Ragtag PNP will surely lose next by-election

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, February 24, 2019

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The more feathers a chicken has the bigger it looks. — Tonga proverb, Zambia

IN the run-up to the October 30, 2017 by-election in St Mary South Eastern, Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition Dr Peter Phillips trumpeted that the outcome would have been a referendum on the Andrew Holness-led Administration, in particular the prime minister's management of the economy. When the votes were counted Dr Norman Dunn of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) trounced Dr Shane Alexis of the People's National Party by over 900 votes.

The by-election in St Mary South Eastern was a textbook lesson in two things: How to manage and execute a modern election campaign/machinery, and how not to.

The JLP focused on local issues like a laser beam, while Dr Phillips shouted, “Dem duh know what dem doin'. ” Phillips's unrealistic attempt to delegitimise the reality that the country's macroeconomic indicators pointed then — as they are now — in the right direction, failed miserably.

Then it came to public light that Dr Shane Alexis was a Canadian citizen. Even more egregious was the revelation that Dr Alexis had not even bothered to begin the process to become a Jamaican citizen. The country only became aware that Dr Alexis was a Canadian citizen on Nationwide News Network's Cliff Hughes On Line, on Tuesday, October 10, 2017.

Two days later, Dr Alexis dropped this bombshell: “People's National Party (PNP) candidate for South East St Mary, Dr Shane Alexis, says he did not apply for Jamaican citizenship because 'the necessity did not present itself' in his day-to-day life before his entrance into representational politics.

“Alexis's nationality became a hot topic earlier this week when the ruling Jamaica Labour Party revealed that he was a Canadian citizen who does not hold a Jamaican passport.

“Alexis addressed the issue in an interview with Loop Jamaica on Wednesday:

“ 'I didn't start my journey to become a politician, so I was able to do all the things everyone was able to do, and so the necessity (to apply for Jamaican citizenship) did not present itself in my day-to-day life,' Alexis said, noting that the application process is an onerous one.

“He added, 'Now that my life has changed to become a political representative, it's more of a necessity, but it doesn't change the work I have done for the country or the plans I have for it.' ” ( Loop Jamaica, October 12, 2017)

The JLP wisely began to use the PNP's 1970s song, The Message, by Neville Martin. The epigram-like line. “My leader born ya,” was effectively made into a clever political taunt.

To many it seemed more than a little curious that the PNP, which challenged the legitimacy of five JLP Members of Parliament in bruising dual citizenship court cases, could have been so politically brazen to allow a non-Jamaican citizen to be nominated as its standard-bearer.

While the PNP licked its wounds from the political fallout of the Alexis Canadian citizenship saga, the JLP poured even more energy into local issues like road repairs, for example the Junction Road, which is like the aorta in the constituency. The Junction Road connects the eastern parts of the island to its commercial and political capital, Kingston and St Andrew.

Simultaneously, Dr Phillips's helicopter ride into St Mary South Eastern did not impress the rustic folks.

While Phillips was hovering, Prime Minister Holness, among other things, rolled up his jeans and walked across a stony tributary to meet and greet the people.

As with our 17th parliamentary election on February 25, 2016, the JLP did its homework and executed a clinical political strategy. It focused on hope.

Andrew Holness led a ground and grounded campaign, and he did so from the front.

CALLING IT RIGHT!

Another by-election is imminent.

The general secretary of the JLP, Dr Horace Chang, has hinted that, Portland Eastern could see an early poll. Three Sundays ago, based on information gathered from informal road trip interactions across the country, but mostly in marginal seats, I said, among other things: “While the strength of a party's organisation on the ground is key on the day, and weather is important, my hunch is, if an election were called today, the JLP would win between 39 and 43 seats. Those who are figuring that bombast, generational party loyalty and/or mobile ATMs will be sufficient to bring home the bacon will discover, as rural folks say, 'how water walk guh a pumpkin belly'. They will get a rude political awakening.” ( Jamaica Observer, February 3, 2019)

On October 8, 2017, I said, “Dr Norman Dunn will win the by-election in St Mary South Eastern.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 8, 2017)

On October 22, 2017, I said: “The by-election in St Mary South Eastern is eight days from today. Two weeks ago I predicted a win for the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Dr Norman Dunn. Then, I based my prediction on poll findings of a credible pollster as told to me. I did not indicate what size of a win. Given information which I gathered last Saturday, and on National Heroes' Day, in the constituency, and findings from credible polls which a very kind soul put under my door, plus a well-oiled Jamaica Labour Party machine that has covered St Mary South Eastern from end to end, I can now say Dr Dunn will cross the finish line very comfortably ahead of the People's National Party's (PNP) Dr Shane Alexis.” ( Jamaica Observer, October 22, 2017)

I was spot on.

I was also spot on with my calling, several months before the events , of the last general and local government elections in favour of the JLP. I believe the prime minister will fly the gate, sooner than later.

When that happens, Ann-Marie Vaz will win the by-election in Portland Eastern. The sun has set on the days when the PNP was the party of near natural choice in Portland Eastern. I will say more in another piece.

WINTER IS COMING

The birds are also tweeting that political hyenas in the PNP are readying themselves to pounce.

