Something here does not pass the new-car smell test

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, October 13, 2019

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A sculptor is summoned and the woodpecker shows up. — Yoruba Proverb, Nigeria.

Strong and independent institutions prevent mature and functional democracies from descending into the ignominious category of failed states.

The oxygen of strong institutions is the rule of law. That is why, for example, the Global Competitiveness Report (GCR) published by the World Economic Forum identifies the strength of “institutions,” as the first of its 12 pillars which determine the level of productivity, competitiveness, and prosperity earned by an economy. The GCR is the benchmark of competitiveness reports.

Strong and independent institutions matter. Hammering away on and/or diluting the strength of the adhesive that binds institutions to their solemn mandate is a recipe for utter disaster. Credible scholarship from around the world supports this conclusion. In fact, many countries that have plunged themselves into the suicidal quicksand of institution adulteration are yet to re-emerge.

Why would anyone with a modicum of sense or an ounce of love for our country even suggest actions that may well cause such a frightful result? The answer is obvious, political aggrandisement on steroids.

House Divided

Last Monday, the People's National Party (PNP), or was it the OnePNP faction of the PNP, held a press conference.

Dr Phillips, president of the PNP, was flanked by Dr Wykeham McNeil, Fitz Jackson, Mikael Phillips, and Phillip Paulwell, all acolytes of the OnePNP outfit. There was no Peter Bunting, no Mark Golding, no Dr Fenton Ferguson, etc anywhere in sight. Were people from the Rise United crew invited, Dr Phillips? If no, why not?

All well-thinking Jamaicans want to see a strong Opposition. We do not want the continuation of fractiousness and factionalism in its ranks. The fact that there were no members of Bunting's defeated Rise United camp at the conference podium was very bad political optics. In Jamaican parlance, “it neva did look good”. Dr Phillips cannot credibly espouse better family life as a trump card of his take-back-Jamaica-House campaign, while fountains of disunity flourish in the PNP.

Last Sunday, Dr Phillips courted churchgoers at the West Jamaica Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Phillips pontificated about the importance of 'brotherly love' and suggested that expiation was needed in some quarters of public life. Less than 24 hours after Phillips's glad handing in Montego Bay, St James, this tweet came from ace newsman Abka Fitz-Henley: “Supporters of Peter Bunting ejected to the back benches of the House of Representatives in new seating arrangements as the Dr Peter Phillips faction of the PNP moves to assert itself on the 81-year-old party.”

Huge mountains of doubt will continue to fall, and rightly so, on Phillips's message of 'live good wid your neighbour', as long as divisions and dissonance are paraded before the public. Former Prime Minister Michael Manley famously prescribed “The word is love.” That aphorism was a bonding force for Comrades. Today, its potency seems to have all but disappeared from the corridors at 89 Old Hope Road.

I hope that no one from the OnePNP arm of Norman Manley's party tries to bamboozle the public with puerile explanations like 'Mr Bunting, et al had previous commitments.' It won't sell! Folks will not buy it. “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” — Matthew 12: 25.

Phillips, at last Sunday's gathering of Adventists, suggested that he reads the Bible regularly. Surely he must be very familiar with this scripture.

Frightening Attack

I believe Dr Phillips played a most injudicious shot last Monday at his press conference. Headline: 'PNP Leader Issues 30-Day Ultimatum To Gov't, Threatens Protest.'

The Nationwide News item said among other things: “Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips says if the Government does not provide a status report on ongoing corruption investigations within 30 days the Opposition will consider taking action — including protests.

“Dr Phillips issued the warning this afternoon during a media conference at the PNP's Old Hope Road headquarters in St Andrew.

“The investigations are being conducted by the Financial Investigations Division (FID), the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), the Auditor General's Department and the Integrity Commission. Dr Phillips says there's been too much silence about ongoing corruption investigations.

“He says an update is needed immediately.

The opposition leader says the update should include details about the status of the investigation into the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU).”

Something here does not pass the new-car smell test.

Was Dr Phillips affixing a political agenda and/or timeline to the investigations being carried out by the FID, MOCA, Auditor General's Department and the Integrity Commission? Was he trampling upon the rule of law here? My understanding is that the FID, MOCA, Auditor General's Department and the Integrity Commission are legally independent of the executive branch of Government. Surely, Dr Phillips knows this.

Dr Phillips's utterances need to concern all well-thinking Jamaicans. I believe a foundational pillar, that of the separation of powers, which our young democracy is modelled upon, is being assaulted. Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and nationalist leader in the American Revolution Samuel Adams famously said: “If ever the time should come when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.” I agree.

I believe Dr Phillips has started down a most dangerous road. One that will not benefit Jamaica in any developmental manner. Of course, right-thinking folks cannot but notice a certain confluence of events. Less than 48 hours after Phillips's broadside last Monday against some of our most respected institutions, former Education Minister Ruel Reid, his wife and daughter, head of the CMU and councillor for the Brown's Town Division, Kim Brown Lawrence, were “picked up by the police”. Interesting!

