Dr Peter Phillips – the man who would (not) be prime minister


Dr Peter Phillips – the man who would (not) be prime minister

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

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Jamaicans have a rather pithy saying: “Man who nuh dead nuh call him duppy,” loosely meaning it's not over until it's over, or be careful how you write off someone.

But barring the unforeseen, 71-year-old Dr Peter Phillips will, thus far, be the only president of the People's National Party (PNP) who will not be leader of Government, or to have won a general election, having decided to leave representational politics soon.

And yet, if we strip away the partisan blinkers, it is somewhat perplexing that one of the most qualified men in Jamaican politics will end such a spectacular career in academia and public service in virtual ignominy.

It might not be sufficient to define Dr Phillips's political career by the battering he took from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) on September 3, 2020. Time seems to have simply run out on the PNP president.

No doubt he realised it, which could explain his suicidal attempt to unseat Mrs Portia Simpson Miller in 2008, after having lost to her in the presidential contest of 2006. The challenge from Mr Peter Bunting's 'Risers' was probably the final nail in the coffin.

Before that Dr Phillips had been a patient, bright, hard-working, and loyal party man, doing everything asked of him by all the PNP leaders from Michael Manley onwards, and providing outstanding service to government, until at last he was elected president himself on March 26, 2017 and sworn in as leader of the Opposition on April 2, 2017.

His résumé leading up to party president was nothing short of impressive:

• senator and minister of state in the Office of the Prime Minister

• minister of special projects in the Office of the Prime Minister

• Member of Parliament for the constituency of St Andrew East Central since 1994

• PNP general secretary from 1991 to 1994 and vice-president from 1999 to 2008

• minister of health

• minister of transport and works

• minister of national security

• minister of finance and planning

Dr Phillips left an indelible mark on all his ministries, with game-changing achievements in reducing illegal narcotic flows; modernisation of the security forces; creation of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC); rehabilitation of the island's road network and introducing the Jamaica Drug for the Elderly Programme to subsidise medication for seniors.

But it is for his stewardship in the finance ministry that he is likely to be most remembered, notably reducing the national debt, thus freeing up spending money, cutting the inflation rate, and winning Jamaica the title as top Caribbean country for doing business in 2015.

A graduate of Jamaica College, Dr Phillips earned a bachelor of science degree in economics and a master of science degree in government from The University of the West Indies. He completed doctoral studies in international political economy at The State University of New York at Binghamton.

He was a distinguished lecturer in the Department of Government and at the Consortium Graduate School at The University of the West Indies, Mona. During that time he published extensively on Caribbean development issues.

The question is always going to be: What really happened to Dr Peter Phillips?

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