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Phillips, Bunting clash reveals an out-of-touch PNP

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, July 07, 2019

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The secret of the corners of the mouth is known only by the chewing stick. — Ewe proverb, Ghana

 

For many years, some in the media, academia, and other quarters of influence employed various strategies to have the country believe that there were unique mechanisms in the People's National Party (PNP) which ensured that conflicts were managed amiably, so much so that the party's dirty linen were kept hidden from public glare. In recent years, especially, the PNP's cloak of deception has been exposed.

In the 2006 challenge by Peter Phillips for the leadership of the PNP, for example, the rotten political innards of that party gushed out. Again, in 2008, Dr Phillips challenged Portia Simpson Miller for the leadership of Norman Manley's party. The political venom was even more concentrated then. Recall the overt references to Simpson Miller's supposed lack of intelligence, absence of affinity to a name brand university, and connections to the intelligentsia. The lie that the PNP had a special, unique, and effective safety valve to amicably manage internal party differences fell off the wall like Humpty Dumpty.

Last month's formal announcement of a leadership challenge by Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting to displace PNP President and Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips from the political roost has reopened old wounds of divisiveness that were not healed from 2006 and 2008.

Bunting said last month that: “Since becoming president, he [Dr Phillips], has not implemented a single transformational initiative within the party, and is just not seen as the right person for this time.”

“There is also a growing acceptance/resignation in the general public and amongst various stakeholder groups, including party membership and supporters, civil society, and private sector leadership that the PNP under Dr Peter Phillips's leadership cannot defeat the JLP [Jamaica Labour Party] in a general election. This will have negative consequences for voter support, organisational energy, and party/campaign funding.” ( Jamaica Observer, July 3, 2019)

When Bunting's political speak is decoded, it is a declaration of war on Dr Peter Phillips and those who back him. I am, therefore, not surprised at the vitriol and bitterness that has ensued. I suspect the calls for restraints from some internal quarters, and an announcement last week by party Chairman Fitz Jackson that the party is going to come up with a code of conduct to regulate the behaviour of supporters of either side will not quiet those who carry out guerilla-style attacks on social media. I warned that this would have happened.

Recall that in my Jamaica Observer The Agenda piece on March 17, 2019 I said, among other things: “The by-election for the constituency of Portland Eastern is 17 days from today. The birds sing that Dr Peter Phillips, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and president of the People's National Party (PNP), has been pacing the creaking political floorboards at 89 Old Hope Road near non-stop. The birds also shriek that political bayonets have been cleaned, cane machetes sharpened, and daggers stashed.”

The political arsenals are now out and in full use. This is a do-or-die battle for Bunting and Phillips. Neither can afford to lose, neither can afford to blink. The political careers of both men are hanging on broken tree limbs, and there are many with basic handsaws cutting away with gusto.

Of 29 Opposition Members of Parliament, to date 11 have publicly indicated that they are hitching their wagons to that of Dr Peter Phillips, while 10 have thrown in their lot with Peter Bunting. The uncommitted group of eight, the birds warble, is diligently watching to see which of the teams of prepubescent lumberJacks and Jills is cutting faster.

In a high-stakes contest like this, salvos about “mongrels dogs”, and gradations of pedigree by combatants of Bunting and Phillips on social media, do not surprise me for one moment. Last Monday, Television Jamaica's newscast offered this: “…He served as a national security minister and wilted under pressure to the extent that he cried publicly. Since his intention to challenge for leadership there have been some utterances preferred by himself and his main speaker, whose behaviour I dare say is like that of a set of mongrel dogs, which set the tone for a nasty and bitter campaign...”

Last Monday's Jamaica Observer carried these words: “Dr Phillips and Bunting will go head to head for the position of PNP president on September 7 ahead of the annual conference after the latter declared that the party could not win another election with the current leader and threw his hat in the ring.

“ 'Lest u forget u get a backside from Portia u and ur bunch a losers gone: abandon the PNP and sign secret MOU without Cabinet knowledge,' wrote one Mario Mitchell on Facebook in obvious reference to Dr Phillips.

“Responding to him, Ryan Lattibeaudiere Small wrote: 'This is a very unfortunate comment for you of all persons to make about the leader and the MOU. Didn't Bunting not grant immunity to the soldiers who murdered the innocent civilians?' ”

These invectives from the warring camps of Bunting and Phillips indicate that the party is not only evenly split regarding support from the MPs, but also among its foot soldiers and middle leadership structures.

There is also another thread of division that has emerged from the caustic exchanges between those who support Phillips and Bunting. Evidently, those who are in Phillips's camp see him as “goalkeeper”, while the Bunting adherents see the president of the PNP as someone who needs to be a prolific “goalscorer”.

Check this exchange, for example, between Phillips's unproven political King Midas, Senator Damion Crawford, and Bunting's chief point man, Dr Dayton Campbell, Member of Parliament for St Ann North Western.

Crawford: “Peter Phillips role is the goalkeeper. Me & Hemmings & Vaz we a di striker!”

Campbell: “I hear mi VP a talk bout him a striker & Dr Phillips a goalkeeper. Well wi guh dung a SE St Mary & get 1, East Portland wi get 1, and if wi under 2 di Coach ago mek a change!”

I wonder how either faction would categorise former prime ministers Michael Manley, P J Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller?

