Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Mark Wignall | PNP about to say goodbye to Portia

Published:Sunday | February 5, 2017 | 2:00 AM
Peter Phillips is waiting in the wings for Portia Simpson Miller to step aside and cede the PNP leadership to him.

The very first time I saw her was in 1980. She was standing atop a vehicle in a blue jumpsuit with a megaphone in her hand. And, boy, was she fiery that day as she thundered about the unemployment of her constituents in South West St Andrew and made impossible demands of the 'management' in relation to them getting employment.

That was months before the violent elections in October of that year and the venue was just outside the gates of the Kingport Building in Newport West.

It is indeed an understatement to say that many things have happened for her since, the most important of which was her rushed ascendancy to the post of prime minister and president of the People's National Party (PNP) in February 2006, her defeat by a Golding-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) the next year, her triumphant return to victory in 2011, and her losses in the general and local government elections of 2016.

At this time, one senses that the end part was not exactly the story Portia wanted written had she been totally in charge of the script. But, it is the age-old story of political leaders and time and the need for new directions where the vision is impaired by the refusal to see outwards because of the myopia of the inwards view.

Many of us who had figured that Portia should not have made presentations in next month's budget debate as opposition leader are now willing to give her that chance to read her swansong. Come next month, Dr Peter Phillips will rise to the occasion and occupy the post of PNP president and leader of the Opposition.

He will do so not because he stuck around longer than most, not because many thought there was no love lost between him and Portia, but mainly because Phillips has earned it as one of, if not the, best-performing ministers in the PNP in its time in government.

One, therefore, expects that in the PNP's response to the JLP administration's Budget presentation, there will be more than a ton of mutuality existing between what Portia and Peter will speak of.

I first met Portia in early 2006, but even before that, I was totally sold on her. When my writings turned against her, many thought that it was personal. It wasn't. I simply thought that there was more that she could have done with the enormous political capital the nation had willingly given her. In many ways, I believed she squandered a lot of it.

For now, I wish her all the best.

 

PROBLEMATIC BUDGET

 

Amid the confusion of the JLP's tax giveback and its division into two tranches, the obvious focus this time around is how the second tranche will be funded. The Government has sent more than signals that apart from levying a higher tax rate on high-income earners over $6 million per annum, its ultimate move is towards taxing consumption, where the net is obviously wider.

This presents the Opposition PNP with the opportunity to try to box in Mr Shaw and his team in the finance ministry by suggesting that increasing the GCT tax rate this year will be close to policy heresy. Most of those who followed the first part of the tax giveback, which some believe gave the JLP the win in February last year, knew that the Government's option in the second half of the game was to pull the GCT from off the bench and on to the playing field.

It is not my understanding that the ruling administration will get all it wants to meet the second part of its election promise just by a five-percentage-point increase in tax on the high rollers. So it will come down to an increase in GCT.

I believe that because the JLP administration knows the sensitivities of the imposition of any new tax regime, it will not do much lobbying in a public fashion to increase buy-in from the various sectors. In other words, it will be a take-it-and-lump-it approach, to be announced in the Budget presentation.

And, of course, it suits the Government to be looking on at a PNP, that is only now getting its act together. The worry and concern among Comrades as to who in the PNP will deliver in next month's Budget as opposition leader is no more.

For those politicians who view Budget presentations as matters worthy of public concern and discussions, their plans for this one would have been far advanced. The technocrats attached to the key ministries would have been burning the midnight oil to pencil in all the needed inputs, which will lead to final speeches that will not inflame the nation.

The ruling JLP still has the better hand in the card game called politics, as we head to next month's debate. That, of course, is mainly because it has caught the PNP off-guard at the very time that it is in a leadership transition.

That could lead the JLP to believe that any feel-good mood it could be in afterwards will last for long. Many political parties become more attractive after a leadership change, and although Peter Phillips will not exactly be breaking the ladies' hearts from the political podium and leading the men in a collective singing of hymns, there will be new focus on the PNP after the end of March.

 

SEXUAL PREDATION A FACTOR OF POWER

 

None of us in this country will be experiencing waves of pride after recent reports from Superintendent Enid Ross-Stewart, head of the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, to Parliament that members of the clergy and policemen are among the most consistent high-profile predators having sex with girls under the age of 16.

It is said that with power comes responsibility. More power, more responsibility expected. In Jamaica, it seems that we have not yet bottomed out in social depravity to sufficiently energise the nation to see sexual predation as anything more than entertainment via the news.

Buoyed by high-profile arrests of pastors who are alleged (and one was convicted more than a week ago) to have had sexual relations with children, one would have hoped that the general public would have been discussing these matters purely out of concern and not as entertainment.

It appears to me that this is so because many young and not-so-young men consuming the news headlines are themselves subscribers to this predation. That said, clergymen and policemen are usually there to reassure, to instruct, to guide, and to protect. That's the theory, anyway.

Tie that into a society with horrible socio-economic inequities, broken homes, dysfunctional families and it sets up a perfect storm for sexual predation.

In 1976, at a time when warring factions between JLP and PNP were making life hell for many in what was then called the ghetto, a woman, on her way from work, sought refuge one night at a well-known police station.

It was late at night and she would have to cross political borders where guns were barking, and so she sought sanctuary inside the police station. The result? She was raped by seven policemen. The case went to trial and, luckily, they were found guilty. If my memory serves me correctly, at least one of the policemen escaped by flying out of the island.

The shocking truth is that many of our young men view sex with women based solely on availability.

"Seriously now, Missa Wignall, if di girl a pressure mi and waan fi gi mi a piece, me a go have di time fi ask har har age?" one 22-year-old man said to me last week.

"Yes," I said. "You should!"

It was lost on him.

- Mark Wignall is a political analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.