Columns

A large chair does not make a king

Peter Phillips's job is on the line

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, October 08, 2017



I think there is only one quality worse than hardness of heart and that is softness of head. — Theodore Roosevelt

Dr Peter Phillips, president of the People's National Party (PNP), evidently does not have much in the way of hit records in his political jukebox. Last Tuesday, at a rally in Annotto Bay, St Mary, he played a predictable and now tiresome tune. Phillips would want us to believe that the PNP is better at governance. It is spectacularly hilarious that the leader of the party which has presided over what ex-Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites said is “the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich since slavery” can possess such convenient political amnesia.

Sixty-seven-year-old Phillips does not seem to realise that this is not the age where if you repeat an inaccuracy, often enough, it will eventually be believed to be true.

A scheme a political deflection

In addition to the obvious use of sheep psychology on the political stump, I believe there is a another explanation why the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition persists with his Luddite Narrative. Dr Phillips is, in fact, making an autobiographical comment. His cacophonous line is a grand process of deflection. Phillips simply does not want to accept that the PNP has failed to inspire and attract noticeable national support since it was rejected by the people of Jamaica on February 25, 2016. Dr Phillips is also using deflection as a political crutch for his failure to gain national traction, particularly among the youth, since he ascended to the political perch of Norman Manley's party six months ago.

Can Dr Phillips cross it?

On September 28, 2017, an editorial by The Gleaner titled 'Phillips' failing grade on PAC' raised additional concerns as to whether Phillips was up to the challenges and the physical demands of his plate of responsibilities. It said, among other things:

“But as busy as Dr Phillips may be, given the wider expanse of his remit, it can't be at the expense of his responsibilities as a Member of Parliament, or an important part thereof. In this case, we refer to his obligations as chairman of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which he has singularly failed to fulfil.

“The PAC is among the House's most important and influential standing committees. It, among other things, reviews the actions and activities of the finance ministry. [B]ut its most consistent [role], and the one for which it is best known, is its scrutiny of audits of government ministries, departments and agencies conducted by the auditor general.

“Although this public airing takes place after the fact, the public reviews help to bring transparency to the conduct of public officials and, thereby, act as a restraint on corruption. Bureaucrats, for fear it might come to light, are likely to be more circumspect about how they use taxpayers' resources.

“But the PAC has not met for 11 months, since the start of November 2016. In the meantime, as this newspaper reported on Tuesday, 13 audit and reports submitted by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis, and tabled in the House, await the scrutiny of the PAC. Dr Phillips has failed to convene a meeting. In other words, the people's business remains on hold.”

It cannot be good governance that because of tardiness on the part of Dr Phillips the following reports which were tabled in Parliament are yet to be reviewed by the PAC.

• National Water Commission: Contract and Procurement Management, Capital Projects - September 17, 2017

• Performance Audit Report: Ministry of Health (MOH), South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) - Securing Value for Money from the Procurement of Goods and Services - May 30, 2017

• Performance Audit Report: Engagement of Consultants, Advisors and Assistants at Ministry of Finance and Public Service, Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Education, Youth and Information - May 30, 2017

• Performance Audit Report: Bureau of Standards (BSJ), Monitoring for Compliance - March 23, 2017

• Performance Audit Report of Jamaica Mortgage Bank (JMB) Management of Construction Loan Portfolio - December 1, 2016

• Auditor General's Department: Activity-Based Audit Report Early Childhood Commission - September 28, 2016

• Tax Administration of Jamaica: Property Tax Collections and Enforcement - July 1, 2016

• Auditor General's Department Special Audit Report: Port Authority of Jamaica - July 1, 2016

• Auditor General's Department Special Audit Report Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries: Cane Expansion Fund - September 14, 2016

• Auditor General's Department Financial Statement Assessment of Public Bodies: Petrojam Limited - September 14, 2016

• Auditor General's Department Financial Statement Assessment of Public Bodies: Development Bank of Jamaica Limited - September 14, 2016

• Auditor General's Report Financial Statement Assessment of Public Bodies: Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing - September 14, 2016

• Special Audit Report of the Road Maintenance Fund (RMF) - September 14, 2016

Phillips's job is on the line

Dr Phillips might not have recognised it at the time, but he effectively put his political future on the line in Annotto Bay last Tuesday. He said if his party won the upcoming by-elections in St Mary South Eastern, that would be a signal to the Government that the people of Jamaica are calling for a change. If we assume that Phillips is right, he must know that the converse is also true as regards his leadership of the PNP.

Already the birds are tweeting that some in the PNP's upper echelons are sharpening their political knives. They warble also that some are very unhappy with the configuration of the shadow Cabinet.

Recall that Phillips had promised, on RJR, soon after his elevation that he would have revamped the 31-member shadow Cabinet of ex-party leader Portia Simpson Miller:

“Peter Phillips, the newly installed president of the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), has confirmed that he intends to revamp the shadow Cabinet.

“Dr Phillips will be appointed leader of the Opposition after Portia Simpson Miller retires from that office on April 2. He will then be in a position to shape the shadow Cabinet in keeping with his own priorities.

