The political schizophrenia in the PNP is palpable

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The political schizophrenia in the PNP is palpable

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, July 05, 2020

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One does not stay at holes that are waterless. — Ovambo proverb, Namibia

In the 1992 US presidential debate with George H W Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot, Bush committed a major unforced error. He looked at his watch repeatedly. Polls at the end of the debate revealed that a majority of Americans were livid with Bush's watch-watching obsession. Where did he have to go many asked?

Veteran American journalist Jim Lehrer recounted years later that Clinton told him: “If I had looked at my watch as Bush did, it would not have mattered.” Why? Lehrer says, “The only reason it [Bush's watch-watching] mattered was because it fulfilled something already in the wind.” Put another way, politicians have pre-existing political conditions. Uncontrolled, these maladies will sprout up like thorns and choke their political objectives to death.

During much of his political career Bush was viewed as severely detached from the angst of most Americans. His robotic-like watch-watching in the 1992 presidential debates merely illuminated his Achilles heel.

Some still remember

Pronouncements from a meeting involving Dr Peter Phillips, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and president of the People's National Party (PNP), with councillors and councillor-caretakers, at The Mico University College, last Sunday, reminded me of Bush's ill-fated watch-watching buffoonery, and Jim Lehrer sage-like remark about fulfilment of “something already in the wind”.

Dr Phillips and the PNP seem totally oblivious to the torrential wind of hypocrisy which swirls around them, particularly on matters of corruption, every time they try to don the cloak of moral rectitude. In 2015, former Education Minister Ronald Thwaites told us that the “PNP is a morals party”. ( The Gleaner, May 1, 2015) A quick Google search shows that the PNP's continuous attempts to don the paraphernalia of a moral superstar have made them look, as we say in local parlance, “like heng-pon-nail” (wearing totally ill-fitting clothes).

Phillips's repeated attempts to brand this Andrew Holness-led Administration as corrupt have proven tremendously ineffective, among other reasons, because PNP administrations are tainted and haunted by a litany of costly money scandals, misappropriation of public funds, and rank corruption as evidenced in numerous reports from contractors general, independent committee reports, and commissions of inquiry. I have cited abundant proof from such documents in previous articles.

Last year the PNP went on an evangelical tour which they said was intended to expose corruption in the Holness Administration. They did not win many converts. It is not difficult to understand why.

Recall these insightful comments from a citizen-bystander at a sparsely attended demonstration which was spearheaded by Dr Phillips in Montego Bay, St James. He remarked: “And I notice di PNP is going around talking about clean up corruption, and Andrew Holness about corruption. But, in my opinion, PNP cannot come to Montego Bay or to Jamaica come speak about corruption. They can't come and tell me to clean up the garbage out of my yard when their yard also full of garbage. When my yard is clean and their yard is full of garbage, the virus or whatever going still continue, going spread. So they don't have moral authority to come tell about garbage when their yard is full of garbage. And the placard they have here this morning, I would like to see the Mandeville Parish Council scandal on that, too. And then they will be speaking to the people. Yuh cyaan deh come a talk about one side, while you also have the same epidemic.” ( TVJ News, July 18, 2019)

The PNP should rightly be taking a penitent posture in sackcloth and ashes, especially for the numerous money scandals over which it has presided. Instead, the PNP continues to close its eyes to reality, maybe in the hope that its costly blunders, which Google faithfully preserves, will disappear. Dr Phillips needs to understand that the lived experience of the electorate cannot be eviscerated so easily. Those, particularly on social media, who retail and wholesale the narrative that Phillips became PNP president only in 2017 and, therefore, should be separated from the stains of past PNP administrations are doing him a huge disservice.

Dr Phillips joined the PNP in 1989. Phillips became a Member of Parliament in 1994 ( Sunday Observer, March 6, 2017). 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. He was transport and works minister from 1998 to October 2001. And from 2011 to 2016 he was minister of finance and de facto prime minister. The 18 period between February 1989 and September 2007 witnessed some of the most egregious and corrupt acts in Government since 1962. Why did Dr Phillips not resign and/or separate himself from those PNP administrations?

I do not believe incessant complaining, pie-in-the-sky promises, fake news, misguided bluster, empty chat, political deflection, “bad mind”, threats of street demonstrations, political schizophrenia, 1984 Orwellian-type strategies, and/or attempts at filibuster will help the PNP in its bid to return to Jamaica House.

Folks want impact not empty rhetoric. They want bankable solutions to especially long-standing problems. They want issues which affect their pockets and dinner tables to be addressed... and urgently.

Only a grand, contrite, and national mea culpa by the PNP will suffice. In the absence of that, the PNP will continue along a political trajectory that will likely culminate in another general election defeat.

A leader must set the tone

Consider this banner headline: 'Phillips accuses PM of shielding Vaz...wants investigation into Holywell controversy'. The news item noted this, among other things: “Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips has accused Prime Minister Andrew Holness of shielding his embattled Cabinet minister Daryl Vaz, who was recently stripped of his environment portfolio responsibilities following revelation of a controversial offer to lease lands bordering the Holywell National Forest Park for a development.” ( The Gleaner, June 28, 2020)

There can be no, ifs, buts, or maybes, former minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation (with responsibility for land, environment, climate change, and investment) Daryl Vaz exhibited bad judgement when he attempted to lease land at Holywell in the Blue and John Crow Mountains national park. Vaz himself has admitted that he was cognisant of the “sensitivity” of his position in the Administration when he offered to lease land to build a private cabin. By any objective system of measurement Vaz's actions were massively injudicious. Prime Minister Andrew Holness has since applied the whip and has reassigned Vaz.

