Peter Phillips's PNP strategy: Say something, anything, about everything

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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You have little power over what's not yours. — Zimbabwean proverb

Region Six is going to go orange, and if it nuh guh suh, it nearly guh suh.” This was the prediction of Dr Wykeham McNeill on February 21, 2016, at a People's National Party (PNP) rally in St James ( Nationwide News Network , February 22, 2016). He was proved wrong. The Jamaica Labour Party won the majority of seats in St James, Hanover and Westmoreland that make up Region Six. The PNP was also booted from office.

Dr McNeill, the Opposition spokesman on tourism, and his colleagues in Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition are locked in a political pressure cooker. They are not gaining any significant traction on the ground and severe political panic has set in at 89 Old Hope Road. The Opposition has now seemingly adopted a 'strategy': Say something, anything, about everything.

Fake news, misguided bluster, empty chat, political deflection, 'bad mind', threats of street demonstrations and attempts at filibuster are the principal political tools of the PNP.

Derrick Kellier, former agriculture minister, was right! He correctly summed up the rickety state of his party when he said, inter alia: “ 'Our political machinery has broken down badly, and that's why we are where we are today… We will have to climb Mount Everest to get back to where we were,' Kellier told delegates at the party's regional executive council of Region Six meeting at John Rollins Success Primary School in Rose Hall, St James.

“ 'Going forward is not going to be easy… we are in a state of flux, we are all about power, personal power, and personal aggrandisement and one-upmanship, that is what we are about. We are no longer a cohesive force that can deliver the knockout punch to the Opposition and can spread the word of hope and progress to the people,' he said.” ( Jamaica Observer, May 30, 2016).

The PNP's desperation will only increase in the coming months. The Banana Quits, John Chewits and Black-bellied Plovers, those reliable birds, tweet that the worst of the PNP is yet to come. More anon!

Fake talk

But back to McNeill. Last week he raised concerns that growth in tourism arrivals was declining: “Dr McNeill says the decline is most likely linked to the declaration of the state of public emergency in St James.”(April 6, 2018) Was this a scoop? Why did I not hear about this complaint from the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association? Why did I not hear it from any other sector grouping in the tourism industry?

Just to be sure, I made some inquiries, and, sure enough, the results proved the PNP were again spreading fake news consistent with their political strategy of 'say something, anything, about everything'.

Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, who was awarded the World Tourism Minister of the Year by the Pacific Area Travel Writers Association during a ceremony hosted by the International Association for Tourism in Berlin, Germany, last month, was quick to expose the false tidings of McNeill: “Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett says stopover arrivals for the first quarter of 2018 have surpassed the total for the corresponding period last year, at 6.6 per cent. He says the continued growth in arrivals also indicates that Jamaica is well on its way of surpassing five million annual visitor arrivals target before 2021.” ( Nationwide News Network, April 6, 2018)

If McNeill's inaccurate pronouncement was a political tactic to douse enthusiasm for the Jamaica Carnival Road March, held last Sunday, he failed miserably: “Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett says Jamaica welcomed over 50,000 tourists in the first week of April ahead of the island's carnival celebrations. This represents an increase of 12.4 per cent over the same period last year.

“ 'I am so happy that a whopping 51,384 visitors chose to come to Jamaica to partake in this very important festivity; making it, undoubtedly, one of the strongest weeks in arrivals so far in 2018,' said Bartlett.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 9, 2018)

Desperation on steroids

The PNP will likely stop at nothing to regain State power. Recall Chairman Emeritus Robert “Bobby” Pickersgill said publicly: “We believe that it is best for the People's National Party to form the Government; therefore, anything that will lead or cause us to be in power is best for the PNP and best for the country.”

“Anything” excludes nothing. The PNP's strategy of 'say something, anything, about everything' is another rusty nail in the party's political coffin. Recall that some months ago Lisa Hanna learned this lesson in a most unceremonious manner: “Lisa Hanna's embarrassing stumble on her first outing as the shadow foreign minister is not fatal, but it highlights the accidents to which politicians are especially susceptible when they chase after shiny objects rather than embrace substance. Which was precisely the essence of our advice to Ms Hanna on the day of her blunder. Ms Hanna, who was previously the People's National Party's (PNP) spokesperson on youth and gender, was last week appointed to her current job in Peter Phillips' rearrangement of the shadow Cabinet since he assumed leadership of the party in March. On Wednesday, she issued her first statement in this new role, expressing sadness at the supposed death of Anton Edmunds, St Lucia's permanent representative to the Organization of American States, who was supposedly among the 59 people killed in the Las Vegas shooting spree. Except that Ambassador Edmunds is very much alive and had, the day previously, cleared up the rumour of his death.” ( The Gleaner, October 6, 2017)

The political whipping in the general election of February 2016, the trouncing in the local government election of November 2016, the thrashing in the by-elections of St Mary South Eastern and St Andrew North Western, plus its numerous and long-standing internal fractures have resulted in great injury to Norman Manley's party.

'Cock mout' kill cock'

K D Knight, in questioning the managerial competence of the then leadership aspirant Portia Simpson Miller, said “If the person is popular and cannot hold the party together, the party is going to lose.” ( The Gleaner, July 16, 2008). Dr Phillips is immensely unpopular nationally, can he win and/or hold the PNP together? Knight might want to say.