 

Kellier's Warning

Derrick Kellier declared support for Peter Bunting last week. His prophetic words from 2016 now ring with added significance given the gaping divisions, verbal assaults, and mudslinging of the rival teams. The birds chirp that the contest is shaping up to be a type of gunfight at OK Corral.

Recall that Derrick Kellier, former agriculture minister, summed up the rickety state of his party this way: “ 'Our political machinery has broken down badly, and that's why we are where we are today… We will have to climb Mount Everest to get back to where we were,' Kellier told delegates at the party's regional executive council of Region Six meeting at John Rollins Success Primary School in Rose Hall, St James.

“ 'Going forward is not going to be easy… we are in a state of flux, we are all about power, personal power, and personal aggrandisement, and one-upmanship, that is what we are about. We are no longer a cohesive force that can deliver the knockout punch to the Opposition and can spread the word of hope and progress to the people,' he said.” ( Jamaica Observer, May 30, 2016)

I wonder if all the king's horses and the king's men will be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again? Time will tell!

 

Fruits are the focus

Some time ago I said in this space that the PNP's failure to tell the country what new and/or better plans it had for Jamaica, and how it will fund those plans, is its primary weakness. I pointed out that folks are interested in “pickable” fruits. Folks are interested in an answer to this question: What have you done for me lately? People want to know how has [or will] your term in office benefit my pocket and put more food on my dinner table.

However you dice or splice it, the Andrew Holness-led Administration has done well to improve on the gains from the former Portia Simpson Miller Administration, who inherited a good baton pass from the Bruce Golding Administration.

Last week, leadership aspirant Peter Bunting attempted for the umpteenth time to delegimitise the achievements of the Holness Administration by making what I believe was a foolish blunder. He said that massive road improvement infrastructure won't entice voters to cast their ballot for the JLP in the next general election. That slip did not sound like it was coming from a trained engineer — as Bunting is — it sounded more like it was coming from a misinformed and power-hungry politician.

Bunting, by that gaffe, sounds like someone who is rejecting the future. What folks want to hear from Bunting and Phillips is how will they better these and other achievements of the Administration.

The objective facts speak for themselves: Our economy has seen consistent growth for 18 consecutive quarters. For the 2018 calendar year, the economy grew by 1.9 per cent. Unemployment is falling, now at a 50-year low of eight per cent, new jobs are being created, and there is robust activity in construction, manufacturing, and hotels and restaurants. Inflation is low. Our net international reserves are just about US$3.3 billion (up to May 2019), the highest ever. And business and consumer confidence are at all-time highs. All International Monetary Fund performance criteria and structural benchmarks are being met without imposing starvation-type austerity measures on our people. Major international rating agencies — including Moody's, Fitch, and Standard & Poor's — have either affirmed and/or upgraded their outlook on Jamaica from stable to positive.

I agree with Bunting on one thing, though, this Administration has not done nearly enough to improve the development of deep rural Jamaica, which has been largely ignored for decades.

 

Old-style politics

Last Sunday, at his campaign launch, Dr Phillips declared: “When I'm elected prime minister, I will fix the educational system, end squatting, root out corruption...” Really, Dr Phillips?

We heard this promise last September at the PNP's annual conference. We are yet to hear the operational specifics of how these plans will be achieved. 'Puss inna bag' not going to cut it, Dr Phillips and Bunting. It will not!

Dr Phillips joined the PNP in 1989 and became a Member of Parliament in 1994 ( Jamaica Observer, March 6, 2017). Since 1989 he has held a series of high-level posts in the PNP. Between 1995 and 1997 he was the minister of health. He was transport and works minister from 1998 to October 2001. And from 2011 to February 25, 2016 he was minister of finance and de facto prime minister. Why did he not prevail upon his colleagues to solve what he says is “at the heart of Jamaica's problems”?

In 2002, the PNP promised to remove cost-sharing by 2005 — that promise was not kept. The PNP was blindly against the abolition of obligatory fees at the secondary level. The vast majority of schools were getting a mere 30 per cent compliance with regard to the payment of auxiliary fees when the cost-sharing programme existed. Large numbers of parents simply just could not pay. Today the schools are better funded. Will the PNP reintroduce cost-sharing at the secondary level were it to form the Government again? They are mum on the matter also. Tek sleep and mark death, say rural folks.

I don't recall Dr Phillips or Bunting stepping away from their peers or saying, “I dissociate myself from all the recent and not so recent wanton waste of taxpayers' money and/or instances of rank abuse of public trust.”

Some of the most egregious examples include these:

1. Iran sugar deal

2. Rollins land deal

3. Zinc scandal

4. Furniture scandal

5. Motor vehicle importation scandal

6. Montego Bay street people scandal

7. Land distribution at Holland scandal

8. Shell waiver scandal

9. NetServ scandal

10. Trafigura scandal

11. Cuban light bulb scandal

12. FINSAC scandal

13. Bad gas scandal

14. Dead babies scandal

15. Outameni scandal

16. Run wid it scandal

17. EWI scandal

18. Chikungunya scandal

19. Fat cat salary scandal

20. Operation PRIDE scandal

21. Campaign funds scandal

Dr Phillips and Bunting need to realise that attempts to pull wool over the eyes of PNP delegates might work, but it will not pass the new car smell test as regard the general voter population who are much more discerning.


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