'Mi never join no service club, mi never join no lodge'

Peter Bunting says why he chose PNP to give national service

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-Large
South/Central Bureau
myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — For many people wishing to help others, the solution is to join service clubs or some other private, voluntary organisation.

But for Peter Bunting that desire to help was satisfied decades ago when he joined the People's National Party (PNP) as a teenager.

For that reason, he told Comrades at a divisional meeting at May Day High School in his Manchester Central constituency on Sunday night, he could not sit idly by, especially while the PNP appeared to be losing sight of its foundational principle as the “movement” for, and “architect” of change, in defence of Jamaican poor people.

That was the reason, he said, he decided, in response to appeals from Comrades, to challenge party president Peter Phillips for leadership.

Bunting insisted, he felt “called” to challenge, and that the decision was not the result of cold calculation.

“Because I am an engineer, people think I calculate everything. I didn't go through every constituency and try and count how many delegates and whether somebody supported me or not,” he said.

He argued that while arithmetic is important in politics, “some decisions are made because you feel called to make that decision. This decision, I felt called to make,” he said.

He later told the Jamaica Observer that the PNP's defeat in the Portland Eastern by-election, and feedback he recived during that campaign and immediately after, triggered the feeling feeling that he had to act.

Bunting appeared to suggest to supporters at the Knockpatrick divisional meeting that he is always conscious of the vision of Michael Manley, the inspirational PNP leader of the 1970s.

“The party, as Michael Manley would say, cannot become just a manager of a set of givens,” said Bunting, a trained engineer who has built considerable wealth as an investment banker.

“This is the party that has to be the architect of change to 'jook' and prod... for poor people. It is not enough to say that employment is increasing. Being a windscreen wiper or part-time vendor may be better than nothing, but that is not providing a liveable wage for people,” said Bunting.

He argued that the PNP needed to articulate for change to directly influence the living conditions of the mass of Jamaicans.

For example, he said, the current arrangements governing employment of categories of workers such as security guards and contract employees who “are one sickness away from family catastrophe, are not good enough”.

“That's not what Michael Manley worked for in this country... We can't say we getting one-and-a-half per cent growth and yes, the debt to GDP (gross domestic product) come down... and therefore we satisfied and the economy a gwaan.

“No comrades, that is not the PNP that I joined when I was still a teenager. That is not the party that I have spent my entire life serving. Mi never join no service club you know, mi never join no lodge, neva join nuttin else but the People's National Party. So for me, this is the party... I think of the PNP as a powerful movement for change... and it is the vehicle I have chosen to give my public service to...,” he said.

Against that backdrop, Bunting rejected suggestions that his challenge was motivated by personal ambition.

He spoke at length about the tough choice he made when he was first introduced to representational politics by Manley; positions he has held in the party because others declined; and sacrifices — including dipping into his pocket to cover PNP debts and expenses.

“What is interesting is that I have never had to contest a single position that I have held in the PNP, up to now. Why is that? Each time I offer myself it was usually when the party was in a bad position and no one else was interested in offering themselves. But for me it was an opportunity to serve the party, not serve myself,” he recalled.

He said he had told Manley he would prefer to seek election representing Clarendon South Eastern, a constituency where he had lived as a child, but which had never been taken by the PNP.

“This was a seat that was represented by (the JLP's Sir Alexander Bustamante), [and] for 27 years by Hugh Shearer. Michael Manley knitted his brow and asked, why that seat?” Bunting said.

He explained that he chose Clarendon South Eastern because he could remember hearing his “father longing for a PNP MP”.

At age 32 in 1993 he became the youngest MP, having beaten the legendary Shearer who had entered the election as the oldest candidate.

“That is not what ambitious people do; they would go look for a safe seat,” Bunting told cheering Comrades.

In 2007, after returning to politics from a long break to build a highly successful career in banking, he was asked by then PNP president and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to contest St Ann South Eastern, a seat made safe for the PNP by Ivan Lloyd and Seymour Mullings.

But then he was approached by former MP for Manchester Central John Junor who told him that anybody (in the PNP) could win St Ann South Eastern but if he (Bunting) didn't come to Manchester Central the PNP would lose that seat.

Bunting said he responded to Junor's plea and “walked night and day, morning, noon and night, and brought it home...and every single election since, we have increased our margin in central Manchester”.

Bunting recounted how after the shock election loss of 2007 and the departure from the party's general secretary' post by the late Danny Buchanan, he ended up getting the job by “acclamation” because no one else wanted it.

Immediately, he had to deal with a challenge to Simpson Miller's leadership by Phillips in 2008.

“We were establishing a new precedent in the PNP; it was the first time a sitting president was being challenged at the time. I said it is uncharted waters, but is the evolution of our democracy. We can't say we are a democratic party-we contest election democratically but we afraid to contest election internally. My role as general secretary was to be like director of election and to conduct a free and fair election, which we did,” he said.

He recalled that the party then found itself faced with severe financial troubles and he had to come to the rescue.

“There was a time when without my cheque book the light would a cut off at headquarters (HQ), the phone woulda cut off. In 2008, that (presidential) contest at National Arena, they wouldn't let us in because they said money had been owed from previous years,” he said.

It was his personal cheque for over a million dollars which helped to resolve the situation, he said.


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