If Golding is to make a mark


If Golding is to make a mark

Canute Thompson

Friday, November 20, 2020

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Delegates of the People's National Party (PNP) have elected Mark Golding as its president. Golding was not my eventual choice but, I not only respect the decision of the delegates, I will continue to give the party, under Golding's leadership, my full support.

In my philosophical approach to involvement in political activity, political parties are vehicles of national development, and not ends in themselves. They do not exist to serve their own needs, but those of others.

It is against this backdrop of my view of the purpose for which political parties exist that I wish to offer some ideas to Golding and the PNP. In simple terms, if Golding is to make a difference to the fortunes of the PNP and leave a mark on history, there are a few things I suggest he does.

As Golding goes about seeking to make his mark he would be mindful that, since its inception in 1938, the PNP has served the people of Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the world, as a pioneer in socio-economic transformation, a leader in regional integration, and a respected voice in global affairs. The PNP has been a party of service, and its defining character is a philosophy of people-centred development, located in the principles of equity and equality.

With the recent series of electoral defeats (2007, 2016, and 2020) following an unbroken series of electoral victories (1989, 1993, 1997, 2002), the party stands on a new frontier and must answer the call to renew itself.

In pursuit of this renewal, there are at least six things I suggest Golding should do:

1) Articulate and implement a plan for creating unity

Having signalled his commitment to unity, Golding should now move post haste to outline the parameters of his plan for creating party unity. While the plan should be flexible and responsive to unforeseeable developments, it must have, at its core, the following:

(a) The holding of a series of conversations with members of the party, at all levels, to allow for catharsis and the open sharing of concerns, ills, and issues which have bedevilled the party. The conversations must be frank, respectful, and focused on healing and solutions.

The first set of conversations should be with the leadership of the two camps coming out of the 2019 and 2020 contests. Subsequent conversations would have wider participation.

(b) The structured and time-sensitive implementation of the actions agreed from the conversations.

(c) An independent mechanism for monitoring and evaluating the progress of implementation.

2) Develop and promote a blueprint for a better Jamaica

Despite progress made in various areas of national life, Jamaica has a far, far way to go in being a safe, just, equitable, organised, clean, healthy, inclusive, developed, and prosperous society. If the PNP, under a Golding presidency, is to matter to Jamaicans at home and abroad and not continue along the path of entropy and defeat, it must be able to describe in practical and credible terms how it will make Jamaica a better place for all and, more importantly, how it will cause those who have told the politicians to “go to hell” to believe in Jamaica again.

To do this, Golding must lead a process of consultation in which he develops a master plan for Jamaica. This plan is more than a manifesto, more pragmatically structured, and more easily understood than our Vision 2030 plan. This master plan, which should be ready by March 2021, should become the basis on which the PNP would present itself to the country both in forums it holds with citizens and in debates in Parliament.

In this regard, the PNP would transform the farce we have come to call “budget debates” into real contests of ideas on the principles, paths, and progress towards national development. Thus, each year members of the Opposition speak in the debates they would interrogate the Government's plans and programmes against the backdrop of how those plans and programmes are serving to advance the agenda of national development.

Ultimately, through a concerted focus on plans to deal with the issues which relate to the lives of people who are suffering the effects of flooding, hunger, poverty, poor housing, lack of access to education, low salaries, crime, etc, the position and “adding value profile” of the PNP will be known. (One of the things from which the PNP has suffered has been its failure to be on the road selling big ideas.)

3) Set standards of performance and hold people accountable

The PNP Policy Commission, along with a group of other party members, crafted a “position profile” for the job of president of the PNP, and one of the items in the section on “personal qualities” is this: “A caring and courageous friend who displays equity in holding all members and officers of the party accountable.”

Golding will have to be firm in ensuring that people do their jobs, but this requires not only clear descriptions of what Members of Parliament, councillors, caretakers, and officers are required to do, but a commitment to a culture of transparent accountability by all members of the party.

4) Implement an effective communication and recruitment system

The head of an organisation is its first and most critical ambassador and magnet to attract people to the organisation. In this regard, while the mechanics of the party's communications and recruitment machinery will be managed on a day-to-day basis by highly trained technical people, the president will be the primary face of the party's messaging and its chief recruitment magnet.

In this regard, Golding must be seen and heard, and be sounding good and perceived as credible, accessible, knowledgeable, responsive, and attractive. Never should it happen that anyone trying to reach the president be told that he is busy then promises to return calls are not kept. Never should the party go through a quarterly reporting period without being able to state with 99 per cent accuracy the number of new members it recruited during that quarter and express that number as a percentage of a target.

5) Target youth

The PNP, which was the party of the young in the 1970s and 80s, began being the party of the mature and old in the 1990s and 2000s. This issue is impatient of debate. The party needs to be active on university campuses, street corners, and in the workplaces. But the PNP needs to remember that people are not looking to join political parties for some esoteric value of badge of honour; they are looking for ways to advance themselves, pay their rent and mortgage, buy food, and support their families. Given that the PNP is not in Government it will need, therefore, to use the resources at his disposal, both the 14 blocks of Constituency Development Fund (which are available for prescribed purposes) as well as other resources it can garner to respond to the needs of people. The JLP recently donated $2.5 million to help needy students at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Golding has committed to establishing a fund to help party workers. The lessons here are instructive.

But targeting youth is not only about responding to people's needs, it also involves promoting ideas and exposing people to concepts of integrity, honour, truth, service, and citizenship. Ultimately, the future of the country rests upon the young being trained and believing there is a reason to serve.

6) Be regional and global

Jamaica has lost much of its international stature. Many of us look with great admiration at the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, who is a respected global voice. And, as we listen to her, she reminds us of Michael Manley, P J Patterson, Owen Arthur, Eugenia Charles, and others. Jamaicans love a leader who is respected regionally and globally. If Mark Golding is to make a mark locally, he must be regional and global in his utterances.

Dr Canute Thompson is chair of the People's National Party's Policy Commission, as well as a senior lecturer in educational policy, planning, and leadership at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of six books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.

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