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Ain't no valley low enough in the PNP's quest for Jamaica House

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, August 20, 2017

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Some people die at 25 and aren't buried until 75. — Benjamin Franklin

“M ake sure, Comrades, that the People's National Party is ready to become the Government of Jamaica. Remember is only one [seat] separate us in Parliament and we don't know is which one, whether is one weh a go prison, or is a sick one, or a crazy one, but is one, and any number can play, so get yuhself ready.” These were the words of People's National Party (PNP) President Dr Peter Phillips while addressing the constituency conference of St Ann North Western last Sunday.

Anyone who believes for a moment that Phillips's “sick one” barb was not a jab at Derrick Smith, Member of Parliament for St Andrew North Western, who is recovering from illness, must have sand in their cranium and ice water running through their veins. Phillips's bombastic imaginings as regards madness and/or 'wuk' house [prison] are consistent with a desperate power-hungry man whose political clock is ticking uncontrollably due to a busted pendulum.

I agree with Duane Smith, son of Derrick Smith and councillor for the Chancery Hall Division in St Andrew North Western, who strongly repudiated Phillips's putrid comments on social media inter alia: “The statement was very unfortunate and could not have come at a worse time. Knowing the health of my father and mocking it is a new low. To those counting on the health of one MP or another to fail in the hunt for power, Derrick Smith won't be the one. Disgrace!”

I am not surprised at Phillips's despicable utterance. His hankering for political power is in sync with the political philosophy of the PNP. Recall that 'Chairman for Life' Robert “Bobby” Pickersgill said publicly: “We believe that it is best for the People's National Party to form the Government; therefore, anything that will lead or cause us to be in power is best for the PNP and best for the country.”

The birds, those ubiquitous and reliable Black-bellied Plovers, Banana Quits, and John Chewits, are chirping that Dr Peter Phillips is under severe pressure within his party to make a greater impression on the country's electorate, in particular the youth. They sing that some in the upper echelons of the PNP are upset at recent pictures of Phillips apparently dozing at public events. They also warble that Phillips's landownership commission promise — the intended 'counteraction' to the Andrew Holness Administration's already implemented 1.5-million tax break — has not gained noticeable traction, especially among the youth. Recall that at the launch of his 'land commission' on April 5, 2017, Phillips opined, among other things: “When slavery ended, the farmers were compensated, but the slaves were not, and no framework was put in place to have them own the land on which they had worked. This is a blot on history and the commission will, through its mandate, seek to correct that blot.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 6, 2017)

I seem to recollect that it was the planters who were compensated and they avoided work like the plague during plantation slavery. Phillips seems to need a refresher in basic West Indian history.

The birds tweet that Peter Bunting's attacks on the Chinese and his hallucinations about a new type of “economic colonialism” by China in Jamaica is being viewed by some in the PNP as another exploratory leadership move by the Manchester Central Member of Parliament who has already declared that he wants the top job in the PNP.

Bunting, the birds shriek, has moved ideologically to the far left of the party in the hope that he can enhance and hasten his chances of becoming president of the PNP. The birds whistle that signs of another leadership struggle in the PNP are imminent. I will say more anon.

It is interesting that Bunting, notwithstanding his concerns, was not included in the PNP delegation that met with the Chinese ambassador to soothe ruffled feathers and damaged relations. The screaming headline in The Gleaner, 'Bunting on a frolic of his own — PNP was not aware spokesman would go public with criticisms of Chinese', speaks to a divided party spewing two separate narratives.

These excerpts from The Gleaner article tell a story:

“The People's National Party (PNP) has distanced itself from its spokesman on national security, Peter Bunting, for publicly lashing out against the Chinese dominance in the construction sector, suggesting that its former general secretary was premature in his stinging criticisms of the foreign nationals.

“General secretary of the PNP, Julian Robinson, while acknowledging that the issue of the Chinese dominance in certain sectors was being discussed internally in the party, said that the PNP had not come to a final determination as to how the matter would be treated.

“Robinson said the party was not aware that Bunting was going to go public with the issue.

“ 'We believe that where those issues arise, the best way to approach them would be to call the Government or the specific companies and seek to resolve them at that level in the first instance and determine whether a solution can be had before there is a public discourse,' Robinson said.

“The general secretary disclosed that several high-ranking members of the PNP had a meeting with the Chinese ambassador yesterday, but Bunting was not invited.” ( The Gleaner, April 15, 2017)

The birds sing that Bunting is being pushed to the political periphery of 89 Old Hope Road. The fallout between the victors and the vanquished in the wake of the bruising contest between the factions who supported Audrey Smith Facey and Angela Brown Burke to replace Portia Simpson Miller is still rippling through the inner sanctum of the PNP, the birds chatter.

Some months ago I wrote in this newspaper that the PNP was suffering with Jamaica House Withdrawal Syndrome. The disease has now reached stage four — the end stage. Phillips's statement in St Ann last Sunday was merely the most recent reminder that the political grim reaper is hugging Norman Manley's party like a vice grip.

On February 25, 2017, I wrote, among other things, in the newspaper: “The 79-year-old PNP is transfixed in an alligator-like political death roll. But it is feeding on its own kind. Darker clouds are gathering over the PNP even as Portia Simpson Miller, an epitome of political failure, has been forced to pack her bags. It was the third plebeian in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar who said — and here I take liberties — 'I fear there will a worse come in [her] place.' “

For the PNP, no valley is low enough as regards the quest for Jamaica House.

