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Of unfulfilled promises, plans and programmes

Santa Claus politics won't serve Peter Phillips and Peter Bunting

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, July 21, 2019

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No matter how good a trickster you are, you'll never be able to lick your back. — Zulu/Ndebele proverb, Southern Africa

How will you comprehensively fund your objectives/policies and programmes? This is a very important question which Dr Peter Phillips, president of the People's National Party (PNP), and president aspirant, Peter Bunting, need to answer. They need to show us the money.

And, I hope they will not use an abacus to crunch their numbers, because in this Information Age, a much more discerning electorate will be able to fact-check their “sums” at the click of a button.

Last Monday I heard Peter Bunting being interviewed on radio. I was flabbergasted that he was not asked any question as to how he will fund his objectives. Maybe the reality has not yet dawned on some that Dr Phillips and Bunting are auditioning for the post of prime minister of Jamaica. They are seeking to, among other things, become chief manager and director of our nation's purse.

Last Sunday's Gleaner carried the headline 'PNP Gov't under Phillips promises return to free education'. The article said, among other things: “Free tertiary education, one of the linchpin provisions of the People's National Party (PNP) regime of the 1970s, will make a return under a PNP Administration, said its leader, Dr Peter Phillips.

“The initial step will be the 'first in the family platform' put forward by Senator Damion Crawford during his unsuccessful by-election bid in Portland Eastern in April.”

And how will this plan be put into operation?

The article went on to report Phillips saying: “We intend to assault this with the most massive mobilisation, akin to what we did with the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) programme to make Jamaicans literate in the 1970s. This will be assaulted with financial, human and educational resources.”

I believe all well-thinking Jamaicans understand that education is the most important and/or efficient vehicle of personal liberation, especially in a society like ours with its history of slavery and colonialism.

Horace Mann, a pioneer of American public schools in the 19th century, famously called education the “great equaliser of the conditions of men”.

Thousands of ordinary Jamaicans who have beaten and are beating seemingly insurmountable odds to get an education can readily identify with the practical significance of Mann's proposition. I, for example, as a poor boy; first-born to my mother; from deep, rural St Mary; would not have been able to afford a university education were it not for a scholarship — decided on academic merit and community service — from a private sector organisation in 1996.

So, I understand Dr Phillips's passion for wanting to see at least the first-born of every Jamaica family obtain a university degree. His plan deserves keen and evaluative consideration.

We must be careful, however, that we are not distracted by optics, sweet-sounding words, and what is nothing more than razzle-dazzle. We have paid dearly for our inattention in the past.

Dr Phillips and the PNP, need to show us the money. How will their education plan to guarantee free tertiary education be funded? I believe we have not only a responsibility, but a duty to examine Dr Phillips's and the PNP's promises with great suspicion.

Nobel laureate William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead. It's not even past.”

The promises of free tertiary education which Dr Phillips is making today is a near-copy of those made by former Prime Minister Michael Manley in the 1970s. The promises of free education up to the university level was never achieved in the 70s because the Manley Administration could not fund it. Why?

Michael Manley and the PNP wrecked an economy that had been growing at 9.1 per cent in 1972 [Planning Institute of Jamaica figures] when the PNP formed the Administration. It was all downhill from there. I have provided incontrovertible evidence in this respect in previous articles. And the devastating consequences of Manley and Democratic Socialism are still being paid for by Jamaica.

We must not forget that Phillips, at his affirmation in March 2017, recommitted to Manley's brand of Democratic Socialism. He said this at the National Arena minutes after taking the oath of office as the fifth PNP president. ( The Sunday Gleaner, March 26, 2017) He insists it still has a place in developing, 21st-century Jamaica.

But back to the PNP and its past of not honouring its pre-election promises of free tertiary education, in particular.

I believe the PNP's failure in this respect is a most cruel dagger to our people's heart, especially given the realities of our colonial past. In 1989 the PNP promised to make education a priority. During the election campaign, Michael Manley declared in Half-Way-Tree square that, “God will judge me if the cess on university education was not removed.” Several months after the PNP won the election and demands were made for them to fulfil its covenant with the people, the country was told that the cess could not be removed. The country was told, among other things, that certain unfortunate miscalculations were made and, that based on the realities of the country's coffers, the removal of the cess was not possible. Hundreds of university students who were lured by the PNP's promise to remove the cess and voted for that party were devastated by its betrayal.

National Hero Marcus Garvey said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

A similar betrayal occurred in 2002 when the PNP promised to remove cost-sharing by 2005. That promise was not kept either. A promise is a comfort to a fool, goes the local adage. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Recall also that in 2003 our Parliament debated a motion from former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, and both parties agreed to a parliamentary accord on education. Among other things, the accord would serve as the template for the transformation of education. The JLP and PNP agreed to an increase of the percentage of the budget, from 10 to 15, over a five-year period, and the abandoning of the shift system, among other things. The PNP which formed the Administration at the time, however, ignored the accord. Rural folks say we must “tek sleep and mark death”.

