Phillips's desperation

Empty words, rehashed promises, undeveloped schemes

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, September 23, 2018

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One with lean meat, or merely even just the skin, is better off than one with mushrooms. — Shona proverb (Zimbabwe)


Except for the wilfully ignorant, it has been obvious for a very long time that the president of the People's National Party (PNP), Dr Peter Phillips, is desperately searching for an equivalent of Prime Minister Andrew Holness's '$1.5-million tax break'. Based on his speech last Sunday, Phillips, evidently, has much more searching to do.

Last week, I said in my The Agenda piece, 'What Peter Phillips must/mustn't say today', that folks wanted to hear specific specifics; when, how, where, and why. I believe Phillips fell down miserably in this respect last Sunday.

Those who say Phillips cannot give details of the PNP's plans for fear that they will be adopted and implemented by the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Administration should understand that voters, especially the uncommitted, are no longer enthused by 'puss inna bag'. That kind of hide-and-seek politics was strategic in Jamaica 35 years ago, because the major information channels were largely controlled by a privileged bunch. That is not the reality today. Information is available at the click of a button. The fuel of decisions in the 21st century is information. Dr Phillips should know that not giving details of the PNP's plans for the country does not help the Opposition, it hurts it.

Phillips says he has a grand plan to create a Jamaica that works for all Jamaicans. Hoping against hope, I tuned in, last Sunday, for the unveiling of something akin to the launch of 'the Great Society' by Democratic President Lyndon B Johnson in 1964-65.

I did not hear it.

What I heard last Sunday from Dr Phillips was largely a regurgitation of promises from the 70s. It may have excited those within the precincts of the National Arena, but doubtless achieved little else. What I heard was the predictable concentrated appeal to the PNP's dwindling base. The PNP 's dwindling base alone cannot secure a return for it to Jamaica House. The uncommitted voters and marginal seats are the real king-makers, not the garrisons and the rabid supporters of either major political party.


Empty promises

Last Monday's Jamaica Observer had the following front-page headline: 'Full scholarship for every first child'. The Star carried the screaming headline: 'PNP promises free food, scholarships'. Phillips said in his speech that a future PNP Administration would make education a priority.

The PNP has a history of not honouring its pre-election promises on education, in particular. This is a most cruel thing, because education is the most powerful force of liberation for the oppressed and dispossessed, especially a country like ours with its 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 him if the cess on university students was not removed as soon as the PNP took office. 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. Hundreds of university students who were lured by the PNP's promise to remove the cess and voted for them were devastated by its betrayal.

National Hero Marcus Garvey said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In 2002, 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.

Like Yogi Berra said, I have a feeling “it's déjà vu all over again”. 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 [covenant]. Rural folks say we must 'tek sleep and mark death.'

I agree!

The PNP has a back-stabbing past when it comes to the implementation of pre-election promises, with regards to education in particular. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. We have not only a responsibility, we have a duty to be sceptical about Dr Phillips's plans.


How will it work?

There is also another matter. The PNP needs to understand that it is not how well acquainted the PNP is with its plans which is critical, it is how well the entire country understands the PNP's plans that is really material. According to last Monday's Jamaica Observer: “People's National Party (PNP) President Dr Peter Phillips yesterday gave a solemn undertaking that a PNP Government would provide full scholarships to the first child of every Jamaican family to pursue tertiary education as part of a new assault on poverty.” Sound's familiar, doesn't it? Recall what Michael Manley said in 1989, “God would judge me if the cess on university education was not removed.”

We, regrettably, do not have too many instances the classic nuclear family established as the norm. How will Phillips's plan be made to work with hundreds, if not thousands of such instances? At his post-annual conference press briefing last week, 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.”