Many articles ago, I stated that those who are proven to have criminally used public resources ought to be ineligible for public office and must face the full force of the law. I have not recoiled from these positions.

I believe in the primacy of rule of law, and due process must never be undermined by those who want power by any means necessary. If that happens, we are finished.

A Whittling Process

Some of our globally respected democratic institutions are being unjustly attacked by the PNP. This is a harbinger.

Recall in May of 2016 when then Opposition spokesman on finance Dr Peter Phillips went on a rampage with a false narrative about a 'sham budget'. Thereafter, 89 Old Hope Road rode it for weeks until that horse went totally lame: 'Sham budget — Phillips rips Government on revenue measure, claims another tax package to come', (The Gleaner, May 17, 2016).

The story said, among other things: “Dr Peter Phillips, Opposition spokesman on finance, yesterday declared the budget presented less than a week ago by Finance Minister Audley Shaw a “sham” and warned Jamaicans to brace for a new round of taxes in the current fiscal year.

“'It is clear from the unreliable budget numbers that the Government will impose additional taxes on the people of Jamaica later in this financial year,' Phillips said as he took note of the $13.8-billion tax package proposed to make up for $12.5-billion in income tax relief announced for PAYE workers earning up to $1 million.

Making his contribution to the 2016-2017 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives, Phillips contended that both the recurrent and revenue sides of the budget were unreal.”

In previous articles I pointed out the egregious attacks on civil servants by high-ranking PNP members. The Jamaica Civil Service Association has kept a stony silence on attacks in Parliament on its members. Why?

Recall also in May this year a Gleaner report said, among other things: “The parliamentary Opposition yesterday took veiled shots at the Integrity Commission using words such as 'odd' and 'strange' to describe the corruption watchdog agency's handling of the controversial Rooms on the Beach report.

“Further, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips has acknowledged that lawmakers, during their deliberations on the Integrity Commission Act, may not have given sufficient consideration to the make-up of the commission when they signed off on the legislation.” — Gleaner, May 7, 2019.

Dr Phillips is a lawmaker. He was an integral part of the entire process which gave birth to the Integrity Commission Act. Was Phillips saying that he and all those in the Opposition benches in the House of Representative and the Senate made a mistake after many months of examination, deliberations, consultations, and eventual approval of the Integrity Commission Act? No answers to those pertinent questions have been provided by Dr Phillips.

When the controversy broke, I wrote inter alia: “I believe PNP President Dr Peter Phillips is calling for an urgent review of the commission's membership because the esteemed body is not saying what he wants to hear relative to the Urban Development Corporation's (UDC) sale of the Rooms on the Beach lands in St Ann.” I also said, “Dr Phillips's ill-founded attack upon the Integrity Commission is a very dangerous precedent which all well-thinking Jamaicans should democratically repudiate with every sinew. It is the membership of the Integrity Commission today. Who will it be tomorrow? — Jamaica Observer, May 12, 2019.

Well, tomorrow is here! I believe “the clock has struck 13.” This is a chilling excerpt from, George Orwell's classic, dystopian novel 1984, which rings with significance in light of Phillips's continued attacks on some of our institutions.

'Normalisation of Corruption'

There is an irony of ironies here: “People's National Party (PNP) president and Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips this afternoon accused the Government of normalising corruption with its handling of the latest scandals rocking a number of State entities.” — Jamaica Observer, October 7, 2019. The PNP was in office for 23 of the last 30 years. During their 23 years in office some of the most costly and reprehensible scandals involving allegations of corruption took place. There are no ifs, buts, or maybes that the PNP presided over more scandals than any other political party since political independence. This abbreviated list of the PNP's most egregious scandals should refresh the memories of those who suffer with convenient political amnesia.

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

In recent months, a stench from another scandal that germinated while the PNP formed the Administration has had members of the public holding their noses. The Gleaner of June 6, 2019, carried a story entitled 'Manchester Municipal Corporation fraud scheme at $400 million, court told'. Phillips has remained mum on this. Why?

The miasma of the PNP's Campaign Money scandal is near the top of the putrid metre. Recall this NNN exclusive of August 22, 2016? The news item said, among other things:

“Norman Horne told the PNP NEC (National Executive Council) that, as the party sought to fund its election campaign earlier this year, a number of times information received from potential donors was that contributions had already been made to senior party members for the benefit of the party.

“But he says only a few members reported, or accounted in full, or even in part, for the receipt of these donations to the treasury or the party executive.

“He suggested that some senior PNP members had bank accounts which had contributions from donors and those accounts far exceeded the money the party had access to.”

This Administration has taken well-publicized steps to bring to book those involved in allegations of misuse of public office and corruption. Where is the equivalent record of the PNP, Dr Phillips?

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


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