The PNP has a treacherous past when it comes to the implementation of pre-election promises, in relation to education in particular. With a general election constitutionally due in 2021, which is just around the corner as we say in local parlance, we cannot take any chances. Dr Phillips and the PNP need to show us how they will finance free tertiary education.

Those who are saying, “Well, it's a little early to be making that kind of tough demand,” clearly have not been citizens of Jamaica long enough. Dr Phillips, must show us the money!

Last year, at his post-annual conference press briefing, Dr Phillips said, “We believe that as our debt-servicing costs continue to fall, it will allow for much more resources to be spent on the capital side of the budget. And we think this is an area that is affordable.”

Take careful note of the caution in the choice of words, “We think,” and “We believe”. So, are we to deduce that Phillips will only definitively know were he to be elected? Rubbish! That kind of Michael Manley bait-and-switch technique from the 1970s and 1989 will not fly! We must recognise hide-and-seek politics when we see it and resoundingly reject it.

I want to see the money, Dr Phillips. Nothing else is good enough!

And there is another fly in the ointment. Regrettably, we do not have a majority of instances of the classic nuclear family as the norm. How will Phillips's plan be made to work with hundreds, if not thousands of such cases?

Recall When Phillips was asked what he meant by 'first child' he struggled to explain. He eventually said: “We not saying the first child in the family, if a parent already has a university education then they would not be the first in the family. What we are saying is those families that have no one and that are stepping up in the ladder of life.” ( Television Jamaica's Prime Time News, September 18, 2018).

“If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough,” said Albert Einstein.

Phillips's land plan

Dr Phillips at his campaign launch some weeks ago, and as recent as last week, promised to end squatting in Jamaica if he were to become prime minister. This is an admirable objective since some 30 per cent of our people still live as squatters. What formula will Phillips use to allocate the finite resource to ensure equity?

Will Dr Phillips's land titling scheme be a carbon copy of that which was used by former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe? Or is he going to use strategies of land redistribution without compensation that have been suggested by Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in South Africa?

And, lest we forget, the PNP formed the Administration in 23 of the last 29 years, why did they not solve this problem? Phillips was a senior minister for most of those years. Why did he not influence his Cabinet colleague to take on the problem of landlessness and solve it. Why should we believe this is not just another political bait-and-switch tactic being fed to us by a party whose political stocks are very low?

Somehow, Phillips's land plan smacks of the failed land lease programme of the 70s.

I get the impression that Dr Phillips does not seem to understand that the best way to reduce poverty is to enable people at all levels to become consumers of goods and services through inclusive economic growth grounded in genuine economic activity.

Our focus going forward should centre on greater opportunity creation, expansion, and distribution, not the redistribution of finite resources, modelled on the failed schemes of Michael Manley in the 70s.

Bunting's promises

At his launch last Sunday Bunting offered three promises. First, he said were he to become president of the PNP, and thereafter prime minister, he would set about to build an inclusive economy and transform Jamaica. He said this means an economy which benefits the people. In the interviews I have heard on radio thus far with Bunting, post his campaign launch, I have not heard anyone ask him to give specifics as to how he is going to operationalise the creation of an inclusive economy and transform Jamaica.

But where did I hear a similar ditty before?

Ah, yes, it was from former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller when she was vying to become leader of the PNP. She promised to preside over an economy that had a “human face”. By the time she was voted out of office poverty had increased.

Recall this headline 'Poverty climbed back to 21% in 2015'? ( The Gleaner, October 8, 2017)

The story said, inter alia: “The prevalence of poverty in Jamaica, at 21.2 per cent, has reached its second-highest level in almost two decades, according to the 2015 survey of living conditions, the latest such study conducted by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN).

“The poverty rate was estimated at 20 per cent in the previous survey in 2014 and is second only to the 24.6 per cent recorded in 2013. It means that about 593,600 persons among Jamaica's 2.8 million population have been classified as being at the poverty line based on household consumption expenditure.”

The proverb, “Once bitten, twice shy,” has great relevance here.

Bunting needs to understand that catchy phrases alone won't convince a more informed electorate. “Puss inna bag” won't work!

Bunting says he will ensure that our education system serves the people. OK, sounds great! But no details as to how this will be achieved. When will those details come?

Where will the resources come from to effectuate that plan? The country has a right to know, and I believe Phillips and Bunting have an obligation to tell us. Bunting says he will effectively tackle the “monster of crime and corruption”. He gave no specifics.

Phillips and Bunting are ringing the bells of Santa Claus politics.

We must recognise it for what it is and repudiate it in the strongest terms.


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