What's the likely future of the People's National Party?

by Paul Buchanan

Sunday, December 17, 2017

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Jamaica has changed.

Driving from Savanna-la-Mar to Kingston after 7:00 on any given night, one cannot fail to notice the closed shops, once thriving bars now battered up, and the eerie absence of the inviting fruit stalls at Porus. Yes, that is abnormal.

Yet, even more ominous is the sad realisation that oddity, hype and abnormality have now become an accepted part of our political psyche. Taken in the context of the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) cynical portrayal of Dr Peter Phillips at their recent conference, the full arena of dancing Labourites and more than a few Comrades too, are being sold the odd view that a proven performer can somehow be packaged as an out of touch non-performer and hence a liability to the People's National Party (PNP) as Edward Seaga was to the JLP in his last years as leader.

Still basking in the victory in South East St Mary but mindful of their many unkept promises and the daily doses of corruption, the JLP has concocted a denigrating sideshow on Peter to distract the Jamaican people. Although caught up in the euphoria, Andrew Holness is not sure. He understands what happened in the recent by-elections and knows that in a national contest, the PNP's machinery might just be ready. He knows too, that if the polls are favourable to the PNP they will attract sufficient private sector funding, and the vulgar use of Government resources won't be the decisive factor. He understands even more clearly that corruption undermines confidence and trust, most critical to electoral fortunes. He has too much issues to clear up, so he will not call early elections to test their scheme on Peter — that will remain a work in progress. He has been fooled by the dancing crowds before and won't take that chance again.

Importantly, Andrew is fully aware that it is the iron law of economics and real gains in the people's standard of living that will determine his lot. The passing of the prosperity test will not be achieved by one's age or likeability, it is the leader most trusted to provide opportunities for food on the table and decent shelter that will prevail.

Peter has proved over and over that he can be trusted. Yes Labourites, the contrived, ephemeral moment showcasing our barefooted prime minister, wading through the now famous river at Castleton, matched against Peter's unwise use of that wretched helicopter, long motorcades and big meetings, will be insufficient to misrepresent the substance of the man. In the end, all that will pass and Peter's decency, unassailable competence, brilliant mind, caring and unquestioned patriotism will be decisive.

But the PNP's non-response to this travesty is not only self-debilitating but speaks to a pervasive embrace of a 'divine right of king's syndrome', a belief that we are above and beyond the unwanted, unkind, uninformed commentary of others. It is a kind of elitist behaviour which says that the people will not believe them anyway, so we don't have to respond. More acutely, it tells that we have learnt nothing from our non-debate decision of February 2016. Without the facts, the people believed in Audley Shaw's unbacked, $18,000 tax waiver, the enticing mirage of the doubling of the minimum wage and, lest we forget, the captivating 'dessert' of 250,000 new jobs and no user fees.

Critically, this aloofness and philosophising of bad news has led to a lack of political engagement 'on the ground', which is destructive. Where is the PNP's secretariat in all this? The position of the party leader must be defended vigorously at every instance. He or she determines where the movement stands at any point in time, the quality of stewardship, the ideals and prestige of the party, the aspiration of its members, and the hopes and dreams of Jamaicans everywhere. It is an edict that must be upheld — if not, the dignity and an enduring legacy of the movement will be detrimentally undermined.

A long time ago, the Greek philosopher Socrates gave us a simple definition of justice. In Plato's republic he argued that justice is achieved when every person works to the best of his abilities. Conversely, we can deduce that it is also achieved when each person is given his proper due. Peter Phillips's claim to justice rests on his leadership of some of the most far-reaching achievements in our modern socio-economic governance.

The Office of the Leader of the Opposition, the secretariat and his shadow ministers must rise from their seeming parochialism and individual pursuits to protect the image of the leader and thereby place the party in a positive light. There is too much silence here. When in Opposition the people quickly forget the work of those who came before and are susceptible to slick public relations and the 'noise' of the new men.

