The Ideal Public Servant

While the People’s National Party (PNP) acts as a vector of contagion spreading nasty, scurrilous, disrespectful mudslinging scatter-shot style regardless of who might be infected, its new President publicly...

While the People’s National Party (PNP) acts as a vector of contagion spreading nasty, scurrilous, disrespectful mudslinging scatter-shot style regardless of who might be infected, its new President publicly pleads for respect to be shown to him.

But he was a senior strategist of Rise United’s campaign to malign, misrepresent and disrespect his predecessor for the sole purpose of promoting and pursuing a premature challenge by “bestie” Peter Bunting. His team publicly ridiculed Peter Phillips, elevated to PNP President by acclaim two years previously, as “poppy show”; unelectable; and physically mediocre.

So, let’s take a closer look at the political career of the man who accepted unrelenting, nauseating public calumny from “Comrades” with such equanimity. A comparison with the current President’s career marked (no pun intended) by shelter from the electorate by the Senate; then by a Garrison; and then by 3,000 PNP “Delegates”, would be instructive.

Who is Peter Phillips, the politician? What has he done for Jamaica?

Phillips first entered Parliament as an appointed Senator after the PNP won in 1989. But his political career didn’t begin there. In an article “Reflections and Lessons for the Next Chapter of People’s National Party” (Sunday Gleaner; October 18, 2020), he reminisced:

My mind goes back to that rebuilding process in the 1980s when I was a member and chairman of the Political Education Commission. Even later still, I became a member of the National Campaign Committee for the 1986 Local Government Elections. The comradeship I experienced working with colleagues will always remind me of what the PNP is and can be.

Every weekend, teams would leave party headquarters….going to party schools – to Mandeville, Montego Bay, Casa Maria in St Mary. In the evenings, there was the Vernon Arnett School and there was the Third Week Programme for Constituency Executive Committees and individual party groups all across the country.

This is called paying one’s dues. It’s an old fashioned process through which most leaders of the pre-Internet generation honed leadership skills.

Peter Phillips served as Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) from 1989 to 1991, PNP General Secretary and Minister of Special Projects in OPM. At OPM he learned first hand (from Jamaica’s longest serving PM and winningest Party Leader) how PM/Party Leader positions are successfully combined. As General Secretary he brought these lessons (including experiences on the ground in the 1986 Local Government Election/1989 General Election) to bear in organizing the PNP, division by division, to win general elections in 1993.

Unelectable? Kmt!

In 1994, with a decade of acquired political organizational wisdom, he was elected Saint Andrew East Central MP. Despite allegations he’s unelectable, he’s still MP for that constituency and one of only 14 PNP candidates re-elected in 2020. Every leading member of Rise United not protected by a Garrison, including Peter Bunting (defeated by a political neophyte); Fenton Ferguson (self-proclaimed “six-star general”); Dayton Campbell (Chief Rise United “Mout’ a Massie”); Ian Hayles (three-term Hanover incumbent); and Luther Buchanan (from impregnable PNP Westmoreland) were roundly rejected by Comrades in 2020.

Was there a swing against PNP? Obviously! Was it a swing against Peter Phillips? Obviously not! The swing decimated Rise United. Not only did Peter Phillips retain his seat but son, Mikael, who should’ve been a major casualty of any unelectable father, was the sole PNP candidate to win in Manchester while PNP incumbents in central and south fell.

After becoming MP in 1994, Peter Phillips served as Minister of Health (1995-1997). During that time he advanced the quality of health care systems and working conditions. Contributions to Jamaica’s health care by multi-lateral agencies like USAID, down to US$6.3m (1995/96) then up to US$21m (1997/98), and IDB, US$160m (1995/96) to US$334m (1997/98) and co-operation from The Netherlands and Germany were substantially increased.

Peter Phillips crafted the policy, passed into law in 1998, that set up the Regional Health Authorities. PAHO’s 1999 review reported:

Because of the central role of the public sector and size of the country, there is a relatively high degree of informal familiarity between the public and private sector health systems…. The private sector is loosely regulated. Little, if any, organized information is maintained on the organization, operations and other characteristics of the private health sector….

The sector reform programme is in the process of changing the system to where the Ministry of Health Head Office provides a policy making, steering and regulatory role. Responsibility for the management and delivery of services has been delegated to the decentralized Regional Health Authorities (RHAs). The Ministry is considering public-private partnerships and out-sourcing of selected services.”

