Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Mark Ricketts | PNP and new leader must start anew

Published:Sunday | April 2, 2017 | 4:00 AM
PNP President Peter Phillips and son Mikael are focused on the events unfolding at the party's special delegates' conference last Sunday.
Mark Ricketts
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"This Government, on behalf of our people, will not accept anybody, anywhere in the world telling us what to do in our country. We are masters in our own house, and in our house there shall be no other master but ourselves. Above all, we are not for sale."

- Former Prime Minister Michael Manley

 

Dr Peter Phillips is now in charge of the PNP, where both he and the party have been baptised and influenced by the major tenets of democratic socialism. Even now he and other leading Comrades still romanticise the core values and principles of the party, and the big question is whether those principles are likely to make any significant impact on Jamaica's growth and development should the party assume office in the future.

I don't think so, unless the PNP does an about-face while pulling together such capable minds as Damion Crawford, Julian Robinson, Lisa Hanna, Fitz Jackson, Mark Golding, Ronnie Thwaites, Wykeham McNeil, Peter Bunting, Dr Dosseth Edwards-Watson, Dr Densil Williams, Dr Henry Lowe, robotics whiz Marvin Hall, Colin Bullock, and the new leader himself.

The party must have a no-holds-barred, financial, and economic powwow, with emphasis on intersectoral linkages, from which will emerge a bold vision and strategic plan as to how to move Jamaica forward by focusing on education, efficiency, innovation, technology, investment, tourism, and the optimal size and role of the State.

 

Grapple with reality

 

The PNP simply can't continue its pie-in-the-sky objectives when the reality on the ground suggests otherwise. A case in point is Manley's quote above, said in 1977, at a time when the country had no money and was deliberating whether it should go to the IMF, which was the only way out.

The government eventually had to, but until then, the 'not-for-sale' declaration was such magnificent poetry of words, imbuing pride, self-worth, self-esteem and sovereignty in a people who just witnessed their country's GDP plunge 6.3 per cent, their manufacturing sector lose a third of its workforce, and other sectors such as tourism, mining and agriculture, experience continued declines.

When Jamaicans listened to Manley's speech and pumped their fists with unbridled jingoism and lovefest for the maximum leader, what did it matter about economic realities, and deficits, and declines in our major industries and sectors, and our Government's increasing inability to pay its bills?

What was important was that "we are masters in our own house" and "we are not for sale," and many in the PNP still romanticise about returning to that period when presumably their government had leverage and did not capitulate to institutions or countries, and the party's core principles and values emphasised the significant role of the State, and spoke convincingly and lovingly about programmes and policies geared to nation building, political education, social justice, community involvement, and equality.

For Comrades, such lofty ideals underpinning democratic socialism blunted the harsh side of money, capital, capitalism, and the IMF.

Listen to PNP's Councillor Venesha Phillips as she recently bemoaned the fact that "we have moved away from when Michael Manley gave us that sense of purpose that we are not for sale," although, unfortunately, the policies pursued by governments over the last 55 years have undermined that boast, as Jamaica, figuratively, has been sold.

The ill-conceived ideas, such as taking control of the commanding heights of the economy, cost us dearly - and are still costing us. FINSAC was a horror show for domestic ownership of assets and companies. To that we could add what both our governments have done over the years in raiding the wealth and income of future generations in order to satisfy theirs and the society's past and current preoccupation with patronage, redistribution, and entitlement.

All that has led to a cumulative debt of $2.18 trillion being imposed on the current population and forces us to ask, what has all this talk of egalitarianism, social justice, and nation building done when 700,000 people still live on captured land? When income inequality is at its highest and widest? When merchandise exports have declined for the last six years? When our per-capita income is still in the doldrums.

In this new dispensation, it can't be political education, as Dr Phillips keeps repeating to Comrades in his acceptance speech; now it has to be economic and financial education. It has to be responsibility, discipline, and individual initiative.

 

Shifting direction

 

But how close is the party to shifting direction? Not very close when we listen to the comments of PNP stalwarts such as Brown University professor Anthony Bogues, who was secretary of the PNP's Political Education Commission when it was chaired by Dr Phillips. Just recently, Bogues said, "Phillips must take the PNP to the days when it became distinguished for its stance on issues such as inequity/equity, justice/injustice, and restoring Jamaica's international presence," and he questioned whether the relationship with the IMF was in the country's best interest.

Phillips' son, Mikael, who is MP for Manchester North West, emphasises that the PNP must return to its role as a vehicle for nation-building and a development of the mind and thinking of the masses. "It was a movement that gave a voice and opportunity to the masses. The reinstatement of our party's core values is a must."

To change that mindset, what is needed is transformational leadership, but I am uncertain whether that is possible for a party steeped in democratic socialism. Why my doubts?

First, I was disappointed in Peter Phillips' rebuttal to the Budget Debate. Having been the finance minister during a very difficult period when the IMF was insisting on fiscal stabilisation measures that required serious belt-tightening, I thought he would have taken the JLP to task for not producing a growth-inducing Budget and for not prioritising expenditure in relation to those areas that retard growth.

Instead, his presentation was the same old largesse of entitlements and redistribution, which would have created a similarly huge deficit, but how the deficit was to be covered was literally dismissed with the trite and presumably humorous observation of a pickpocket budget.

Next, I was so disappointed when the PNP walked out during the debate without rigorously articulating positions and pushing Government to answer some tough questions. Walking out is so silly and childish.

Third, while Dr Phillips should be praised for his performance as finance minister, I am somewhat disappointed that he was not bold in his imagination and visionary in his thinking to unleash an economic force that could have secured higher levels of capital formation.

Dr Phillips, like his party, has been trapped in a Fabian socialism time warp, something in evidence when he expresses his beliefs about engaging collective action as one of the first things he will do as leader. As he points out, "One consequence of the market is that it makes us all individuals competing with each other, but in many respects we need an active counteraction of that atomising tendency, that tendency to make us all just believe we can be self-contained individuals. We have to build community structures, and so it would also mean engaging people in their community."

What Peter must answer is when and where has this model worked in producing robust growth or in improving the overall lot of the masses. Certainly not in Jamaica.

The new leader and the PNP should incorporate MP Lisa Hanna's thinking into their determination of where they want to go. She says, "As leaders, we must follow and listen to those we serve. The people are asking us to shift our thinking and bring new solutions and a modern approach to the new challenges we face as a nation. We must have a party that is renewed with the tools and capability to address the current and future challenges that Jamaica will face." Let's hope the PNP listens as we need the boldness of vision of both parties for our country to do well.

- Mark Ricketts, economist, author, and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; assistant editor of the Financial Post, Canada's largest financial newspaper. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.