Dr Peter Phillips has been saying for many months as regards the management of the country and the economy, “Dem — the Andrew Holness-led Administration — doan know what dem doing!” It seems curious, at a minimum, that he is simultaneously banking on resources being generated by the same Administration to hopefully effect what he says will be his defining policy were he to become prime minister. When Phillips was asked what he meant by 'first child', he 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 saying is those families that have no one and that are stepping up in the ladder of life.” ( TVJ's Prime Time News, September 18, 2018)

Phillips's response is reminiscent of his difficulty in explaining the then proposed tax on withdrawals from financial institutions. He struggled to explain his education trump card plan. Albert Einstein said: “If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself.” Phillips later admitted during the conference that his plan was not yet fully developed. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? In 1989 Manley claimed that they had miscalculated the cost of removing the cess. Is Dr Phillips playing a similar card as Manley? It is accepted that education is the best vehicle to drive our country forward.

Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”

I agree. Education must also enable us to spot political wolves in sheep's clothing.


Good idea

Last Sunday, Dr Phillips also said were the PNP to win the next general election it would institute a plan to make available $100 billion in credit to small entrepreneurs. I think this is a good idea. I am not an economist, but almost every article I have read on how to grow an economy really fast has suggested that rapid expansion of small businesses is absolutely essential. Former US President Bill Clinton has been ranked as one of the 10 best presidents in the last 100 years by some noted American historians. Why? During much of the Clinton presidency the American economy grew really fast, among other things, as a consequence of the tremendous expansion of small businesses. Some weeks ago I heard a panel discussion on British Broadcasting Corporation which centred on the reasons for the Great Depression between 1929 and 1939, and why it lasted so long. The conclusion of the panellists was that the markets in the United States were starved of credit. Some economists say the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008 did not last as long as the 1929 Great Depression because credit was made available to the markets especially through economic/government stimuli.

Sadly, Dr Phillips did not give details of how his credit plan for small entrepreneurs would work in practical terms. I hope this is not another 'samfie' scheme similar to what happened with the promised removal of General Consumption Tax on some categories of electricity bills, which never materialised. We must be on our guard against 'Anancyism'.

Recall this headline in The Gleaner of May 25, 2012: 'Broken Promise — No rollback of GCT on electricity'. The story delivered these heartbreaking details to thousands of expectant Jamaicans:

“The Portia Simpson Miller Administration has reneged on its promise to abolish General Consumption Tax (GCT) on electricity.

“Making his opening presentation in the 2012-2013 Budget Debate in the House of Representatives yesterday, Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips announced changes to the way in which GCT is to be charged.

“The minister said that, as of June 1, no GCT will be charged on the first 300kWh of electricity consumed, up from 200kWh. However, the tax will move from 10 to 16.5 per cent. The measure is expected to earn the Government $430 million this fiscal year.

“In the general election campaign last year, Simpson Miller declared that her Administration would remove GCT on electricity if her People's National Party was elected to form the Government. The promise was also contained in her party's election manifesto.

“Yesterday, Phillips told the House that of the approximately 500,000 JPS [Jamaica Public Service] residential customers, 377,000 consume less than 200kWh of electricity.

“He said the new tax directives will result in 90 per cent of [JPS] customers not paying GCT on light bills, up from the initial 76 per cent.

“ 'The proposed measure should relieve approximately 80,000 additional residential customers from the payment of GCT on their electricity bill at the new threshold level of 300kWh, leaving only 52,000 residential customers subject to GCT,' Phillips said.

“Just last month, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell said Government intended to honour its election promise to roll back the consumption tax on electricity usage.

“ 'There is a commitment that was given to the people of Jamaica which we intend to fulfil,' Paulwell said during a sitting of the House of Representatives.”

We would do well to remember the local adage, “Don't mek hungry man carry yuh food.” The PNP is famished.


Ban on single-use plastic bags, straws, styrofoam

By far, this is one of the best pieces of news from the start of 2018. Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Daryl Vaz is quoted as saying: “We're moving towards a ban on single-use plastics, but while we do so, we're also working on a Plastic Minimisation Project in collaboration with United Nations Environment, and with the support of the Government of Japan, to reduce and manage plastic marine litter from the land-based activities, in an environmentally sound matter.” ( Jamaica Observer, September 4, 2018)

Those who say the ban will only create more problems should know that Jamaica is not the first country to go this route. I am yet to come across evidence from any country that regretted the ban on plastics.


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


If someone tried to deprive you of your rights, you've got to resist it. You've got to resent it. You've got to fight against it. — A Philip Randolph


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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