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JAMAICA | Peter Phillips – On The Brink Of Power: The Task Ahead as Party Leader | Part 2

Dr. Peter Phillips will replace the Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller as President of the Peoples National Party Dr. Peter Phillips will replace the Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller as President of the Peoples National Party
Phillips in the Ministry of Finance delivered the ultimate “modernisation” that had evaded nearly all Finance Ministers, both JLP and PNP; for the first time the PNP moved from under the cloud of “Economic Mismanagement” and took on the reputation for “Financial Stability” a title that was usually ascribed only to JLP’s administration.

All governments tax and spend, but Phillips has destroyed the myth that only PNP governments do it. He removed much of the direct and autocratic work of the Ministry by being more consultative in decision making. This is evidenced by the acts of giving more independence to the Bank of Jamaica and the setting up the Economics Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) with the principal objective to monitor the reduction of the national debt and raise the sustainable growth rate of our national output.

In order to achieve this objective, the Government directed by the finance ministry, has committed to implementing revenue, expenditure and debt management measures to ensure that the debt goes down in relation to GDP. This commitment entails the achievement of annual primary surpluses of 7.5% of GDP over the life of the programme. He achieved all this and was commended not only by the Jamaican business sector, but international agencies such as the World bank, global financial rating agencies and the IMF.

Along with this achievement he managed to oversee the lowering of interest rates, lowering of inflation, annualized increases in the tax threshold and minimum wages. He has been a credible Minister of all his portfolios, which is seen as good management, but again, the bigger picture and question surely is, whether or not he can translate this into leadership of Party and eventually also be a credible Prime Minister.

Some PNP’s critics have accused the leadership of the party over the last twenty years, both Patterson and Simpson of “the emasculation of the PNP government as a force for change”. Many have admitted, particularly of the Patterson’s regime of good administration of the government but poor leadership of the Party. It is however, hoped that Phillips with his academic knowledge of Economics, Government and International Politics, will be aware that he should not confuse effective management of government with the leadership of a Party that hold engrained and a long standing socialist philosophy. For we should be reminded that, Adam Smith, the great sixteenth century economist suffered from similar confused criticism.

His seminal work, “The Wealth of Nations” is regarded as the bible of right-wing market-driven economics, but that is probably not how Smith saw it. In a lecture at Glasgow University around the time of the publication of his treatise in 1776, Smith said: “The labour and time of the poor is in civilised countries sacrificed to maintaining the rich in ease and luxury.” Hardly a sentiment backing up the need for an unregulated fat-cat culture.

To succeed, therefore, Peter, will now have to navigate waters as treacherous and difficult as anything he’s come across in his career. His strong work ethic, and the fact that those close to him say he “just never stops believing he has more to learn and give”, should overcome his charismatic flaw which is seen as a problem, especially for a prime minister. But where Portia Simpson is the consummate actor, Phillips’s lack of theatricality leaves him accused of being unable to modulate his known lukewarm method of delivery.

Again, some would say that, neither was P.J. Patterson, he also was lukewarm, but in a sense, an effective prime minister in getting the country to move in certain direction to enable moderate infrastructural, economic and social changes. Phillips, then, must summon up all his combined experiences for the difficult task of ensuring more than just moderate changes are made to the party that he has devoted most of his adult life.

Major reengineering and modernization is required of the PNP which will allow him the medium through which to execute the well overdue development of the country. He will also have to carry with him as former leader Michael Manley did in the 1970s, not just PNP sympathizers, but everyone in a national nation building effort. I strongly believe that he can do it but only then will he ensure his place in the annals of great Jamaican leaders.

The Task of Modernizing the Party.

The People’s National Party (PNP) has meticulously conducted analyses on its performances following each election cycle, particularly on occasions where the results are disappointing. Similar analyses were done after the recent 2016 elections. Several factors are evident as to the reasons for the Party’s poor performance. Some points to a vacuum of leadership at the local level which cannot be divorced from the attitude of the leadership at the national level as it relates to local concerns.