Some years ago, I got a part-time job as a researcher. In fact, I had just started my second year at The University of the West Indies, Mona. One Friday evening, I got a call from my employer [now deceased]. My task was to find an article in which a Supreme Court judge made some very disparaging comments about him at a function in the 1970s. The comments were published in The Gleaner. I found the article and took it to the Supreme Court the following Monday morning. It was then I realised that the Supreme Court judge [now deceased] who made the comments was the presiding judge in a case involving my employer. The matter was that my employer was sued for libel by a resident magistrate. The lawyers for my employer requested a meeting in chambers upon reading the article. The judge agreed. The judge recused himself, after the in-chambers meeting. Why did he not do so before? I asked myself. Did the judge forget that he made the belittling comments about my employer? We need to take stock! Are ordinary citizens across the length and breadth of the country satisfied with the justice from our justice system?

Some weeks ago Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a call for greater accountability in our judicial processes. Some who are involved in what I described in a previous article as a game of intellectual ping pong went on a rampage. Others ranted that their 'sacred' space was being encroached upon. No one can be exempt from the hands of accountability in a functioning democracy.

This news story should concern all right-thinking citizens. “Supreme Court Judge Glen Brown has been taken to task for comments made in a matter concerning four police officers yesterday.

“This after he threatened to throw the matter out if the Cabinet failed to honour its obligations to pay attorneys representing one of the cops.

Nationwide News has obtained a copy of the transcript from the court proceedings.

“The drama unfolded after Queen's Counsel Valerie Neita-Robertson told the judge that the Government failed to pay up her team of 11 attorneys in the matter of the Crown versus her client in the reputed death squad hearings. She is said to be owed over $45 million to be paid in part by the Government.

“Justice Glen Brown sought to weigh in on the matter, 'If the ministry, if the Government of Jamaica and the executive say they will not pay, they are obstructing justice...'

“He later went on to say the reason the case cannot start is because the Cabinet — the executive — has decided [it is] not going to pay. He later outlined unless they reassign the case from him if nothing is forthcoming he will throw out the case.

“The Supreme Court judge continued, 'I have not said or done anything that anyone can bring disciplinary action against me, because that's the only way you can get rid of me apart from three years time.'

“He said the justice minister has criticised the courts concerning backlog to which the Government in this matter was contributing to the backlog. He said, 'And he must put his money, you understand, yes.'

“After the director of public prosecutions raised another matter for mention Monday, Judge Brown questioned if the matter was to be brought to the same court where the ex-cops' matter was to be mentioned come Monday. The DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Lllewellyn] said yes.

“The judge stated that the court is overworked, doesn't have enough space, and that, “…You don't have enough Crown counsel experienced to deal with these cases.”

Llewellyn pointed to the fact that they “…had not been doing too badly. We have a 60 per cent to 60-odd per cent conviction rate last year.”

“Judge Brown responded: 'Maybe because the conviction rate rises because people pleading guilty.'

“The DPP proceeded to say she would speak to the permanent secretary on the matter of the Government's contribution since she said [it had been] the police federation who retained counsel.

“Neita Robertson suggested if her fees need to be published then she would rather represent her client for free.

“When suggested that perhaps the ex-cop use legal aid, the judge said police matters do not get legal aid.

“Llewellyn suggested she speak to the Justice Ministry's permanent secretary on the fees matter, but Judge Brown insisted she speak to [Nigel] Clarke.

“The DPP questioned, 'Who, M'Lord?'

“Justice Brown responded, 'Mr Clarke, the new finance minister.'

“He then told the DPP, “You have certain powers and I have certain powers. As I understand my powers are supreme!”

“Llewellyn shot back, 'M'Lord, luckily nothing in the constitution recognises your powers and my powers similarly.'

“The power struggle in the court raised many questions. Among them: Should Justice Glen Brown be allowed to continue as to preside over the matter? This is expected to be a stern test of the chief justice.” ( Nationwide News Network)

A few weeks ago then Acting Chief Justice Bryan Sykes spoke in unambiguous terms at a case flow management workshop in St Ann. Sykes made it clear that it was not going to be business as usual. I have said it before, but it bears repeating, I have a very good feeling about Justice Sykes, and I believe there are many, many more like me.

More signs of sunrise

This bit of very good news will doubtless trigger more political convulsions among those who suffer with unenlightened Jamaica House Withdrawal Syndrome. This tweet from economist Dr Damien King: “Falling public debt results in falling interest rates. Interest rates on Government of Jamaica Treasury Bills have now reached their lowest levels in half a century with the March Treasury Bill auction: 2.98 per cent.” (April 3, 2018)

Recall the days under former Finance Minister Dr Omar Davies, when interest rates reached 33 per cent. According to Trading Economics, interest rates in Jamaica reached an “all-time high of 33 per cent in October 1996”. Davies said he was mopping/sopping up liquidity. Banks and others were cultured to think all they needed to do was wait for the next issue of Treasury Bills and certificates of deposit from the State.

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

To love truth for truth's sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues. — John Locke

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

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