Who will succeed Portia Simpson Miller? Part II

Grace Virtue

Monday, February 01, 2016

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Nowhere in part one of this column published last week did I say there is currently a leadership vacancy or contest in the People’s National Party (PNP). I merely said this election, scheduled for February 25, will likely be Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s last — meaning, I do not think she will contest the next, constitutionally due 2021, when she will be just past her 75th birthday. Against this background, I posed the question: Who will succeed her?


Accompanied by a number of explicitly stated caveats, I eliminated (bottom up) Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna (1) and Justice Minister Mark Golding (2) from a stated list of eight individuals. Minister Hanna, not unexpectedly, has a difficulty with being placed at the bottom of the list, despite her protestations to the contrary in her article in yesterday’s paper. I await from her office the requested copy of the report cited by Member of Parliament Shahine Robinson in an article in this paper, January 21, titled ‘Youth Ministry failing young people’. The statistics which she is contesting came from that article.


According to the news story, the source was a report from permanent secretary in the Ministry of Youth and Culture, Sherrill O’Reggio Angus, presented to the Human Resource and Social Development Committee of Parliament, January 19. From a journalistic perspective, it is imperative, indeed, that we establish whose facts are incorrect — Hanna’s permanent secretary, Robinson, the
Observer reporter, or this writer.


Here is the excerpt from the report: " ‘You’re failing the young people of this country...We have thousands of unattached young persons....who want to know that these programmes work, but they are not working,’ said member of parliament (MP) for St Ann North Eastern Shahine Robinson...after the committee pored over statistics presented by the permanent secretary, which revealed that youth...programmes had impacted only about 30,000 at-risk youth of...estimated 600,000 youth population from 2012 to 2015."




The cut continues this week:


3. Minister of National Security Peter Bunting: He has good professional credentials and the advantage of a successful banking career before devoting himself fully to politics. He routinely invokes divine help in his job, which is not gratuitous political pandering as some may think. He does have a genuine faith, which can be an important moral compass. His challenge is the fine line between faith in his personal life and its use in a political leadership capacity. It is important that it is not perceived as a crutch or a substitute for bold, innovative, and creative action required to create a safer space for our citizens and get the country off the list of those with the highest murder rates in the world.


Overall, Bunting has three challenges to overcome: 1) A perception of naked ambition or a sense that he desperately wants to be the prime minister, or might even feel that it is a position that he is entitled to; 2) While his ministry is clearly one of the top two most difficult, and he might be seeing results in some areas, he does not have a brag sheet impactful enough at this time; and 3) He still seems to have a difficulty connecting with everyday Jamaicans and being one with the people he seeks to lead. His day may come, but for now I do not see him as an immediate successor to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.


4. Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining Minister Phillip Paulwell: An attorney, Paulwell is said to be a favourite of Simpson Miller and former Prime Minister P J Patterson. Sources say this is because of his unwavering loyalty, and that in the battles that the public does not see, he is insistent that government policies are sufficiently benefiting the broad masses of the people. He is also credited with liberalising the telecommunications sector and pioneering renewable energy. Critics, however, point to multiple scandals involving Paulwell that have also cost the country millions of dollars, including the attempted sale of a cellular licence to a company called Soultrea, without following due process, and appearances of conflict of interest since one of his advisors, Minnette Palmer, was a shareholder; the Cuban light bulb affair for which his then junior minister, Kern Spencer, was charged and acquitted; and the NetServ issue involving a controversial loan to an IT company which later collapsed. More recently, Paulwell took a lot of flak for the aborted 381-megawatt energy project, when the selected company, EWI, failed to meet its deposit deadline. The government subsequently appointed an Electricity Sector Enterprise Team to manage the process. That team went on to select a company which has since declared bankruptcy, warranting, in my view, deeper scrutiny of why this particular project failed under Paulwell’s leadership. Ultimately, all of these ‘scandals’ attached to his name, to which he has not adequately responded, will be his Achilles heel. I do not see him immediately succeeding Simpson Miller.


5. Mayor of Kingston, Senator Angela Brown Burke: A vice-president of the PNP since 2006, Brown Burke recently completed a doctorate in adult literacy. She is seen by some as a strong advocate for the people and contender for the party’s top position. She is said to be a loyalist and a hard worker with a tough spine. Her biggest challenge is the progress, or lack thereof, in the management of the city of Kingston, as mayor, and her propensity to engage in childish quarrels on social media. Fairly or not, she was also linked last year to the untidy PNP’s delegate selection process in several constituencies in preparation for the election, a process which is the responsibility of her husband and party general secretary, Paul Burke. As Jamaican party politics go, these are not insurmountable challenges. Although I do not see her as the likeliest successor to Simpson Miller, it would be a mistake to rule her out completely.


I will discuss the top three candidates next week. Have fun on the general election campaign trail. Stay safe on the roads, and guard your hearts.


 

 


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