The palliative actions by Prime Minister Holness reiterate that we are making incremental progress on the governance front. We have to move much faster if Jamaica is to become “the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business”.

Over two years ago I wrote, inter alia: “Trouble comes to everyone at one time or another. Political administrations are no different. There is no utopian political administration anywhere in the world. For me, a key indicator of good governance is a demonstrated willingness [action] on the part of an administration to put a finger in the dike and, thereafter, repair the dam quickly. This is a fundamental difference between this Andrew Holness-led Administration and that of former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. She simply allowed the country to flood.” ( Sunday Observer, June 24, 2018)

By contrast, from all indications, it appears that a future Administration headed by Dr Peter Phillips would be a facsimile of Simpson Miller's. Recall that the JLP called for Phillip Paulwell to resign in the face of the damning 2018 auditor general's report which fingered two years of his ministerial stewardship. Dr Peter Phillips, in a press release, said he had “full confidence in Phillip Paulwell as the Opposition spokesman on mining and energy and he will not be removed from that responsibility”. ( Jamaica Observer, December 11, 2018)

Paulwell, in my view, is an archetype of ministerial bungling. In previous articles I have chronicled his extremely costly blunderings. He has been promoted to a vice-president of the PNP. Some PNP insiders say he may well succeed Dr Phillips. He is also spokesperson on mining and energy and co-director for the PNP's campaign bid to reoccupy Jamaica House.

Phillips does not seem to recognise that one of his most obvious political weaknesses is strangling 89 Old Hope Road's ability to increase its political stock.

While he pontificates that the political guillotine must fall on the head of Vaz, he continues to tighten his embrace of former junior minister Richard Azan, who was reprimanded in a scathing report by the contractor general and universally condemned by civil society. Azan was later reinstated in Nicodemus-like fashion, ignoring howls of protests from all sectors of the Jamaican society.

Phillips sings Closer than a brother while he hugs Anthony Hylton, who embarrassed Jamaica with the Krauck and Anchor cock-up. Hylton was also given political hugs and kisses by Portia Simpson Miller. He did not offer his resignation and he was not relieved of his ministerial functions.

The PNP president continues to dance cheek to cheek with Dr Fenton Ferguson, who, as minister of health, presided over inadequate preparation for the arrival of chikungunya on our shores. He was defended by the prime minister. Under Ferguson's watch there was country-wide suffering, which cost the economy, conservatively, $7 billion and 13 million lost man-hours of production time, according to data from the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica.

Political schizophrenia in the PNP is palpable. Rural folks say, “Tom drunk but Tom nuh fool.” Folks see right through the veneer of Phillips's platform. All credible polls since 2018 indicate that folks see Phillips as detached from the fervent pulse of the majority. Dr Phillips needs to rid himself of the syndrome, which was a millstone around the neck of one-term president George H W Bush, and urgently too.

No more wagon-circling

I think it augurs well for our politics that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) hierarchy, including its women's parliamentary caucus, did not circle the wagon after the Justice Minister Delroy Chuck suffered his most recent attack of political foot in mouth disease. This snippet indicates that we are making a push, albeit baby steps, forward: “In a statement from the JLP this morning, Chang, who is also minister of national security, said the party strongly condemns any statement which diminishes the importance of the issue of sexual harassment or the broader issue of sexual violence.” ( Jamaica Observer, June 29, 2020)

Contrast this Administration's response to the stout defence of the former majority leader in the Senate, minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a senior Cabinet minister, A J Nicholson, who made the dastardly “flexi-rape” remark in Parliament. Some who are now heaping mountains of fire on Chuck's head kept a stony silence then. Suddenly, their laryngitis has healed.

The traditional political response of circling the wagon has only succeeded in further impoverishing especially ordinary Jamaican taxpayers. Those who remain wedded to the antediluvian practice are merely protecting their narrow, unenlightened interests do not care two hoots about the growth and development of this country. At a minimum, Chuck's comments at a joint select committee meeting at Gordon House, two Thursdays ago, were insensitive.

Those who are seeking a space in representational politics need to 'get it': Today's politics is dominated by visuals. Hence, what you say matters. How you say it matters. And how you look and are heard saying it are equally crucial.

Scathing report

I think the report of the Integrity Commission that was tabled in Parliament last Tuesday should, among other things, serve as a catalyst for life-saving surgery which is needed by our politics. If Prime Minister Holness does not do the right thing he will significantly devalue his political stock. If Dr Phillips does not do the right thing he will inflict another crushing blow to his prime ministerial bid.

In my The Agenda column of April 18, 2015 I said, inter alia: “Unchecked corruption which metamorphoses into an almost incurable sore is the death knell of many great empires. The impact of corruption by common sense deduction is even more deleterious on small economies like Jamaica.”

I remain resolute in that position.

Lee Kuan Yew famously said: “Our survival depends on running a clean, efficient system, which means the politics must be clean before the Government can be clean.” I agree!

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


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