Over 20 years later, the Ministry of Health’s ability to instigate public-private partnership for COVID-19 testing is part of Peter Phillips’ legacy.

The ratio of doctors per 10,000 population rose from 1.7 (1996) to 2.4 (1998). The nurses’ ratio moved from 4.2 to 5.8 and mid-level lab technicians’ ratio doubled from 0.2 to 0.4!

In 1998, Peter Phillips was appointed Transport and Works Minister. He found an archaic, tumultuous “system” of itinerant robot taxis colourfully described by transport tycoon Ezroy Millwood as “a chronic”. Phillips revitalized Jamaica Urban Transit Company and successfully ended robot taxis’ tyranny thus steering Jamaica away from public transport chaos.

For his achievements, he was elected PNP Vice-President (1999), on a slate including colleague VP, Portia Simpson Miller. He was subsequently appointed National Security Minister where he leveraged his inflexible integrity and fixity of purpose to produce successful assaults on and incarceration of some of Jamaica’s most powerful Dons and gangsters, including some boasting PNP affiliation. This earned him cold shoulders including from Cabinet associates, many of whom were excluded from the loop as police were freed, through crime-fighting strategies including Operation Kingfish, to disrupt violent criminals without a hint of political interference.

This cost him considerable internal and external political capital.

Phillips’ ill-fated 2008 challenge for PNP leadership against an incumbent was, in my opinion, justified after a sitting PM rejected by the electorate failed to resign. Afterwards, he voluntarily retreated to Opposition back benches from whence he broke the Manatt Phelps and Phillips imbroglio exposing Government/JLP’s scandalous attempts to block Dudus’ extradition. This led to Government’s collapse in 2011.

But, unquestionably, his finest moments came after his appointment as Finance Minister in 2012.

Jamaica’s finances had declined well beyond “a chronic” and blatant disregard for International Monetary Fund (IMF) benchmarks turned Jamaica into an international fiscal pariah. He negotiated from a position of extreme weakness to obtain IMF support despite that organization’s understandable pique after Jamaica had thumbed its political nose at that august body. I can only try to imagine what it was like for this proud Jamaican (who, personally, was neither beggar nor debtor) to find himself waiting like a mendicant in Washington hallways hoping for audience from functionaries of inferior intellect.

It must’ve been personally humiliating well beyond anything I’d ever permit myself to endure. So, in truth, I can’t imagine.

Then, when a new IMF agreement was achieved, he selflessly expended every ounce of remaining political capital by implementing its terms faithfully, despite the excruciating sacrifices he had to force Jamaicans to make. THIS is what has permitted ungrateful, treacherous “Comrades” to call him “unelectable” and PM to repeatedly mock him as “Papa Tax”. But the TRUTH is Peter Phillips, and Peter Phillips ALONE, turned the Jamaican ship of State around and guided it to safe waters.

That personal heroism resulted in a narrow PNP defeat in the 2016 General Elections as his “fiscal responsibility” opened the door for a reckless last-minute JLP promise of a $1.5m tax credit gift to slither through. Although an impossible promise in the short term and of zero benefit to those already poor and disadvantaged, it worked.

But, it’s incontestable that Peter Phillips left Jamaica’s finances on a launch pad, which allowed Nigel Clarke to continue the trajectory until Jamaica could absorb at least initial adverse effects of a raging pandemic decimating economic activity. Let’s see how Nigel performs as economic fallout continues well beyond his current optimistic projections and bitta medicine must be prescribed along with the vaccine.

Peter Phillips is the ideal public servant whose career is littered with accomplishment, integrity, dedication and commitment to Jamaica above self. His driving force has always been a desire to provide equal opportunity for everyone. All who dare denigrate his contribution only expose themselves as ingrates, self-absorbed anarchists or mindless sheep.

To the new PNP President scrambling around like a chicken with its head cut off to dodge disrespectful social media posts and belittling voice notes from high ranking Comrades, I can only say what goes around comes around.

Mark, this won’t be the first time Cock Mout’ has killed Cock!

To disrespecting Comrades, I leave you with wise words of advice from your former President (from his Sunday Gleaner article) whose legacy some of you might, one day, decide to polish rather than tarnish

The party must again embark on a rebuilding process that begins on the ground, not at the top. Begin at the foundation with the people and build brick by brick.

Peace and Love

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