Peter Phillips's aufklärungWednesday, December 01, 2021
NOW that he has found time to rest, relax, and, hopefully, refresh himself, Dr Peter Phillips, in the mode of a cow ruminating under a tree, was in a reflective mood in Parliament last Tuesday. Sitting in the departure lounge, largely as a result of the deterioration of physical strength and acuity contingent upon an aging body, he felt bold to say things about our political past that he apparently was not bold enough to say when he was in the heyday of his political career.
He now believes that the political tribalism that has bedevilled Jamaica has not served the country well and there is equal culpability on both sides of the political divide for the ways in which the practice of pernicious politics has retarded the growth and development of the country. He highlighted the Singaporean model, bemoaning how far more advanced Jamaica was in the 1960s compared to that country. Even once-maligned small Caribbean states have done better than us, he lamented.
One has no problem with anyone having a Damascus Road experience at any time in his or her life. Neither should one begrudge another's experience in coming to terms with his or her life and offering the requisite repentance that such enlightenment should elicit. But my problem with political leaders like Dr Phillips and others, who have been entrusted with inordinate power over people's lives for almost their entire careers, is their belated recognition of their own involvement in the very things they now reject and despise. All of this rings hollow and very insincere, but some will say better late than never.
Dr Phillips has served in many important portfolios in Government over his long career in politics. During their 18 years of unbroken power he was a minister in the People's National Party (PNP)-led Government. He later became the country's minister of finance in the Portia Simpson-led Administration. For all intents and purposes, he was regarded as the de facto prime minister. He did a commendable job in the portfolio, having to preside over the humiliating strictures imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This was foundational in the recovery of the economy.
But, over these years, as a member of the Cabinet, he must share collective responsibility for the many scandals which enveloped the PNP in its administration of the people's business. I did not hear him speaking out then against the tribal politics which divided the country and was so eloquently characterised by the country's longest-serving prime minister, P J Patterson, as a struggle for scarce benefits and spoils by hostile tribes at war with each other.
I did not hear him denouncing strongly the emerging gun culture in our politics, which culminated in the slaughter of over 800 Jamaicans in the run-up to the ill-fated 1980 General Election.
As minister of national security he had to address the tribalism in the politics of the gun, but to my knowledge there was no robust pushback against this culture as one would have expected. One could go on, ad infinitum, in cataloguing the missed opportunities that Dr Phillips has had before taking the stand he did last Tuesday in the Parliament.
His speech could have been given hundreds of times to address many of the ills that have plagued the society and retarded its social and economic growth. But, to promote his own political prospects and that of the party, which he faithfully served, he seemingly, could not bring himself to call out his colleagues, whose snouts were clearly deeply buried in the trough and whose only concerns were winning and preserving political power.
Now he wants us to take him seriously, but I did not hear an apology or clear statement of repentance for his culpability in what he denounced. Is this coming, Dr Phillips?
On another level, there is a cowardice and strong sense of betrayal of the nation's interest that belie political reluctance to be adroit in denouncing wrongs and corruption by political colleagues. This is so on both sides of the political fence. It is something that we should urge young parliamentarians to be aware of and take heed lest they continue the corrupt practices of their elders. So far, except for a few, we are not seeing a sterling display that lessons are being learnt. There is not much to give us any comfort that many of them want to go in decisively new directions.
The cowardice of which I speak and the betrayal of the nation's national security interests were evident in the latest rejection of the states of emergency (SOEs) in certain sections of the island. Lest I be considered a hypocrite, let me say at the outset that I have, in this column, expressed my deep reservations about the employment of states of emergency as a crime-fighting tool. While they help to cauterise violent criminality in the short term, they cannot be substitutes for well-thought-out crime-fighting strategies. Furthermore, when used too often they run the risk of becoming ends in themselves and what may be considered a solution to a problem becomes the problem itself.
That said, I am not so foolish as to believe that in a country with Jamaica's murder rate the option of SOEs should be entirely off the table. The recent upsurge in murders and the insane characteristics of some of these require strong suppressive measures in the short term to cauterise this monster. It is in this vein that I supported the Government's recent desire to employ this strategy.
The Opposition is well within its rights to oppose the Government's decision, as it had done on other occasions. Thus, they were well within the dictates of their conscience to have voted against the Bill.
Every sitting PNP senator vigorously opposed the Bill. Those who were in attendance before the vote voiced their indignation as they railed against it. Having done so, one would have expected that all who attended the sitting would have cast their vote to manifestly demonstrate their opposition to the measure.
But, in what could only be interpreted as a clear act of cowardice, some of them left the chamber just before the vote on the Bill was taken. They could not bring themselves to put their hands where their mouths were for fear of being held accountable for the vote they would be making against a measure that many Jamaicans, who are sick of the runaway murder rate, would want to see them take. Yet, after this act of betrayal of the national security interests of the country, Peter Bunting, the leader of Opposition business in the Senate, had the gall to suggest that the fact that they had spoken against the Bill was sufficient to tell people where they stood. Not voting on it was immaterial, of no real consequence.
Bunting would be well advised that there is a difference between chatting a great volume of hot air, and registering your opinion by a vote in the people's Parliament. It cannot be ruled out that a person who fulminates against a position may get a moment of enlightenment and vote differently when confronted with the burden of accountability to the people. But we will never know in this instance for some voted with their feet when they should have done so with a show of hands or by making their voices heard.
There is a great deal to commend in a person who comes to a sense of contrition and genuine repentance over actions for which he or she feels sorry. The same goes for inaction when clear decisive action is required. Such things are good for the soul. But we wish our leaders had the intestinal fortitude and boldness to confront situations as they arise and not wait until they are departing the scene and can suffer no great injury, other than the judgement of history, to “bawl out”. This is the ultimate act of cowardice.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest, social commentator, and author of the books Finding Peace in the Midst of Life's Storm and Your Self-esteem Guide to a Better Life. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.