This lack of responsiveness to local concerns leads to alienation of the ordinary party members. A third reason seems to be the inability of the party machinery to communicate effectively with the general populace.

Aldin Bellinfantie
Mr. Aldin Bellinfantie is a renowned educator, and High School principal.

In December 2002, I chaired a team to do an analysis of “How the West Was Lost” (i.e. PNP Region 6), and again in 2016 after the February general elections I was a member of another team which conducted a similar analysis. It was discovered that the region’s findings compared well with the national analysis, and was not dissimilar to the analysis of other Regions in the country.

These analyses should, however, go much further, because some comrades remain unmindful of the new and current realities and continues (like ostriches with heads in the sand) dancing to the old tunes and harping on the great achievements of the Norman Manley PNP of the late 1950s, Michael Manley’s social engineering of the 1970s and Patterson’s infrastructural projects of the 1990s through to the first decade of the twenty first century.

These achievements should not be forgotten, but lest we also forget, those emotions are not felt by almost forty percent of the electorate who knows nothing about these leaders and also take their achievements for granted as “matter of fact” and normal for any civilized country.

In many parts of the democratic world, political parties are the object of deep contempt by the public, yet seemingly fail to show concern about improving their image or performance. In the Strange Death of Liberal England written nearly 90 years ago, George Dangerfield charted the decline and collapse of the Liberal Party.

Dangerfield stated that, “no party, no matter whatever their history or achievements, has a divine right to govern and the central importance for parties that want to survive and win they must have an ability to reform and reinvent themselves and strive continually to make themselves relevant to their era”.

And so, it is with this country, our great Party, the People’s National Party also faces its own anxieties in an era where it must seek renewed relevance. An era in which it is true to say that as a party we can face the future more ambitiously, not less, for a society in which everyone can fulfil their potential. In this era where the once revered global community has started to show cracks and new set of regional blocs have started to emerge, accelerating technology, new agencies for social and political changes and new and diverse means of communication.

In this situation, Jamaica as an island of extraordinary opportunity, where we are geographically positioned close to the largest market, the USA, our institutions and businesses must take advantage of opportunities in e-commerce. Furthermore, we are also better educated, better trained, better connected and better positioned to take advantage of all these opportunities.

Opportunities and challenges of the future need to be grasped by PNP Party members not just those who form the Government but members of every group, division, constituency and also sympathizers in every community. As mentioned before, the trust in politics is at a low ebb not just in Jamaica but globally, but people’s connections to their communities or their concerns for the world are not.

That tells us that the way we engage and deliver change - as a party must be engaged in a continuous evolving process, just as it has evolved from the days when our Party was founded or as it has been responding to the changes in every decade since its’ formation.

I do not set out to be prescriptive or even attempt to offer a conclusive formula to the party and its new leader. I cannot provide all the answers but will set out some expectations for the next two decades. It should prompt every member and help every local party group to question how we should reengineer ourselves so that as a party we can grasp the opportunities and challenges that will shape our communities and by extension our country.

It is the answers to those questions that will ensure that change is not a challenge to the Party – but the route to a new, more just and more exciting Jamaica. It is simple a call to attention, to the George Dangerfield’s reminder that:

no party, no matter whatever their history or achievements, has a divine right to govern and the central importance for parties that want to survive and win they must have an ability to reform and reinvent themselves and strive continually to make themselves relevant to their era”

The Modernization Agenda, must therefore be properly worked out and articulated for all to understand by the new leader. In so doing, the party cannot be naïve and lend itself only to an introspective evaluation but must also take time in understanding all external factors including a thorough analysis of the opposition. In the final part of this three part series of articles, I will put forward that the party renewal must be based on five factors mainly; (1) an understanding of the opposition, (2) leadership, (3) analysis, (4) strategy, and (5) time.

Last modified onMonday, 13 March 2017 23:30
  • Countries: Jamaica