Too many of our young people are being led to believe that Andrew Holness and the JLP are the future and Peter Phillips and the PNP are the past. That deception, transmitted by JLP activists such as Sunday Observer columnist Garfield Higgins must be thoroughly expunged. For example, in his December 20, 2017 column in the appropriately named section The Agenda, he writes:

“The PNP, for decades, has been a party steeped in emotionalism, fluff, razzle-dazzle and less about economic pragmatism.”

Such poisonous propaganda must be countered. Our youth and others must be told that real modernity is not to be found in PR schemes or Higgins' blasphemous treacheries. It is reflected in the hard-won technological and telecommunication revolution pursued by Phillip Paulwell; the big vision of Dr Fenton Ferguson with his leadership of the courageous, path-breaking anti-smoking legislation, PROMAC and most profound, the establishment of the Cardiac Centre at Bustamante Children's Hospital and the Cancer Centres of excellence at Cornwall Regional and St Joseph hospitals; the commendable work of Ronald Thwaites in upgrading our education system; the creation of MOCA by Peter Bunting; and the unsung, monumental contribution of Mark Golding in coordinating and crafting a record number of breakthrough legislations.

The youth must be seized with the understanding that Peter Phillips's approach to development is of a similar, highly disciplined, pragmatic nature to that of the elder Lee Kuan Yew, who applied solid but unpopular measures in converting Singapore from a backward, Third World country to a modern nation.

It is in this vein that the Jamaican people must be reminded of his important background work on the San Jose Accord, the parent of the PetroCaribe facility, during the tenure of Michael Manley, which has literally saved our nation from economic stagnation and ruin. Then there was also his coordination of the MIDA programme which precipitated over $1 billion in micro sector loans, and his early responsibility for Operation Pride under PJ Patterson which has not only provided 30,010 landless Jamaicans with secure tenure at Whitehall, Luana, BelAir, Melrose, Barrett Hall, Langston/ Deanery Road, the Pines of Karachi and 70 other developed communities, but has also moved them to a higher social class underpinned by land capital. They must also be told of his work in cleaning up the disgusting 'patty pan-loader man' bus system, with the establishment of transportation centres, securing proper buses, and the finalisation of our modern highway network, Highway 2000.

Perhaps too little known or remembered, is his non-stop labour as Minister of National Security in accessing funding to provide training and life skills for ex-convicts, deportees and unattached youth, by linking the Citizen Security and Justice Programme (CSJP) to the National Youth Service. The CSJP can provide inspiring, uplifting stories of the placement of many of the graduates of the programme in government jobs and the productive life they enjoyed afterwards. Most insightfully, the nation has not yet grasped the value of his firm, courageous, non-partisan stand in confronting the organised crime bosses. Most notable, was the Donovan “Bulbie” Bennett saga where PNP supporters burnt his t-shirts and the Christopher “Dudus” Coke extradition imbroglio, where, unlike his JLP detractors, he stood in the breach and unrelentingly demanded full adherence to the rule and law.

We must never forget that while those who now scheme to reduce his contribution recoiled from issuing a single statement in the face of the financial power and death threats of drug dons, it was Peter Phillips who established Operation King Fish that led to successful investigations, arrests and extraditions of the main perpetrators, saving our fragile nation from the scourge of cocaine and the ultimate demise of our young people and future generations.

The PNP is also guilty of a monumental omission in its failure to properly highlight his unchallenged success in preparing the platform for growth from the catastrophic economic state he inherited from Audley Shaw. There was Peter at his best, passing 10- straight IMF tests (after Audley abandoned the programme), holding the primary surplus at 7.5 to seven per cent, even as he maintained an effective social safety net to protect the poor — recording a 3.9 per cent inflation rate, the lowest in a generation and a healthy NIR of US$2.44 billion while reducing unemployment and poverty — a performance enthusiastically hailed by the Gleaner naming him 2015 Man of the Year and as a best practice model by Christine Lagarde and the IMF.

