Plastic smiles and constipated glad-handing cannot smother reality, PNPSunday, June 14, 2020
The warrior may be tripped by a maize cob. — Kikuyu proverb, Kenya
This meeting is the meeting. Nevertheless, I am willing to have another meeting. That just about summarises the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and president of the People's National Party (PNP) Dr Peter Phillips's answer to questions from journalists as to whether the meeting of the Opposition's parliamentary caucus, made up of 29 Members of Parliament (MP) and eight senators, held at The Mico University College last Monday, was one and the same as the meeting that was requested by the 'Gang of 15'.
It was widely reported in the media that a meeting requested by those that Senator K D Knight reportedly categorised as “wanabees, has beens and treacherous idolaters” in a recent WhatsApp message was scheduled for last Monday.
As an example, check this snippet from a newspaper article: “Most of the signatories had backed Manchester Central MP Peter Bunting in his failed 2019 bid to oust Phillips from the leadership of the party.
“In the letter, the 15 MPs pointed to the lack of a meeting of the PNP MPs since Phillips disclosed that he had cancer.
“They also demanded that a meeting be held before today.
“That meeting is now scheduled for Monday, June 8 but the time and location are still to be decided, said PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson.” ( The Gleaner, June 1, 2020)
Last Monday, Peter Bunting, MP for Manchester Central, said on radio that the meeting requested by those dubbed the Gang of 15 was scheduled for Thursday, June 11, 2020. Bunting suggested that the meeting was needed to devise ways to counter unhelpful perceptions in the public sphere about Phillips's leadership.
There is a fierce political tug-o-war between the Gang of 15 and Phillips's loyalists. Dr Phillips is understandably adamant that the Gang of 15 will not be allowed to set the agenda for the PNP, while the Gang of 15 is desperate to ring home their 15-of-29 MP advantage at every political juncture.
A credible media outlet reported last Tuesday that sources in the PNP revealed that the meeting of the parliamentary caucus on June 8, 2020, among other things, was used to air matters regarding Phillips's stewardship as president of the PNP and leader of the Opposition, and 89 Old Hope Road's preparations for a general election which is constitutionally due in 2021.
It's obvious to me that Phillips is doggedly applying the principle of safety in numbers. He is using his superior support among the parliamentary caucus, 14 MPs plus eight senators, to politically outflank the Gang of 15 in order to strengthen his political defences.
I believe Dr Phillips is adroitly applying Knight's philippic: “The 15 wouldst wound Phillips and the party and they are not afraid to strike. In saving the party he too should not be afraid to strike.”
For my younger readers, a bit of history is necessary here: Richard Hart; the Hill brothers, Frank and Ken; and Arthur Henry were expelled from the PNP in 1952 for allegedly operating a Marxist unit in the party. The expulsion of the 'Four Hs' signalled a parting of ways between the PNP and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which was aligned to the PNP. The National Workers Union (NWU) effectively filled the vacuum left by the TUC.
So, this allusion — “The behaviour of the 15, without exception, is scandalous and clearly antiparty. Phillips, as the elected leader of the party and a student of politics should be reviewing the history of the party to see if any behaviour of this type or close to it has ever occurred and how the then leader dealt with it. Uppermost in his mind should be Norman Manley” — by Knight was a summoning of ghosts from the PNP's momentous past.
The 4-Hs' involvement in local representational politics was cut short by a political guillotine. It seems one now hangs like a Sword of Damocles over the Gang of 15.
The birds, those reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits, and John Chewits shriek that the Gang of 15 are not fazed by Senator Knight's denunciation. They warble that more political excitement is ahead.
On the matter of political excitement there was quite a bit of that last week. Check this: “There is now no dispute over the leadership of the 81-year-old People's National Party (PNP), declared Mark Golding, the St Andrew Southern Member of Parliament, who, along with 14 of his parliamentary colleagues, signed a letter recently demanding a meeting with Dr Peter Phillips to discuss the future of the party.
“Yesterday, Golding, a business partner and key backer of the failed leadership challenge mounted last year by Manchester Central MP Peter Bunting, emerged with a voice of unity from a meeting with Phillips and the hierarchy of the party at The Mico University College in Kingston.
“The 'leadership issue is settled… so we are all behind the leader', Golding told journalists yesterday evening.” ( The Gleaner, June 9, 2020)
This type of rarefied talk was trumpeted by many officers of the PNP soon after the bruising leadership contest which Dr Phillips won by a whisker. It all turned out to be mere 'Alice in Wonderland' optics.
Mr Golding needs to satisfy the public that his Damascus Road experience is genuine. His 180-degree shift as regards confidence in Dr Phillips's leadership begs elucidation. Golding's new political spectacles must be tested in light of his fully clasped vice-grip-like support for Bunting in the run-up to the massively contentious leadership battle last September. And, of course, less than two weeks ago, he attached his signature to a missive that some pundits say is an open attack on Phillips.
Last September Peter Bunting made these strident comments, “Since becoming [PNP] president, he has not implemented a single transformational initiative within the party and is just not seen as the right person for this time,” Bunting argued in a statement announcing his candidacy.” ( The Gleaner, June 9, 2019) Golding endorsed them. Golding, as we say in local parlance, was “head cook and bottle washer”, a central cog, in Bunting's campaign activities to remove Phillips from his presidential perch.
Of course, Cupid's arrow might well have indeed found its way, smack right though the centre of Mark Golding's heart. Nevertheless, reasonable folks have a right to examine if Cupid's bow is spun from transient yarn.
