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Ugly chords of disunity

Garfield
Higgins

Monday, October 07, 2019

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Words are sweet, but they never take the place of food. — Igbo Proverb, Nigeria.

Credible media reported that the 81st annual conference of the People's National Party (PNP) was poorly attended. The birds — those reliable Black Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits and John Chewits, flew into the public meeting. They chirped in agreement.

The bitter 90-day leadership battle mounted by Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting to dislodge Dr Peter Phillips from his shaky presidential perch has succeeded in creating more divisions within the PNP. Poppy-show, optics, plastic smiles, and constipated glad handing cannot smother that reality.

Dr Phillips was born on December 28, 1949. He has been active in political representation for just over 30 years. Conventional wisdom suggests that based on chronological age, and over three decades in the political vineyard, he should be a near natural at recognising fertile political opportunities. That is the conventional wisdom. Nonetheless, Phillips's handlers say he has the key to party unity. It seems an able locksmith is needed among their ranks.

Ugly Wounds

The conspicuous physical distancing between Bunting's and Phillips's camps on the platform in the National Arena two Sundays ago confirms that the contentious leadership race has not put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Bunting and his team sat at the far right of the arena platform and Phillips's team occupied the far left.

Dr Phillips touted party unity at the annual conference, but the actions of his chief lieutenants trumpeted growing disunity.

Julian Robinson, the PNP's general secretary, said on TVJ's 7 o'clock news that the public should not make too much about how members of his party's leadership were seated on the platform. Really? Are we to believe that it was mere coincidence that Dr Dayton Campbell, Mark Golding, Ian Hayles and most of Bunting's crew sat to the far right of the platform? The divisions rang deep and ugly. Dr Phillips should remember that folks seldom vote for a divided political party to form the Administration. It is clear to me that the PNP is more divided today than ever before.

More Ugliness

American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said “What you do speaks so loudly, I can't hear what you're saying.” Actions speak louder than words, Dr Phillips.

Credible political scholars in the area of political strategy say it is wise for the victor of a political campaign to demonstrate humility and magnanimity via believable words and matching action. In his victory speech, Phillips said, among other things: “This is not a time to celebrate and to leave out the others in the party. We must come together. We must work together. But we must work together as one. And we must work together with discipline, discipline and manners towards each other.”

I believe, Dr Phillips squandered a golden opportunity to gain some much-needed political points at this key temperature-setting moment. Firstly, members of the OnePNP squad hogged the victory platform. Secondly, Phillips did not invite Bunting to join him on the stage. Ugly chords of disunity were struck here. The irony is that Phillips's victory message centred on party unity.

Cacophonous Sounds

More discordance was displayed at the PNP's annual conference. Mr Bunting was slated to address the conference. According to credible media reports, acolytes from the trenches of Dr Phillips's camp vehemently protested and Bunting, as we say in local parlance, had to 'tek weh himself'. Ugly, very ugly indeed!

A high-ranking member of the PNP, when asked by a TVJ reporter why Bunting did not address the conference, noted that the Manchester Central MP was indeed asked to do so, but declined. In the same newscast, Bunting said some in the PNP were strenuously opposed to him addressing the conference. He suggested that since the wounds from the leadership race were still obviously very raw, he decided to stand aside.

Here again, Phillips missed a golden opportunity to gain some much-needed political points. Why did he not insist that Bunting speak. If OnePNP's major concern was that Bunting would have strayed from the main message, that is an issue that needed to be fixed prior to his inclusion on the agenda. The whole episode came across as sour, vindictive, and messy.

Dr Dayton Campbell, Member of Parliament for St Ann North Western and campaign manager for the Rise United outfit, said at a rally some weeks ago that the damaged relationships and seeds of animus would disappear after the leadership race. Soon after Campbell's pronouncement, the birds tweeted that all the king's horses and all the king's men will not be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again. They were spot on.

Dr Phillips was the big loser in this conference kerfuffle. He further reinforced a belief of many in the country that he is weak and out-of-touch with today's politics. Phillips's inaction at this critical political juncture, reminded me of the unfortunate posture he adopted when Basil Waite, the PNP's deputy general secretary, dropped the contemptible 'NN' bomb at a party rally in St Elizabeth, just days before our celebration of Emancipation and Independence. Recall this shameful utterance by Waite: “And some of the likkle nasty nayga dem, who ah call themselves Labourite...” He later gave a mealy-mouthed apology, consistent with a dystopian-like sickness in our politics.

Remember, I wrote in this space that: “According to a report which I heard on radio, Waite said his remark was “awkwardly put” and he did not “intend to offend anyone.” — Jamaica Observer, August 11, 2019. Recall also, that in a video circulated on social media Dr Peter Phillips was seated on the very podium only metres away from where Waite delivered the despicable comments. Phillips did not grab the microphone from Waite and tell him to stop what he had been doing. Neither has Dr Phillips, since the incident, attempted to dissociate himself from Waite's contemptible remarks. In order for Dr Phillips to bring the OnePNP, and RiseUnited factions together, he will have to demonstrate, through convincing action, that he is president of all of Norman Manley's party.

The PNP seems split right down the middle now.

Trouble In The Dance

The birds warble that many inthe inner sanctum of the PNP are not happy with this and related developments. Headline: “One PNP loyalists get top posts in party hierarchy.”

The Gleaner story, said among other things:

“The political loyalists of People's National Party (PNP) President Dr Peter Phillips who stood by him during the presidential challenge settled last month have been rewarded with top positions in the party.

The campaign director for Phillips's OnePNP team, Natalie Neita, has been given the post of deputy general secretary.

The announcement was made at a PNP National Executive Council meeting on Sunday in Moneague, St Ann, which sources say was poorly attended.
She will operate in the secretariat under the leadership of PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson and will work alongside Basil Waite and Wensworth Skeffery.