Recall the actual words of Simpson Miller as she chided dissenting Comrades at a meeting that was held on Wednesday, November 16, 2016, in Claremont, St Ann: “I represent one of the strongest constituencies in Jamaica; don't play with me, I don't play games. I work hard for this movement from 1974 'til now; nuh boy, nuh gyal can't talk to me… I will come back here for another meeting, and I know who I will bring...I'm not afraid of anyone.” At that meeting, she also warned Comrades, “This is one woman who never run from a fight with anyone yet.” ( Jamaica Observer, November 19, 2016)

“The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour” is a maxim cited by pop psychologist Dr Phil McGraw in one of his many self-help books. Phillips's neglect of his own constituents needs to serve as a political harbinger.

These excerpts from The Gleaner should frighten all well-thinking Jamaicans.

Headline: 'Filthy Frog City - Small Community Off Maxfield Avenue Faces Acute Health Risk' ( The Gleaner, April 22, 2012) — “The offensive smell of faeces hung like a thick dark cloud over the Corporate Area community residents call 'Frog City', but which could easily be called 'Filth City'. The community, located off Maxfield and Chisholm Avenues, is correctly known as Ricketts Crescent, but for anyone familiar with the area, it is 'Frog City'.

“When our news team visited the area recently the offensive smell was everywhere, and so were the black scandal bags in which full or half-loads of faeces had been tossed close to the playing field of the Norman Manley High School and into makeshift garbage pits, garbage heaps, or the open areas in sections of the community.

“Running water is scarce and sometimes non-existent in the inner-city community.

“Public toilet and bathroom facilities constructed about a decade ago to offer some dignity to the men, women and children are no longer usable after they were vandalised.

“Flies, people and animals commingle in a maze of nastiness. When the wind blows, the residue of filth is felt all over your body, including in your mouth.

“Flies quickly move from the mounds of filth to the mouths of adults and young babies.

“Last Thursday, the Kingston and St Andrew Health Department disclosed that communities in the Hagley Park and Waltham Park areas were heavily infested with deadly disease-carrying rats.”

Well, you might say, surely Dr Phillips has eased the burdens of his constituents by now. You are wrong. This was a banner headline in the Old Lady of North Street six months ago: 'Frog City fed up!' - Residents losing hope following 14-year wait' ( The Gleaner, January 15, 2017)

Dr Phillips formally joined the PNP in 1989. I say formally because Phillips said this in an article in The Gleaner of December 18, 2016: “I have worked all my adult life in the PNP. I have PNP antecedents, as my grandfather was a councillor in the Bellefield Division in Manchester, and my father was influenced by his father as well. I have served in four ministries in Jamaica, and I have done well, albeit not without some problems.”

Since 1989 he has held a series of high-level posts in the party and under ex-prime ministers P J Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller. Between 1995 and 1997 Phillips was the minister of health. Under his leadership the hospital services floundered. We are still reaping some of the negative consequences.

He was transport and works minister from 1998 to October 2001. To his eternal credit he ushered in a decent transportation system in the Kingston Metropolitan Transport Region (KMTR) in 1998. Before the advent of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company what existed in the KMTR for public transportation was a disaster.

In November 2001, Phillips was appointed minister of national security. He was an abysmal failure: “In 2002, the murder rate moved to 40 per 100,000 and by 2005 it had risen to 64 per 100,000 population, placing Jamaica among nations with the highest murder rates in the world.” [Jamaica Constabulary Force: Police Crime Statistics]. On Phillips's watch murders peaked at 1,674 in 2005. [JCF statistics]

From 2011 to February 25, 2016, Phillips served as minister of finance. He continued and augmented the economic reforms that were started by the Bruce Golding Administration. He did a good job of setting the macro-economic ducks in line under the watchful eye of the International Monetary Fund. The growth figures for 2011 to 2015 tell the woeful tale of how Phillips choked the economy almost to death: 2012, -0.5 per cent; 2013, 0.2 per cent; 2014, 1.1 per cent; and 2015, 1.4 per cent. The figures are mirrors of PNP misgovernment. The JLP left the economy growing at 1.6 in 2011. [Statistical Institute of Jamaica]

Phillips, I believe, never truly accepted Portia Simpson Miller as his prime minister, notwithstanding public utterances of undiluted loyalty. He did, however, warn us about the pain Portia would mean.

“Just under a year after the People's National Party (PNP) lost power to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Dr Peter Phillips agreed with a United States official that Jamaica risked becoming like Haiti if the Government failed in its reform efforts and if Portia Simpson Miller, whom he called a 'disaster' for the country, was returned to power, according to a US diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks.

“The US cable said that Phillips continued to 'mull over whether to challenge Simpson Miller for control of the PNP during its party congress in September', even as he acknowledged that a recent poll showing her as more popular than Prime Minister Bruce Golding hampered his (Phillips's) ability to challenge her for the leadership.

“Phillips stated that it was an astonishing possibility that the PNP, after 'running the country into the ground for the last 18 years', could possibly come back to power, the cable said.

“The cable, dated July 8, 2008, also said that when the US officer asked Phillips if he would ever serve in another Simpson Miller-led Government, the former national security minister stated that he never says never, but his answer is 'no, it would simply be too distasteful'. Efforts to reach Phillips last night for a comment on the matter were unsuccessful.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 7, 2011)

I wrote in this space some months ago that Phillips will not enter Jamaica House as prime minister. I have not shifted a scintilla.

Of all the sad words of mouth or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been. — John Greenleaf Whittier

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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