Peter Phillips shows no sign he's able to lead any better

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, February 25, 2018

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You are beautiful, but learn to work, for you cannot eat your beauty. — Congolese proverb


Norman Manley, one of the fathers of our political independence and founding president of the People's National Party, famously espoused the mantra: “Man with the plan.” Michael Manley's ill-fated brand was democratic socialism. P J Patterson's political calling card was “Black man time now”, and Portia Simpson Miller promised to “balance the books and people's lives”.

It is approaching a calendar year since Dr Peter Phillips, now 68 years old, was acclaimed president of the People's National Party (PNP) and leader of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. Where are the PNP's new and/or better ideas? The PNP's idea gauge is evidently on 'E'. Where are Phillips's and the PNP's new and/or better ideas on a smaller shadow Cabinet?

Recall that Phillips had promised, on RJR, soon after his elevation, that he would have revamped the 31-member shadow Cabinet of 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.

“ '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)

Many political pundits and social commentators had wrongly predicted that Phillips, the portly skipper of the rickety ship that is the PNP, would have quickly offloaded severely damaged cargo. On September 28, 2017, Phillips re-stamped the old Simpson Miller 31-member outfit, and window dressed it to a 27 crew.

Dr Phillips and the PNP are in a trance if they believe that a political ripe mango is going to just fall into their empty sack.


Phillips's missing economic plan

Where is Phillips's and the PNP's new and/or better ideas on how to grow the Jamaican economy?

'Phillips appointed Opposition leader; promises to secure a better future for Jamaica', hollered the Old Lady of North Street on April 4, 2017. How, Dr Phillips?

Except for a few who suffer with what Norman Manley called a “corruption of consciousness”, it is overwhelmingly accepted that the Andrew Holness-led Administration has the economy on the right path: “Sustained signs of activity but growth remains vulnerable to weather. Unemployment is falling, new jobs are being created, and there is robust activity in construction, manufacturing, and hotels and restaurants. Inflation and the current account deficit are low, helped by relatively stable oil prices and the Government's policy efforts. The historically low yields in the recent global bonds' reopening reflect Jamaica's hard-won credibility. Nevertheless, weather-related shocks continue to be a drag on growth and have led to a weaker outlook for FY17/18. Programme implementation remains strong. All performance criteria and structural benchmarks at end-June were met. The landmark public pension reform Bill was passed by Parliament.” (International Monetary Fund report, November 2, 2017)

After almost a year formally as PNP president and leader of the Opposition, surely Phillips must have realised that folks are not interested in his call for a return to the democratic socialism of the 1970s. Phillips declared at his confirmation last year that he “will not apologise for embracing democratic socialism”. ( The Sunday Gleaner, March 26, 2017)

“Socialism sounds great. It has always sounded great. And it will probably always continue to sound great. It is only when you go beyond rhetoric, and start looking at hard facts, that socialism turns out to be a big disappointment, if not a disaster,” said Thomas Sowell.

Citizens are more interested in feeling the benefits of their toil in their pockets and seeing it on their dinner tables. Voters are increasingly identifying with the words of the Temptations hit, I want a love I can see. Phillips needs to tell the country how he will speed up the present sound trajectory of job growth in the country were he to become prime minister.


Milestones and achievements

More Jamaicans are employed today than any other time in our history: “The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), in a release yesterday, said that the declining unemployment rate is at 10.4 per cent, the lowest it has been since October 2008.

“STATIN, the Government's statistics agency, said that the youth unemployment rate of 25.4 per cent was also the lowest since January 2008, while female employment continues to increase.

“In addition, it noted that at October 2017 most of the persons who gained employment were non-government employees.

According to the information included in the 2017 Labour Force Survey, the number of persons employed in October 2017 was 1,206,800, which was 27,300 (2.3 per cent) more than the 1,179,500, recorded in October 2016. For males, employment had increased by 5,300 (0.8 per cent) between October 2016 (663,600) and October 2017 (668,900), while female employment increased by 22,000 (4.3 per cent) from 515,900 to 537,900 over the same period. ( Jamaica Observer, February 1, 2018)

The Finance Ministry under the leadership of Audley Shaw has achieved a major milestone: “An insufficiently noted or commented-on element of the Budget Estimates tabled in Parliament last week by Finance Minister Audley Shaw is that he set out a detailed medium-term spending plan.

“In other words, Mr Shaw showed not only how much, or on what, the Government intends to spend in the 2018-19 fiscal year, but projects through to 2021-22, or for another three fiscal years, something even large Jamaican companies do not execute. This is important in several respects.” ( The Gleaner, February 19, 2018)

The economy is recovering from massive flood rains last years: “Jamaica's economy is estimated to have grown by 1.1 per cent for the October to December quarter of 2017. That's according to the latest data provided by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ).

“According to the PIOJ, the country also grew by half a per cent for the year ending 2017. This out-turn means the economy has grown for five consecutive years. The PIOJ also says the outlook on Jamaica's economic future remains positive.