Neita is also deputy house leader for the Opposition in the House of Representatives.

Before Peter Bunting had announced his intention to challenge Phillips for the PNP presidency, Luther Buchanan had stepped down from the post. He eventually became a key organiser for Bunting's Rise United team in a losing effort.

Another key figure who featured prominently in the OnePNP campaign, Phillip Pauwell, has been given the responsibility of campaign director for the party in the upcoming general election.” — Gleaner, October 1, 2019.

The birds sing that many in the upper echelons of the PNP are also very uncomfortable with what they say is the uncertain 'uses' that “washed-up dons” are alleged to serve in Phillips's political tool box. Our country still urgently needs an explanation for this: “The [Rise United] campaign is also saddened by OnePNP resurrecting washed-up, so-called dons who are feebly attempting to influence delegates. We remind all those who may have forgotten, that the PNP has long turned its face against this type of politics.”
We need to urgently eradicate the putrid influence of dons from our politics.
Who are these grubby characters? What precise duties did these dons perform in the clash between Phillips and Bunting? How will they extract their pound of flesh? Did any dons attend the PNP's National Executive Council meeting two Sundays ago in Moneague, St Ann?

There is a deafening silence from most civil society groups on this renewed threat to our democracy. Why?

There is an extremely ugly underbelly in our politics that is a barrier for many Jamaicans who could and want to make a valuable contribution.
If we want Jamaica to grow really fast this is another hurdle we have to surmount.

Late On The Draw

Dr Phillips said in his conference speech that if the PNP were to win the next general election he would set up an “Institute for Excellence in Education”. This institute, he said, will focus, among other things, on “leadership training for principals.”

Someone did not do their homework here. I wonder if the members of the PNP's education commission, chaired by former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education Elaine Foster-Allen, and its distinguished members Dr Marsha Smalling, principal, Glenmuir High School; Patricia Sutherland, chair of the Joan Duncan Foundation; Dr Christopher Clarke, principal Shortwood Teachers' College; and Joan Spencer-Ernandez, as listed in the Jamaica Observer, September 7, 2017, vetted this Institute for Excellence in Education proposal.

Did Ronald Thwaites, the former minister of education in the previous Administration led by Portia Simpson Miller, give his imprimatur to Phillips's proposal for an Institute for Excellence in Education?
I hope Dr Phillips has found out by now that there is already in place a functional National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) that was established since 2011 when Andrew Holness served as the country's minister of education and youth.

I hope Phillips's proposal for an Institute for Excellence in Education is not an indication that the PNP is heading back to the bad old days of politics when we spent hundreds of millions of dollars renaming and or abandoning successful programmes just because another Administration spearheaded them; and/or attempt to destroy the legacy of another Administration. Why propose a facsimile for a functional NCEL, Dr Phillips? The PNP can satisfy its cravings of political legacy-creation by proposing solutions to myriad other challenges in our education system. This is a harbinger.

But there might be another reason for Phillips's Institute for Excellence in Education — jobs for the boys and girls of the PNP. This was a well-established political practice in Jamaica for decades until conscientious Jamaicans, supported by more than a little input of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) via strict spending guidelines, mashed up that dolly house. Now that we have left the clutches of the IMF, I hope this is not a signal from the PNP that they are busy preparing to head back down the road of “Run wid it” were they to form a future Administration.

No More Ugly Run Wid It

On the point of “Run wid it,” made famous by former Minister of Finance Dr Omar Davies, recall that figures by the Planning Institute of Jamaica show that in 1971 the Jamaican economy grew by almost 12 per cent in that one single year; this is equivalent to the cumulative growth under Dr Omar Davies's entire 14 years as minister of finance between 1993 and 2007. Davies's high interest rate policy crippled local entrepreneurship in the 1990s. I maintain that Dr Davies would have served Jamaica better had he stayed in academia.

The PNP and economic growth are antithetical. I have presented incontrovertible evidence from highly credible local, regional and global sources to corroborate that objective fact in previous articles.
Dr Phillips, in what might be considered an irony of ironies, said at the party's 81st annual conference that he is ready to rescue Jamaica. The PNP was in power for 23 of the last 30 years, why did they not rescue Jamaica? It seems to me that Phillips needs to focus on rescuing his constituency and his party from the doldrums. I believe what is really niggling the PNP is their inability to hold up a period in Jamaica's history when they formed the Administration and our economy was in a better state than now. International reggae and dancehall artiste Mavado has a song Badmind Ah Go Kill Dem Slowly, with lyrics that ring with significance here.

Humble Suggestion

Unemployment at 7.8 per cent is the lowest in Jamaica's history. More people are employed today than at any other time since the tracking of the unemployment numbers. Dr Phillips and the PNP need to focus on coming up with credible new and better ideas, policies and programmes to better this.

Just last week Standard and Poor's upgraded Jamaica's credit rating to “B+” from “B”. How might you credibly manage our economy to achieve a better result, Dr Phillips? Other major international rating agencies, including Moody's and Fitch, have either affirmed and/or upgraded their outlook on Jamaica from stable to positive. Inflation is at a record low. Jamaica has just over US$2.9 billion in reserves in our central bank — the most we've had since our country's political independence — and our debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio is expected to be 92 per cent by the end of this quarter.
Some 400,000 Jamaicans are benefiting from the $1.5-million income tax relief. The removal of obligatory fees at the secondary level has resulted in better funded schools and increased attendance. The no-user-fee health policy implemented during the Bruce Golding Administration is a win-win for the Jamaican economy, says the Inter-American Development Bank.

All is not hunky-dory, I admit that. But folks are asking where are your new and better ideas to deliver greater benefits to Jamaicans, Dr Phillips?

— Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com


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