At the same time, the prestige and attractiveness of the PNP do not rest on Peter's fortunes alone. Where is the needed establishment of a research unit which would have properly addressed the crime problem, the number one scourge of our nation? This is critical in exposing the clear inadequacies of the zones of special operations (ZOSO). It would also reflect the relevance, scholarship and depth of Norman Manley's party, leaving a clear message of our fitness to restart the process of solid, gimmick-free, positive steps towards the modern state that Peter gave us.

For certain, the pervasive crime epidemic will not be solved by the unprecedented invasion of police and soldiers into targeted communities, nor by the superficial social intervention measures invoked or Horace Levy's hundreds of social workers. We have seen the results in Montego Bay, the home of the first ZOSO. The PNP's research unit established by the secretariat, must give the people a real alternative based on the capitalisation of our inner cities and depressed rural areas. How can we grow when the areas of our greatest human resource, talent and exceptionalism are off limits and undercapitalised? If capital is constantly moving out of our inner cities, if there are remittances, savings, illegal inflows or church offerings with no loan or investment reciprocity, what will be left? Only zones of exclusion, political garrisons with no external ventilation and closed communities with stratified, underground economies controlled by 'dons' and criminal gangs.

Just look at the southern belt from Slipe Road to Maxfield Avenue, the wastelands and degradation including the zone around the Bob Marley Culture Yard which should have been a constant source of tourist dollars. This scenery is replicated in almost every constituency islandwide. This net disinvestment effect created by Governmental inaction, the paradox of thrift and the high unemployment/ high consumption paradox, inexorably concretises a persistent poverty cycle which fuels crime and mayhem. Listen to the late John Maxwell:

“The elite are interested in 'wealth management', the rest of us are concerned with the management of misery, destitution and violence, of drought and water shortage, of malnutrition, gastrointestinal disease and stunned children, of teenage prostitution and what, 40 years ago, I called the 'Acres of Hunger' represented in thousands of acres of idle land and the hundreds of thousands of idle people.”

In addition to existing urban renewal tax incentives and social intervention measures, the PNP must lead the trust for a new path involving a community reinvestment Act of Jamaica, which either mandates compliance or offers special incentives to the financial sector to invest in inner-city communities.

Most importantly, the PNP's research unit should also design and designate troubled communities as State-secured enterprise zones, offering training and research in software programming and other technical skills to facilitate exponential economic growth; apply a 110 per cent loan/contingency fund mechanism to ensure repayment and indemnify micro sector loans without collateral; targeted incentives to private investment; proper infrastructure and the insertion of government institutions. This will usher in the needed normalisation and formalisation to 'open up' and counter criminality in those 'closed' milieu. This equity-inducing approach is not included in Dr Nigel Clarke and Michael Lee-Chin's growth model, hence it's inadequacy. Peter Phillips understands all this, and must lead the alternative path.

I like Andrew Holness; his wife Juliet even more. She is an intelligent warrior who knows her people. But they both know that it is Peter Phillips, the former Rastaman who has greater generic linkages with the people. Yes, long before they came to the stage, it was Peter who left his middle class world to walk and talk with the people of August Town and Trench Town, to better understand their life issues. It was the young Peter Phillips who participated in 'grounding' sessions with Planno, Jah Lloyd, Jerry Small and other brethren, to one day fashion a better life for marginalised and forgotten Jamaicans. No honest person can deny his accomplishments since then, but it is time to revisit 'the ground'. The perpetrators of distortion are at bay. Men with no history of noticeable achievements must not be allowed to disrespect the profundity of his work.

Finally, the secretariat must renew its work among the people, by highlighting our ideological difference from the JLP, borne out of the party's democratic socialist antecedents, not only in words, but most critically in all our policies going forward.

While the slogan; 'Building a Jamaica for all' may be noble in its intent, we must be mindful that the rich need no special help, their profits are at an all -time high. The upliftment of the poor and the working class must be our primary focus. There you will find our undiluted mission, our connection with the broad masses, the proven antidote to political deception and importantly, the source of real growth with equity underpinning the continued mission of the People's National Party.

Paul Buchanan is a former PNP Member of Parliament

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