Columns

Of Peter Phillips, Higgins and signs of sunrise

BY PAUL BUCHANAN

Sunday, February 04, 2018

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Having been allowed a preferred space in one of the island's major newspapers — the Sunday Observer — Garfield Higgins, who was separated as Principal from Tarrant High School in Peter Phillips's constituency, has used his column in The Agenda, to pursue a vulgar political vendetta against the leader of the Opposition.

Almost all his articles are devoted to one purpose — the unmitigated distortion of Peter Phillips's achievements. Happily, Peter can be assured of a very long life, as Higgins' prayers and regular visits to the 'balm yard', are specifically undertaken for the continued good health of his sole subject, without whom he would lapse into an irrecoverable depression.

There can be no promised rewards from his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) employers or private agenda that should have led Higgins on his dedicated pursuit to reduce the work, the worth and stature of a man who has served his country well. In the limited armoury of Higgins's life, we find no scholarship of note, no memorable lines, no monuments, no trophies of service to humankind, but instead of lifting his offerings he wallows in insults, unbalanced opinions, and clear disrespect to the People's National Party (PNP) and its leader. Read any article by the former JLP leader Bruce Golding and you will find constructive critique coloured by civility, patriotism and depth; or Martin Henry's informative solidity; Gordon Robinson's substance and biting sarcasms without rancour; and the late Ian Boyne's intellectual rigour, without sacrificing decency.

Referring to critics as ignorant and below him, whether couched or not in quotations from Mark Twain's writings, devalues Higgins' contribution — rendering it rude, ignoble and small. But let me not dwell on his handicaps or his Peter Phillips addiction, as the Opposition leader's defence is bounded in the acrid fact that he is the best finance minister that this country has known, since the days of Noel Newton Nethersole. Nothing that Higgins writes on his trail of political deceptions can alter that fact. Ask the IMF technocrats, EPOC's former Co-Chairman Richard Byles, or better still, Andrew Holness and an honest Audley Shaw. Even more repulsive is the sure connection between brazen, pervasive criminality and personal designs which seek to tear down and disrespect our leaders and their institutions, whether parents, politicians, churchmen or teachers.

On the macroeconomic front, Higgins should show balance. Despite recording approximately three per cent gross domestic product growth in 2006-2007, the Portia Simpson-led Administration did not declare an economic breakthrough, nor was it contemplated in 2016 when Peter Phillips provided us with an impressive model of fiscal stability and an impregnable base for growth that not even Audley Shaw's earlier 'Houdini' practices, to honour his unbacked $18,000 tax rebate, could distort. Yet, after teaming with poor Dunstan Whittingham of the inactive higglers association, to the utter disbelief of everyone else, higgins declared a “bumper Christmas 2017”. More detrimentally, having regurgitated Dr Wayne Henry's Planning Institute of Jamaica's 2017 third-quarter projections and a few new projects started by the PNP, like many such announcements over the last 50 years of negative to marginal growth, Higgins prematurely acclaimed with great fervour, “signs of sunrise” at last.

Remarkably too, in the midst of his “sunrise”, we note that growth still hovers below one per cent, with Aubyn Hill, the new executive chairman of Holness' growth council reluctant to concur with Michael Lee-Chin's 'five in four' proclamation. Hill's reluctance has been soberly betrayed by the Government's inability to honour the promised six per cent salary increase to our public sector workers. Depressingly too, there can be no meaningful projections during the current unprecedented reign of criminality, evidenced by 1,616 murders in 2017 and 100 murders in the first 20 days of 2018. The hopelessness of the situation is ominously compounded by Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck, who tells us that the zones of special operations which should have been coloured with significant social intervention initiatives, was only a prelude to the state of emergency.

JLP propagandists like Higgins are yet to grasp that our present growth construct is flawed as the notion of equity has not been included, which takes us even further from the “signs of sunrise” he sees. Equity-inducing measures cannot be introduced at the back end. This will result in a deepening of class lines, instability, increased criminality, and violence detrimental to growth. We are reminded by our economic history that between 1967 and 1972 the JLP administration recorded 38 per cent cumulative growth — the highest in our history. But this was undermined by record unemployment of 22 per cent, including female employment of 33 per cent. Inevitably, this 'growth without equity' led to a widened class divide, pointedly classified as the “haves and the have-nots” by the finance minister of the day, Edward Seaga himself.

The delivery of properly planned, affordable land to the landless masses must be a central plank in the drive to facilitate “growth with equity”. This has been aptly manifested in the tremendous capital uplift in the lives of countless Jamaicans, not only through the two per cent National Housing Trust mortgages introduced by the PNP, but also from the achievements of the Operation Pride Programme. The 30,010 titled lots, planned, developed and delivered to newly capitalised beneficiaries throughout the country, offers a path-breaking model of social transformation. At an average of five persons per family, this means over 150,000 lives have been positively affected. Significantly also, a profound equity development model has unfolded, with the upward movement of recipients from an unstable working class life to a secure, middle class future at the Pines of Karachi, Wellington Heights and Long Mountain Country Club — the former site of the Beverly Hills Pride Project.

It is true that many of the fortunate civil servants, teachers, nurses, policemen and private professionals forgot that it was P J Patterson's PNP Administration that provided the lands, capped the town house price at $4 million and the detached unit at $7 million, which allowed them access to that off-limit preserve of the wealthy on Beverly Hills. It is also true that later PNP leaders shied away from embracing this most effective programme, due to the alleged sins of peripheral men of greed that you find in all administrations. This no doubt has allowed Higgins free rein to distort facts, inflate numbers and exaggerate inconclusive wrongs, thereby denying the intrinsic goodness, achievements and equity-inducing potential of the programme.

Beyond the punitive measures and menu of socio- economic initiatives involving the capitalisation of inner cities, any crime plan that does not confront squatting and speak to the need for land equity as a starting base cannot be taken seriously. Yet, Higgins finds unaccustomed solace in the PNP's disappointing, unresearched ten-point 'suggestions' as being similar to the JLP's crime plan. Fortunately, this failure to grasp the essence of the crime problem has been powerfully corrected by the leader of the Opposition's redeeming address to the PNP's National Executive Council last Sunday: “There is no doubt… that the unequal distribution of land ... has been at the heart of much of the social and economic inequality of the country… There is no doubt either that this problem of access to land is the underpinning behind the fact that some 30 per cent of our people live in so-called squatter communities — 700,000 Jamaicans in squatter communities, mainly with substandard housing, where people feel compelled to steal water and light and other services and where the communities develop this kind of contract, if not allegiance, to the criminal underworld by virtue of the sheer illegality surrounding their existence ... Jamaica cannot go on like that, the next PNP Administration will reverse this foundation of inequality resting on the unequal distribution of land.”

This is the kind of substance that has defined the PNP's history and most importantly, now signals a deep recognition by its leader that it is ready to do the necessary research, introduce corrective action, and return to its original role as the main protagonist of our ancestral mission, to deliver crown lands to the Jamaican people.

While we are mindful that those who walk on the economic road to “sunrise” or “prosperity”, often forget those who built it, it is also clear that the PNP's challenge is to properly craft its message of performance, depth, social stability, hope and confidence to the nation. If it fails, history will be unkind.

Paul Lennox Buchanan, a former Jamaica cricketer, is a land economist and real estate developer by profession. He was Member of Parliament for St Andrew West Rural in the People's National Party Administration of 2011-2016.

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