“PIOJ Director General Dr Wayne Henry released the latest growth figures at a quarterly media briefing this morning. He says growth in the October to December quarter was driven primarily by the rebirth of the mining industry, as well as gains in tourism. Mining grew by a whopping 15 per cent. This was largely due to the bauxite refinery at Alpart exporting its first shipment in November after years of closure. The hotel and restaurant category also grew a healthy 5.5 per cent.” ( Nationwide News Network, February 15, 2018)

The growth figures for 2012-2015, the period when Dr Phillips was controller of the national purse do not inspire great confidence: 2012 (-0.5 per cent); 2013 (0.2 per cent); 2014 (1.1 per cent); and 2015 (1.4 per cent). The JLP left the economy growing at 1.6 in 2011. (Statistical Institute of Jamaica) The $58 billion in new taxes imposed by Phillips during his time as finance minister and de factor prime minister are still fresh in the minds of thousands of Jamaicans.

Dr Phillips has been greeted with little fanfare by a growing and more discerning political clientèle. Why? Folks are interested in real bread and butter issues, and not empty rhetoric. Positive results, like the revaluation of the Jamaican currency, which translate in lowering of the debt stock and some prices of goods and services has not been lost on ordinary citizens.

The Jamaican dollar closed 2017 stronger than it started it — the first time in seven years. Continued improvements in our net international reserves is a big fillip for investors: “The country's net international reserves (NIR) now stand at US$3.2 billion, putting the country in a better position to withstand external shocks.

“This was disclosed by Minister of Finance and the Public Service Audley Shaw during the 13th Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) Investments and Capital Markets Conference at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston today.

“He said approximately 80 per cent of that stock is in non-borrowed reserves, noting that gross foreign reserves now stand at US$3.8 billion.

“The NIR represents contingency funds, which can enable the country to survive severe external shocks, cope with shifts in investor confidence and natural disasters.” ( Jamaica Observer, January 24, 2018)

Where is Phillips' and the PNP's new and/or better ideas to improve business confidence far beyond the present trajectory?

The most recent report on business confidence says the Administration is doing the right things to engender growth: “The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) yesterday reported that business optimism soared to the second-highest level Jamaica has seen since 2001, reaching an index of 142.6 for the fourth quarter — marginally below the all-time peak of 144.6 in the first quarter of 2016. Concurrently, the country saw a two percentage point decline in consumer confidence, reaching an index of 148 for the three months ending December 2017.

“Jamaica's business confidence index at 142.6 was 5.4 percentage points higher than the 135.2 experienced at the end of third quarter 2017 and 0.4 percentage points above the corresponding fourth quarter of 2016.” ( Jamaica Observer, January 17, 2018)


No alternatives

Where is Phillips's and the PNP's new and/or better ideas to the country's national identification system (NIDS)?

Dr Phillips says the PNP is now contemplating court action to stop the implementation of the NIDS. Any first-year political science student would have anticipated this latest 'take up your marbles and run' strategy of 89 Old Hope Road from the get-go. The PNP telegraphed as much in November last year:

“The Opposition People's National Party (PNP) is adamant that it will not support some of the provisions in the National Identification and Registration Act (NIDS Bill) and is promising to “repeal and replace” the Bill once its members are returned to Government.” ( Jamaica Observer, November 24, 2017)

While the PNP plans to climb what rustic folk term '11 step' [court action], “the general manager, Caribbean Country Department, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Therese Turner-Jones says the national identification system (NIDS) will lay the foundation for Jamaica to become a digital economy.

“The digital economy is the worldwide network of economic activities, commercial transactions, and professional interactions that are enabled by information and communications technology (ICT).” ( Jamaica Observer, December 14, 2017)

Where is Phillips's and the PNP's new and/or better ideas related to the provision of roads and repairs?

“The Government has allocated more than $16 billion to repair and widen roads in the new fiscal year. Among the major projects listed in the estimates are those in the Greater Corporate Area, including the completion of work on the Mandela Highway; the start of work to widen Hagley Park Road, which should be 65 per cent completed by the end of the year; and continuing work on Constant Spring Road, which should be 80 per cent complete. Money is also allocated to complete the road construction work in Barbican, St Andrew; while work should be 70 per cent complete on the Ferris to Mackfield roadway in Westmoreland.

“There is also provision for the rehabilitation of 430 kilometres of prioritised roads, which are in need of urgent repair, and the rehabilitation or reconstruction of 27 bridges, retaining walls, and protective works.'' ( The Gleaner, February 16, 2018

Where is Phillips's and the PNP's new and/or better ideas related to the provision of housing solutions?

“For the 2018/19 fiscal year the National Housing Trust will deliver 4,734 housing completions and 6,369 housing starts to the market, create more than 8,000 new loans, plus a raft of other improvements.” ( Nationwide News Network, February 16, 2018) All Jamaicans want to own a piece of this rock.

Where is Phillips's and the PNP's new and/or better ideas to tame the monster of crime, in particular murders?

Spokesperson for national security, Fitz Jackson, said on a radio programme on January 25, 2018, that the PNP's 10-point crime plan was not a crime plan. The PNP's official twitter page, however, said it was the “PNP's 10-point anti-crime plan”. It was the product of an entire day of cranial concentration.

Recall this banner headline 'PNP to focus on crime solutions on final day of three-day retreat' in the Sunday Observer, January 21, 2018. All the PNP did after a whole day of deliberation was regurgitate what the Administration is already doing or has announced it will do.

Dr Phillips' is no Rudy Giuliani on the matter of crime reduction. Recall, Phillips was the minister of national security: “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.


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


We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future. — Frederick Douglass


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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