Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Editorial | Peter Phillips’ moral imperative

Published:Wednesday | April 5, 2017 | 4:00 AM

Having now formalised his transition as opposition leader and president of the People's National Party (PNP), Dr Peter Phillips ought not only to train his eyes on the primary target of all political parties - grabbing state power.

While we expect that he and his lieutenants will seize upon the pressure being brought to bear on the Holness administration for a $17.5-billion tax package - including a $4-billion pitch to rake in more money from a property tax revaluation - he should lead the party into introspection on the corrosive effect of corruption. Repeated surveys, whether done by local organisations or commissioned as part of a wider analysis of Latin America and the Caribbean, indicate that most people perceive parliamentarians and the political parties that blooded them as endemically corrupt.

Dr Phillips, in his coronation address to thousands of supporters at the National Arena two Sundays ago, barely spoke of the need to sanitise Jamaica's governance framework and make it less vulnerable to shadowy players. Frankly, that's not enough. The country, and the PNP, need more than speeches.

For we believe that Dr Phillips can bring a more robust dimension to leadership of the party than his predecessor, Portia Simpson Miller, who utilised her emotional intelligence to push through a hard swallow of economic austerity and reform.

Dr Phillips, we believe, and as was evidenced in his inauguration at the PNP's special delegates' conference recently, brings to the table of discourse greater intellectual heft and a hybrid philosophy of Manleyism and modern political thought. However, turpitude, especially when woven into political movements, can be especially difficult to dislodge, regardless of the quality of cerebral leadership.

While Mrs Simpson Miller often tried to dodge responsibility for her party when corruption scandals arose, Dr Phillips must raise his voice against rogue behaviour.

The Trafigura Beheer affair, in which the Dutch oil-lifting company donated more than J$30 million to the PNP's re-election machinery in 2006, in contravention of The Netherlands' laws, and led to the resignation of the party's general secretary, Colin Campbell, remains a blot on the party's, and the country's, reputation.

 

AGENT'S FEE

 

More recently, Paul Burke, the then general secretary of the PNP, said the practice of government officials creaming off an "agent's fee" of about 1.5 per cent on major state contracts was an established norm in the back rooms of politics. Mr Burke should know, for he has been a key actor at the heart of the PNP for years and would, as general secretary, be fully aware of the intricacies of dealmaking, certainly at the party level.

While some functionaries of the party have distanced themselves from Mr Burke's outburst and declared ignorance of any such tradition, the fact that the PNP did not seek to have the general secretary removed may suggest it was not willing to challenge the veracity of the claim for fear of further fracture and more disclosures.

Dr Phillips, if he is to disappoint ageist critics and burnish his credentials as a transformational political leader, should understand the importance of cleaning out of the PNP the muck and grime of patronage, corruption and kickbacks that have helped to entrench voter apathy and social ambivalence.

Unless he reclaims the rhetoric of the party as not only a philosophical force but a moral one, Dr Phillips will have failed to press the reset button on Jamaican politics.