“ 'We need to have the discussions with the current members (of the shadow Cabinet), review the team, watch their operations, so in the course of a few weeks we'll be back with you, certainly before the end of April,' he told RJR News at the National Arena on Sunday afternoon, where he officially succeeded Simpson Miller as PNP president.” ( RJR News, March 27, 2017)

Is Phillips's shadow Cabinet revamped or re-stamped? In an interview aired on Irie FM news last Sunday, attorney-at-law Linton P Gordon, who is usually very charitable in his views to the PNP, said, “It is ridiculous that so many people have been appointed. I would have preferred that Dr Phillips had appointed 12-15 persons to have the responsibility for all the various portfolios. Because several of the ministries are part of original ministries that have been split up and given various long and complicated names which do not necessarily result in any efficiency, any reliability or any high performance.”

Majority public sentiments seem to support this perspective. The birds sing that Phillips was pushed to announce his shadow Cabinet. Phillips's announcement, they whisper, was precipitated because of a public intimation of a possible Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Andrew Holness. Dr Peter Phillips will soon discover the meaning of the Namibian proverb which declares that, “A large chair does not make a king.”

Phillips's woeful record on crime

Last Tuesday, in Annotto Bay, Dr Phillips understandably chastised the Government for the increase in murders over last year. On the basis of Phillips's record on crime, can citizens be confident that a future Administration led by him will halt the spate of murders bedevilling the country?

Recall that in November 2001, Phillips was appointed minister of national security. He was an abysmal failure: “In 2002, the murder rate moved to 40 per 100,000 and by 2005 it had risen to 64 per 100,000 population, placing Jamaica among nations with the highest murder rates in the world.” [Jamaica Constabulary Force: Police Crime Statistics]. On Phillips's watch murders peaked at 1,674 in 2005. [JCF statistics]. Crime experts around the world have largely agreed that the best deterrent to crime is people knowing they will be caught. We have fallen down in this department for decades.

Claims of broken promises by Phillips

Dr Phillips needs to also understand that in the age of information at the touch of a button, people's memories are no longer as transient as two decades ago. Folks remember the bungling that the Portia Simpson Miller Administration of recent vintage trumpeted on this country. They also remember that Peter Phillips was the de facto prime minister and he fiddled while Rome burned.

When Anthony Hylton failed the country with the Krauck and Anchor cock-up and embarrassed our country, Peter Phillips remained mum.

When septuagenarian A J Nicholson made the dastardly “flexi-rape” remark in Parliament, he did not resign and the prime minister did not fire him. Nicholson remained the majority leader in the Senate, minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade, and a senior Cabinet minister. Peter Phillips remained silent.

When Phillip Paulwell, minister of science, technology, energy, and mining, bungled and botched the 381-megawatt energy project, Peter Phillips was silent on the carryings-on.

In October 2012, the country found out that near $200 million of National Housing Trust funds had been used to purchase the Outameni property, ostensibly to establish a kind of 'Emancipation Park' in the west — at least that is one of several explanations the country got. The prime minister said she heard about the matter in the media. Auditor General Pamela Munroe Ellis later delivered a body blow to the wavering stories by the then board: “The Auditor General's Department says that the National Housing Trust's (NHT) purchase of the Orange Grove/Outameni property in Trelawny in 2013 was a buyout of a bad debt owed by the owners of the property to a local merchant bank.

“The decision to purchase the property followed a letter from the owners, Orange Valley Holdings Limited (OVHL), in November 2012, bringing to the attention of the NHT board its indebtedness and urging it to negotiate a buyout of the bank loan covering the realty.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 22, 2015). Peter did not say a word of condemnation.

When Dr Fenton Ferguson, as minister of health, made little or no preparation for the arrival of chikungunya, 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, Peter Phillips was as quiet as a church mouse.

Can the country take anything Dr Phillips says except with a pound of salt?

Dr Norman Dunn will win

Recall that on October 24, 2015, when near all the political pundits were predicting from a comfortable to a landslide win for the PNP in the general election I wrote in this newspaper among other things: “Whether the People's National Party (PNP) president and the country's prime minister calls the general and/or local government election in November, as some pundits predict and sections of the private sector are demanding, February 2016, as my sources insist, anytime on or before December 29, 2016; or enter into a realm that no other political party has gone before -- those additional three months allowed by the Jamaican Constitution -- I sense that the PNP is headed for a crushing defeat similar to October 30, 1980.” I was proven right.

I also predicted that the PNP would lose the local government election. I wrote, “The PNP will lose the upcoming local government election. They will get a trouncing greater than Edward Seaga gave P J Patterson in 2003. My sources, those reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, John Chewits and Banana Quits, tell me that it would not be an exaggeration to compare the current state of the PNP's political machinery to a toothless dog which has been abandoned by its master.” ( Sunday Observer, June 5, 2016)

Dr Norman Dunn will win the by-election in St Mary South Eastern.

The sun has set on the days when the PNP was the party of near natural choice in St Mary. I will say more in another piece.

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth. — John F Kennedy

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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