IMF boss Lagarde charged in France graft case

WASHINGTON (AFP) -- The International Monetary Fund is again touched by scandal with chief Christine Lagarde's being charged in a French graft case, three years after predecessor Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned in disgrace. The "negligence" charge against Lagarde Wednesday in a case dating back ... Read more

Columns

Peter the rock

Lloyd B Smith

Tuesday, February 19, 2013    

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THE ruling People's National Party is most fortunate to have someone of the calibre of Dr Peter Phillips as its minister of finance at this time when Jamaica faces a most serious economic crisis, having to cede its sovereignty to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Let's face it, it is a very tough call and I challenge many of his detractors to dare walk in his moccasins before spewing bile and doom. Indeed, one may well ask, if not Peter, who? If not now, when?

When it comes to making unpopular decisions that can, in the long run, extricate this country from its debilitating debt crisis, Dr Phillips comes with sound credentials.

Here is a man who has demonstrated over the years that he has the guts to get it done. One can recall his stint as minister of national security when he took some decisions that irked persons in his own party, decisions which up to this day have caused him perhaps to have one of the most extensive security cover.

He took on PNP dons, among others, in his quest to rise above the fray and demonstrate that we must put country first. This is the mettle of the man that Jamaicans must now rely on to bring home the bacon.

So far, Dr Phillips has shown that he has a comprehensive and incisive understanding of the country's economic dilemma. However, what separates him from previous ministers of finance since Independence is his humility.

When faced with tough, unpopular decisions, many politicians oftentimes go on the defensive, opting for an arrogant, know-it-all, abrasive approach. Not Dr Phillips. He exudes unbridled patriotism, a compassion for delivering of his best in the interest of all Jamaica, and, above all, he tackles his unenviable task with integrity and a non-confrontational approach.

Therefore, his detractors should give him critical support at this time, for if he fails, all of us will be sucking salt from a wooden spoon for decades to come while "dog nyam we supper".

I hold no brief for Dr Phillips, but the time has come to call a spade a spade. For too long in this country we have found it easier to be part of the problem rather than the solution. Journalists, talk-show hosts, newspaper columnists, would-be and failed politicians, among others, have found it par for the course to vilify, belittle and denigrate political representatives.

As one who has been a journalist, talk-show host and newspaper columnist now turned full-time politician, I am now in the belly of the beast. And a certain Jamaican saying comes to mind: "See me and come live with me are two different things."

Like hecklers from the stands who have all the right answers, put them on the field of play and they soon show up their ineptitude, their inability to stay the course as well as an acute ignorance of the harsh realities.

Some years ago, I had a one-on-one meeting with Dr Phillips after I had written a column taking him to task. He bore me no grudge, was gracious and accommodating as he outlined to me his dream of a better Jamaica and the role he wanted to play in this process.

It is well known that I did not support him in his two bids to become president of the PNP, going up against Portia Simpson Miller. Despite my stance, he has never showed any visible animosity towards me, and what is most instructive is that after those two demoralising defeats, he did not call it quits but bounced back to be one of the PNP's strongest assets in terms of his political maturity, magnanimity and his solid as a rock approach in dealing with his most challenging portfolio.

It is no secret that in recent times I have been the victim of vituperative remarks and ostracism by some misguided souls within the PNP because I had dared to make what I still regard as constructive comments in my Observer columns.

It is well-known that independence of thought in partisan politics is a recipe for political suicide on the part of any parliamentarian who chooses to exercise the right to freedom of expression, especially in the Westminster system. My encomiums aimed at Dr Philips still form part of that commitment to retain my self-respect while giving the devil his due.

Readers will observe that I have not harshly criticised the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party, because in the final analysis it is their job and constitutional responsibility to oppose, oppose, oppose, except to say that their seemingly Samsonian approach could bring down the entire temple which could result in chaos, confusion and utter disaster.

Andrew Holness and his team must find constructive ways to engage the Government of the day, because just waiting for the PNP to fail so that they can get another chance at State power is not the most practical solution to the ongoing crisis.

As Dr Phillips has pointed out, we need to move away from the "old-time politics" of one-upmanship, divisiveness and "tear-down", and engender national consensus.

As for the private sector, there are still too many crybabies in their midst who refuse to see opportunity in adversity and who prefer, when all is said and done, to want to have their cake and eat it. The evolution of Dr Phillips should inspire them to put their money where their mouth is and come up with innovative and creative ways to salvage this good ship Jamaica.

Here is a university academic who lived through Jamaica's dalliance with Socialism a la Michael Manley, then saw the PNP's embracing of Capitalism and was at one time a Rastafarian "treading down creation" to become the most palatable and engaging minister of finance that the business community can relate to.

In hindsight, unveiling the new $16 billion tax package the way he did may not have been the best way to have unleashed it on the Jamaican people, but these are very trying times and delay can be deadly.

Frankly, with all his faults, Dr Phillips needs our support at this time because this is not about him, the PNP, the PSOJ or the JLP. It is about Jamaica.

Let's work with it! After all, it is a foolish man who builds his house on shifting sand.

Lloyd B Smith is a member of Parliament and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the People's National Party.

lloydbsmith@hotmail.com

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