits the political stage.

In my observed opinion Peter Bunting is a better number two man, but certainly not a number one. He is an important member of the team and a valuable contributor but cannot and should not be considered as the team leader. There are many people who are on a team, and who play critical roles on the team, yet can't necessarily or should not become the captain of the team. They will play well, but put them in the role of the captain and it brings negative and diminishing returns. This is an important principle to understand and accept. Parties, like citizens, should have a profile of the type of leader desired.

I am therefore happy at the outcome and believe the delegates made the right choice by staying with “First Peter”. In keeping with 1 Peter 1:2, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” First Peter was certainly answer to my prayer.

Second Peter didn't take the injunction of 2 Peter 1:10 — “...give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things you shall never fall.” Apparently Rev Garnett Roper, his chief advocate, did not bring this verse to his attention. Shame on you, Garnett! OK, lighten up, a jus' a little joke mi a run wid unnu.

Another consideration which the PNP must take into account as it checks itself is the infighting, negative innuendos, and tearing down of each other on the same team. The division mirrors what both parties have done to the nation. If our parties cannot unite and be decent in internal elections, how can they unite a nation to achieve greatness. Could this be why national unity has eluded us for so long? Isn't it time we move away from this old way of doing politics?

What makes a good Opposition party?

A grave mistake that both our political parties have made in the past is to neglect to wisely use the time in Opposition. That should be a time to re-examine, refresh, restore, and when necessary transform themselves to be in readiness to really add value to governance if and when the electorate may so want to choose it. Instead, our Opposition politicians seem to just sit and oppose, oppose, oppose for the sake of opposing — often with little objectivity, and without the best national welfare in mind.

The word “opposition” seems to give them the idea that it means to simply seek to counter everything and make governance difficult for the party in power, rather than that of being on the opposite side of the House as part of government seeking to ensure the best interest and ongoing development of the nation.
A good Opposition party ought to keep the governing party honest and accountable. It should see its role as helping the Government to do the best things in the best way for the best of the nation. All this while preparing itself so that, should its members be returned to the other side of the House, it is in the best position to be able to take the nation to higher dimensions in its development.

If this thought was in the minds of Opposition parties, not only would they better serve their nations, but voters would likely easier perceive them as a viable alternative at elections.

Fresh thinking and grooming

Seriously, however, the election should remind our parties and nation that there is a need for fresh thinking in grooming the kind of leadership that can move the parties to serve the country in the future.

Yes, I said grooming. Great leaders should be mentored, trained, tested, blessed, and released with as smooth a baton change as possible. Parties ought to be producing able replacements consistently. But this has not been our culture. We tend to arrive at it by the approach of “dog war” and “who stand up strongest rule the roost”.

A further consideration that our parties must bear in mind is the dearth of able, young leadership in their party politics. There seems to be few showing the profile of what the nation and the new Jamaica needs. The kind of leadership with vision, strength of character, will, and ability to unite the nation, dismantle the vestiges of the negative, pass giving real hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe many such leaders are in the nation but for whatever the reasons they are not engaging the direct political process. Both Andrew Holness and Dr Phillips need them now.
The editors of this newspaper validated my point in an editorial titled 'The task for the PNP now': “Back in April when the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) lost Portland Eastern, a former stronghold, this newspaper was among those urging party leader Dr Peter Phillips to speedily prepare the way for a successor.

“We said then, in this space: 'Dr Phillips needs to move swiftly to roll the wicket for an orderly succession contest. The PNP has a glorious history of reinventing and revitalising itself. The task now is to find and unite behind a leader who can guide the fashioning of a vision to capture the imagination of the electorate — the majority of whom are under 40 and many, if not most of whom, hold no strong party loyalties. The quicker they (PNP) can get to it, the better for party and country.' ”

I couldn't agree more, except to add that preparation of leadership must not just be limited to presidential succession but to all aspects of leadership that would make for better party, better government, and better nation.

I can't recall ever hearing any of our political leaders past or present publicly calling for leaders of the needed profile to come forward and serve. They seem content to make do with the few ineligible ones, rather than aggressively seek to increase the mature leadership gene pool. The majority of Members of Parliament in both parties should be passing the baton in this season. But it should be passed to well-trained and well-prepared personnel.

Men like former Prime Minister Bruce Golding; ministers Ronald Thwaites and Arnold Bertram should come together to be part of a team tasked to teach, and perhaps even mentor, individuals with a desire to serve in politics. Participating political candidates would be trained in a new and right political culture and given the practical know-how from lecturers like the aforementioned. Nothing will change for the better unless we change it by deliberate action.

We are at a juncture for the creation of the new Jamaica. Serious change in the political culture is an absolute necessity. It seems clear that those who have brought us to where we are cannot take us to where we need to go. Neither can their replacement be of the same thinking and approach that has produced the negatives of what we now have as our political culture. There needs to be the rapid winding down of the failed system and an end to all its negatives. We will be better served by a new and transformed set of leaders in both parties who have taken up the leadership challenge with a planned structured transitioning.

Congratulations, but...

So my heartiest congratulations to Dr Peter Phillips and also Peter Bunting. Please do everything in your power to heal your party of the bitterness that's still appearing from the mind and fingers of some of your social media bloggers. Now that the PNP delegates have chosen its leader we must all accept it, respect it, and support him as the leader.

Let's all use this recent internal party election to force us, as a people, to look at where we are and where we want to go. We must ask the tough questions in analysis and evaluation of our culture and future.

Let's raise the bar in the way we relate to each other, engage in service, and seek to influence our families, communities, organisations, and nation.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or

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