Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Editorial | Better particulars needed on shadow Cabinet

Published:Sunday | October 1, 2017 | 12:00 AM

This newspaper has a serious problem with one of the premises upon which Peter Phillips has founded his shadow Cabinet. According to the leader of the Opposition, the portfolios he announced last Thursday, and the people he assigned to them, did not necessarily reflect what a government formed by his People's National Party (PNP) would look like.

We interpret this to mean that there is a possibility that the team he assembled could be turned on its head, not only with people being dropped and/or portfolios abandoned, but that in government, members could be assigned to ministries and subjects other than those they shadowed while in Opposition. This is among the exigencies of politics.

Indeed, Dr Phillips, seven months into the job, may, as he seeks to cement his hold on the PNP, feel compelled to accommodate the various factions within his party. For instance, for now, some who may be considered loyalists of the former leader, Portia Simpson Miller, may have to be afforded a seat at the table, (in)competence notwithstanding.

In the aftermath of an election and if he is the prime minister with the constitutional powers of that post, Dr Phillips may feel he would be at liberty to craft a government in his own image and in accordance with what he perceives to be the capacities of the personnel under his command. But there is also the matter of what signals he sends via his shadow and what the public expects of it.

To take the latter part first: This newspaper doesn't expect from the Opposition party and its shadow Cabinet reflexive contrarianism, or to, as one former opposition leader perceived his mandate, "oppose, oppose, oppose". Rather, the perception of the Opposition, and our expectation of it - and, indeed, of an increasing number of Jamaicans, is as the government in waiting.

 

Higher level of responsibility

 

That, in this case, places a different, and higher, level of responsibility on Dr Phillips and his team. Their job is not only default criticism, or even serious critique, of government policies and actions, but to offer credible policy alternatives. We don't expect inane press releases and mindless sound bites of rhymes and alliterations.

In that sense, being in Opposition is kind of being on a long job interview, or audition, for the individual shadow ministers and of the collective. Indeed, shadow ministers are expected to build up substantial knowledge and expertise in their portfolios, which they should be able to transfer to the real job, thereby lessening angles on their learning curve. They ought to hit the ground running with clear, specific and implementable policy options.

That we presume to be expectation of Dr Phillips given his exhortations to his shadow ministers to work with the party's existing policy commissions, establish task forces and to engage with stakeholders. In that event, if in Opposition, shadow ministers fail to perform to the satisfaction of their leader, they must be dropped then and not wait until after an election and a government is formed, giving the replacement a steep learning curve.

With respect to the specific team assembled by Dr Phillips, there is need for further and better particulars. It consists of 28 members, including eight described as "support". Three of the latter - Anthony Hylton, Natalie Neita and Sophia Fraser-Binns, dealing respectively with development and national physical planning; sports information and gender affairs; and land and the environment - are linked to Dr Phillips, which probably is an indication of how seriously he considers these portfolios.

The question is whether all 28, which are marginally fewer than Mrs Simpson Miller's spokespersons council, will have a seat at the policymaking table. What a Babel this will likely be.