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Mr Andrew Holness versus Dr Peter Phillips

Sunday, October 01, 2017

It is clear that Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who has signalled his imminent intention to shuffle his Cabinet, and Dr Peter Phillips, the Opposition leader who has just named a 27-member shadow Cabinet, are preoccupied with what quality of leadership they wish to pursue in the immediate political future.

Both the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP) leaders find themselves in a similar predicament — who to include or drop out of a new construct that will bring energy and revitalise their parties.

In the case of Dr Phillips, he has already named his shadow Cabinet and is now waiting to see what fallout, if any, there will be among Comrades who feel they should have been included.

Dr Phillips also has it easier than Mr Holness because he has only recently taken over as PNP leader and appointing a shadow Cabinet was expected. This is different from removing ministers of government, some of whom have seriously large egos.

Dr Phillips has shown that he is adroit in reorganising the party leadership since becoming PNP president. But even at that he betrays his unwillingness to risk being too disruptive, as can be seen in the unusually large size and inclusiveness of the shadow Cabinet.

Of course, more changes have to come if the PNP is to be made ready for government in certain key portfolios. The appointment of young Miss Lisa Hanna to the foreign affairs portfolio is especially intriguing because of her lack of experience in that area.

But Dr Phillips might have been trying to send a shout out to young Jamaicans that he considers them important enough for such a key portfolio. And the former Miss World has proven to be bright, adaptable and tenacious.

It is noteworthy that the PNP leader's handling of the recent party conference is not only an indication of his long-known potential, but is also a sign of the health of Jamaica's cherished democracy.

On the other hand, Mr Holness cannot avoid the pitfalls that Dr Phillips was able to skirt, given the razor thin majority of one that his JLP has in Parliament. The very idea of a shuffle at this time suggests real courage, self-confidence and security in his leadership.

Not unexpectedly, the JLP leader might be regretting the fact that he has not carried out his pre-election promise to provide job descriptions for members of his Cabinet. This would have provided him a fairly objective tool with which to measure their performance and reduce their ability to cry spite and vindictiveness on the part of the leader. The JLP has been there before.

At the time he announced that he would formulate job descriptions, Mr Holness said that ministers would have had a timeline of two years and six months from the date of their appointment, with key performance targets, which would be agreed on by the Cabinet.

We hope that the idea of job descriptions for ministers — JLP and PNP — will still be pursued, if not for this shuffle, for the future. In the meantime, we also hope that Mr Holness is right in saying his Cabinet is quite sanguine about the need for a shuffle.