Consider this: “Bunting and his erstwhile campaign attack dog Dr Dayton Campbell, signatories of the letter, were absent, but general secretary of the party, Julian Robinson, told The Gleaner that five of the MPs who signed the missive tendered apologies for their absence.” ( The Gleaner, June 9, 2020) This does not sound to me that everyone is singing from a common hymnal.
The PNP needs to understand that poppyshow, optics, plastic smiles, and constipated glad-handing cannot smother reality.
For three years I have been asking these questions:
1) Where are Phillips's and the PNP's new and/or better ideas on how to grow the Jamaican economy?
2) Where are Phillips's and the PNP's new and/or better ideas to remedy the long-standing imbalances of our education system?
3) Where are Phillips's and the PNP's new and/or better ideas to fix the choking issue of major crimes, and murder in particular?
4) Where are Phillips's and the PNP's new and/or better ideas for a national identification system (NIDS)?
5) And, how will their ideas, programmes, and policies be operationalised?
As a taxpayer, I need to be convinced that the PNP's ideas are 'fundable'. Show me the money!
I have examined presentations by PNP spokespersons, documents in the public domain, and listened to presentations from recent annual conferences. I have not seen anything resembling rational answers to the mentioned questions.
Any Jamaican, indeed anyone who was not repulsed by the cruel manner in which 81-year-old murder accused Noel Chambers died must have iced water running through their veins. I was heartened to read a news item captioned: 'A changing judiciary? Court apologises to family of 81-y-o deceased Noel Chambers' on Nationwide News Network's website last Tuesday.
The cruelty meted out to Chambers is not strange. In fact, it's commonplace in Jamaica.
These are but a few horrid examples:
1) Coral Gardens Massacre (1963)
2) Orange Street Fire (1976)
3) State of Emergency (1976)
4) Forcible eviction of some 1000 citizens from Rema (Wilton Gardens), in St Andrew Southern (1977)
5) Green Bay Massacre (1978)
6) Eventide Home Fire (1980)
7) Agana Barrett, Ian Forbes, Vassell Brown suffocated in an overcrowded cell at the Constant Spring Police Station (1995)
8) Operations into Tivoli Gardens (1997, 2001, 2010)
9) Mario Deane allegedly beaten and stabbed to death by three men in a cell he shared with them at the Barnett Street lock-up in Montego Bay, St James (2014)
10) Jodian Fearon inhuman treatment, reportedly meted out to her by several entities (2020)
11) Susan Bogle, a disabled citizen, reported shot in her bed (2020)
I could go on like a stream of consciousness.
These atrocities are visited upon the poor and dispossessed of this country. I risk being corrected, but I don't recall that anyone ever was tried, convicted, and/or served time in prison for any of the extremely wicked acts mentioned. Who will lose his/her job because a citizen was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment? I doubt anyone will.
In relation to Noel Chambers' horrible death, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said, “I felt embarrassed as a Jamaican.” His acknowledgement of the pain and suffering of Chambers is a good start, but we need to go beyond apologies. Quickly, Prime Minister Holness! There can be no salvaging of broken institutions which allow these atrocities to be repeated. Hundreds of our citizens have died cruel deaths because of the long-standing structural failures of the Jamaican State.
A few Sundays ago I wrote in my The Agenda column, inter alia: “The severely inhuman treatment reportedly meted out to Fearon was not an oddity. We have travelled this ghastly road before. Invariably, we come upon the ghosts of our own creation.” ( Jamaica Observer, May 3, 2020)
The result of a stable economy cannot be prolonged inequality. I fear that, as a country, we will continue to move forward only by mere inches, because we continue to hang on to outdated institutions that are millstones around our necks.
After road trips into all but two parishes last year, I noted these simmering cauldrons, among other things, in my column of November 24, 2019.
i) frequent power outages and the negative impact on lives and livelihoods;
ii) suffocating bank charges and shoddy customer service;
iii) destroying of people's homes, livestock, etc, by bauxite soot; and
iv) deteriorating telecommunications services.
Since that article, residents in parts of Manchester have mounted several demonstrations decrying the awful impact of bauxite soot on their health and physical assets.
One only needs to take a listen to radio talk programmes to realise that there is a massive increase in complaints, particularly by our senior citizens about the mistreatment they are forced to endure from some banks in particular.
The complaints about dropped calls and poor data services are numerous in the media.
Many communities in the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew and St Catherine were affected by a power outage on April 20, 2020. According to the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS), “More than 30,000 JPS customers were affected by the incident, which took place just before 8:00 pm yesterday. The last group of customers had their light restored about 11:00 pm.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 21, 2020)
In recent weeks complaints about unreasonably high electricity bills have grown exponentially. I am one of the just under 38,000 signatories of a petition condemning exorbitant electricity bills from the JPS.
The Holness Administration needs to tell the country what specific remedies will be applied to extinguish these fires.
Here is a humble suggestion that will put out some dangerous embers. It should be mandatory for all business to issue a proper receipt to customers for good and services rendered. At present the majority of businesses issue proof of a transaction on what amounts to mere ticker tape. This grows faint and disappears within days, sometimes hours.
I suggest that citizens use their phone to take pictures of these 'receipts' and store same for the eventualities.
I will say more on that score in another piece. While we encourage the march towards the paperless, cashless, digital economy, we have to also recognise the realities of our present.
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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