FitzHenley's article - Phillips HouseWILL HE BE BOLD ENOUGH TO AXE NON-PERFORMERS ?

Peter David Phillips on the weekend fulfilled what is being widely reported as a ‘lifelong dream’ of becoming President of the 78 year old People’s National Party (PNP). He’s the fifth President of the oldest political party in the English speaking Caribbean . I suspect Dr. Phillips knows that he has inherited the Presidency of the PNP at a time when the party is at the political and ideological crossroads. Indeed, the newly minted PNP President recently responded to a question put to him on Nationwide Radio this week by acknowledging that both commiserations and congratulations are in order on the occasion of his ascension to the coveted PNP throne.


Dr. Phillips has inherited a party which has seen its organizational structure decline rapidly in recent years from the well oiled and fearsome politican machinery which it once was. Apart from being in an ideological malaise, the credibility of the party and several of its spokespersons has taken a severe battering during the Simpson Miller years which were characterized by weak leadership, passing of the buck and rampant indiscipline – the latter which was once foreign to the PNP.


The image of a political party as a viable Opposition is often shaped by not just the skill of its leader but the credibility of its shadow cabinet or cadre of spokesperson. Dr. Phillips will in the coming weeks name his Shadow Cabinet or Council of Spokespersons.


It may be good if Phillips recognizes that the credibility of some of the party’s spokespersons has damaged the PNP’s efforts at being a viable opposition during the first year of the Holness-administration. Indeed, when media releases are put out by Opposition Spokespersons such as Fenton Ferguson, Sandrea Falconer, Noel Arscott and Richard Azan demanding transparency, and accountability, they and by extension the party are often not taken seriously by persons in the public domain.


Their statements to the media are often scoffed at by people who are of the view that the mentioned gentlemen and the lady failed abysmally to hold themselves by the same standards during their recent occupation of Government jobs.


Some prominent PNP personnel, including Ferguson , Falconer, Arscott and Azan, were among the prime beneficiaries of the Simpson Miller approach to governance where ability and skill were not the main criterion used to determine who was chosen to assume positions of power and influence. Due to this approach by the recently resigned President, the PNP suffered when it formed the Government and is not being as effective an opposition as it could possible be.


The mentioned persons did not appoint themselves, indeed that is a truism which will inevitably enter the conversation when Mrs. Simpson Miller’s legacy is being assessed – but that’s for another time. When he names his Shadow Cabinet, Peter Phillips has a chance to begin the process of correcting the referenced ‘prominent chasm of incompetence’ which came to the fore and were given ‘wings’ during the Simpson Miller-era.


However the questions to be considered is will the 67-year old veteran politician, who has distinguished himself in several Ministries over which he has had charge, have the guts to say to folks who have embodied the alluded to incompetence – ‘thanks for your ‘effort’ but the party’s image and ability to perform cannot at this time continue to accommodate the process of propping up non-performers’ and rudimentary thinkers?  Is Dr. Phillips prepared to make the personnel changes which are necessary to restore to credibility to the PNP when it takes positions on issues on national import. Time will tell.


Furthermore, will Dr. Phillips have the girth to tell that former Minister who’s under investigation by the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency in relation to the Campaign Funds scandal – ‘you have no place in my shadow cabinet until such time’ ?  That too remains to be seen.


Phillips is the politician in Jamaica who has arguably the most diverse connections and ‘reach’ in Jamaican society and internationally compared to his contemporaries. For this reason he should not be taken lightly by the Holness-led JLP. Like Prime Minister Holness must have done prior to appointing his Cabinet which had several notable absentees, I suspected that prior to naming his Council of Spokespersons, it would be good if the PNP President and soon to be Opposition Leader advise himself of current law enforcement issues which touch and concern at least two of the party’s prominent members.


Being briefed on the immediately aforementioned issues should not be a difficult process for the well-connected Peter Phillips to embark upon, indeed properly informing himself may prevent the possibility of the parliamentary Opposition being embarrassed in the future.

Dr. Phillips owes it to the country to demonstrate a recognition for the fact that a credible and above board Opposition is vital to the health of the Jamaican state.


In closing – for years many have complained that the PNP has lost its ideological compass. Some have opined that the party appears to have become merely an organization focused on attempting to win General Elections, as opposed to a unit intent on putting national development and progression of all peoples, including the poor and downtrodden, as the core reason for its existence. It is heartening that Dr. Phillips seems to have recognized this issue when he stated during his address to the PNP special conference on Sunday that – “The PNP as I know it is the vanguard of the National Movement – committed to Nation building and the upliftment of the people.”


Is the current state of the PNP ad idem with what Dr. Phillips may have known it to be? While he moves to shape his Council of Spokespersons and hold the Holness-administration accountable – Dr. Phillips must ask himself this question. He must also answer it honestly and act accordingly.



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