Recall, over a year ago, the birds warbled that Dr Phillips would be challenged in 2019 for leadership of the party, and that he would be the first head of one of our two major political parties/Opposition leader not to become prime minister.

The birds shriek that forces within the PNP are sharpening their daggers. The birds chirp that some in the inner sanctum of the PNP are again tweeting that Dr Phillips has plunged the party into recession and that his “Mr Fix-it” mantra, the birds sing, is as good as dead.

The birds sing that tempers are already near boiling point in the PNP's Portland Eastern camp.

They tweet of a consensus standard-bearer.

They are also making sounds of a possible legal challenge, if a particular individual does not get the party's nod to represent the constituency.

STRANGE THINGS

Back in the day, Strange Things Are Happening was one of my favourite songs from Papa San (Tyrone Thompson). The intro to this classic includes these lines:

“Don't think I'm strange. Strange things are happenin…”

I heard two news items on Radio Jamaica's 94 FM, 7:00 am and 5:00 pm broadcasts, last Monday, which caused me to remember Papa San's Strange Things Are Happening.

7:00 am news last Monday:

John Levy, the general secretary of the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE), which represents workers at Petrojam, said a “planned forensic audit into massive oil losses at Petrojam will be a waste of time and money and should be scrapped”.

What?

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis found that Petrojam could not account for almost half or 600,684 barrels valuing $5.2 billion between 2013 and 2018. How can a planned thorough investigation to discover where the oil went be characterised as “a waste of time and money”. Strange!

Are some about us suffering with convenient scepticism, or worse?

For weeks the settlement of $13.3 million with Petrojam's former human resource manager, Yolande Ramharrack, has been dissected and re-dissected — and rightly so, the public has a right to know. But why the silence in our media on the 600,684 barrels, valuing $5.2 billion, which cannot be accounted for between 2013 and 2018? For reasons best know to many in our media $13.3 million is much, much more money than $5.2 billion. Why?

5:00 pm news last Monday:

“And in an item of news just in from the Bureau of Standards Jamaica regarding the 'bad gas' now circulating...”

Bad gas now circulating? This immediately grabbed my attention. What, where, when, which gas stations? So I turned up my radio.

The news reader continued: “The Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), National Compliance and Regulatory Authority (NCRA), as well as the Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC) take note of statements in the Sunday Gleaner, dated February 17, 2019, regarding fuel quality in the Jamaican market.

“This morning members of the respective board of directors and relevant executive teams convened a joint meeting to discuss concerns raised.

“The CAC has reported that to date they have not received any complaints regarding engine damage due to alleged compromised fuel.

“Consumers with complaints regarding fuel should immediately bring same to the attention of CAC for thorough investigation.

“For ease of processing, complaints should be supported with date, time and location of purchase, and contact number of the complainant.

“The meeting emphasised the importance of fuel to the daily operation of our economy as well our joint duty to ensure quality for the protection of the consuming public.

“The organisations continue to use standards, regulations and international best practice to monitor the trade and protect consumers.

“Despite having no evidence to corroborate fears of bad gas currently, the NCRA and BSJ will increase monitoring of the sector to give the public greater confidence in the integrity of the fuel supply.

“All fuel entering the market, through legal means, at the point of import or refinery, must be certified by the BSJ/NCRA prior to release. Any fuel which fails the specification is detained and barred from release until found to be satisfactory.”

I let out a big sigh of relief at the end of the news item. It was great to know that the bad gas drama of 2015 had not, in fact, returned with a vengeance.

Recall this was one of several stories that frightened the living daylights out of thousands of motorists across the island.

Headline: 'Tell us who's selling bad gas!'

The frightening details said among other things:

“On Tuesday, the authorities ordered 17 service stations across the island closed amidst a probe that has so far identified 26 stations that were selling the bad fuel. But Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell noted at a hastily called press briefing that Government's hands were tied in naming the service stations, as the source of the fuel contamination was not identified.” ( Jamaica Observer, December 30, 2015)

The entire bad gas episode was ineptly managed by the then PNP Administration and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell. Today, Paulwell goes around wearing a cloak of an accountability guru. I think Papa San's words are appropriate here: “Don't think I'm strange. Strange things are happenin…”

But, just where did this bit come from?

The BSJ press release, which the RJR presenter read, clearly said there was no evidence to support fears of bad gas currently. I tuned in the following evening to hear an apology. I heard none. Why?

I had a media teacher at university who often reminded my class inter alia, “Be careful only to report the facts and nothing but the facts in a straight news story.”

If there has been a 180-degree shift, please send me the memo.

I have learned over the years that criticisms on the chin, or constructive criticism won't kill. I was also taught that when you make an error you apologise.

I grew up listening and liking many of the great broadcasters who graced the RJR studios over many years.

I grew up hearing “consistently credible” pouring out of 32 Lyndhurst Road. I would not want to think that pipe is going dry.

Again, I invoke the words of Papa San, “Don't think I'm strange. Strange things are happenin…”

GOOD TIDINGS

One of the best pieces of news from the start of 2019 is: “...14,400 more persons employed as at October 2018 — Statistical Institute of Jamaica”, Jamaica Observer, February 21, 2019. I continue to hold out great hope for my country.

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

It isn't where you come from, it's where you're going that counts. — Ella Fitzgerald

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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