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PNP tweaks constitution without increasing the number of delegates eligible to elect president

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 23, 2019

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People's National Party (PNP) delegates will be asked to approve amendments to the party's constitution when they meet for the business session of its annual conference on September 21. But one long-standing bone of contention — the number of people eligible to elect the party's president — will not be among the changes.

For years PNP members and public commentators have questioned the party's constitutional provision which restricts the vote to elect a president, and the four vice-presidents, to a handful of delegates which, according to former General Secretary Paul Burke, numbers approximately 40,000 registered members.

On September 7, when the party next votes for a president, fewer than 3,000 delegates, or less than 10 per cent of the registered members, will decide between current president Dr Peter Phillips and challenger Peter Bunting to lead the PNP.

But at a media briefing yesterday, where he outlined the planned changes to the constitution, Phillips said the issue of widening the vote for the party's president is still being considered.

“It is an issue that we are going to continue to study, but the Structures Review Committee thought it was very important, in the first instance, to ensure that delegates were participating in political education and that we should avoid the kind of fluctuation in the registration of groups that we have been seeing over the years when elections are due,” said Phillips.

“So we are trying to stabilise the group structure and to ensure that delegates are persons who understand the awesome responsibility that they have as the ultimate protectors of the integrity of the party,” added Phillips as he pointed to two of the changes which will require the automatic auditing of party groups and mandatory leadership training for group officers and delegates.

According to Phillips, with much talk about the increasing role that money has been playing in elections, the PNP has counteracted this risk by having an informed electorate able to exercise their responsibility in a rational way.

He said the view is that for the party not to lose its identity, or its authenticity, it should be left to the delegates to elect its leaders, but ways have to be found to widen the pool of voters.

“We have set up a committee to look at ways of broadening the mandate in elections, but included in those things is whether there are particular categories of professionals, whether teachers, nurses, security people, trade unionists, who ought to be incorporated as part of the voting constituency internally. But those discussions have yet to come to a conclusion,” said Phillips.

Last year the Annual Conference the party's highest decision-making body approved the changes to its constitution, but this year delegates will have to give the final approval for the structure and wording of the changes.

In addition to the changes in the monitoring of the groups, the revised constitution will outline the specific responsibilities of elected representatives and political leaders and sanctions for those who are non-performing.

A sexual harassment policy will also be operationalised in the party's by-laws and regulations, while a Mediation Committee is to be established to prevent minor issues from growing into significant problems.

“Often times the work of building and strengthening an organisation is not always grasped, but it is always important that every organisation, especially one with the longevity that we have… continue to step forward with the times and take those steps that, not only will make us more attractive as an organisation, but fundamentally more effective in serving the needs of the people,” said Phillips.


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