Fri | Oct 19, 2018

Mark Wignall | Power plays in Portia country

Published:Sunday | July 23, 2017 | 12:00 AM

With the retirement of Portia Simpson Miller from local and national political leadership, her seat in South West St Andrew is now up for grabs, but it is not just any ordinary seat. Rays of political power shoot out from its influence.

Although there have emerged two candidates openly expressing interest in the seat, it appears that the PNP's smooth, non-invasive glide of Dr Peter Phillips to PNP president and opposition leader without actually invoking the democratic norms of the usual delegate votes may be finding favour at the constituency level.

I have watched the video of the lukewarm endorsement of Angela Brown Burke by Portia. No ethical party laws were broken. But, at this time when the PNP is still trying to decide if it wants to spit fire or carve out 'moderation' and responsibility as its main approach as Opposition, it may want to borrow heavily from the change at the national level and use its clone in constituency leadership change.

Audrey Facey-Smith may find that she gets left out of the royal pie when the old monarchs are handing out the succession certificates. That, however, is just the beginning. Those hoping to position themselves more favourably for future leadership will also be looking at placing their horses in the seat, thus capturing its delegates and the influence they have on others.

If the assumption is made that the JLP wins next time out, the absence of Peter Phillips from future leadership considerations is a given. Based on the players who have expressed interest, we know that Phillip Paulwell and Peter Bunting would be having keen interest at this time.

Would someone like Lisa Hanna still be in the hunt seeking alliances in the leadership transition, or will she be emboldened to strike out on her own, that is, if there is nothing pending that would make that move problematic?

Buried under the raw political considerations is the likelihood that leadership change in the constituency of South West St Andrew may not bring about any significant adjustments in the socio-economic status of a majority of the constituents.

Unemployment, especially among those 18-30, will continue to be high, educational attainment will be spotty, and criminality will be part of the cultural make-up as part of the garrison phenomenon.

Assuming a JLP win in 2020 and the departure of Phillips, the way will be set for Paulwell and Bunting as front-runners, at which stage there will be no more the stomach for a monarch to hand over the throne to a new king. A contest will be the norm again.


Life in PNP after Peter Phillips


If ever there was a politician who deserves a shot at being prime minister, Peter Phillips is such a man. He has never been popular outside of narrow PNP circles, and one gets the sense that Phillips has accepted that that is how he has been and will ever be.

Phillips wears his academic and professorial aura not as an affectation, but because it is what he is. Having been the point man in the PNP administration and the Cabinet under both the P.J. Patterson and Simpson Miller leadership runs, Phillips has proven himself to be soft on politics, where he dislikes subterfuge and confrontation and opts for more direct cooperation and hewing to process.

In other words, 'him sawf' - as politicians go. Portia, who could, in raw politics, 'eat him food every day', knew that she could not risk having him go up in delegates' election against the likes of the wily Peter Bunting and deny Phillips his one shot at PNP leadership.

So the process was arranged, but it is the duty of the historians in the PNP to see it in these times as a one-off leadership change. The party must go back to its internal democracy.

The PNP may be also sensing that the JLP is struggling with containing murders even as almost all other criminal activities are a few points down. To the extent that that the JLP administration can weather that storm, create jobs over the next three years, and is seen in favourable lights, Phillips is history.

If the JLP loses to Peter Phillips in 2020, it is likely that he will get a second wind and will want to stay on for as long as the PNP can carry him.

In such a scenario, Paulwell, Bunting, Hanna and others will be there in the hunt, watching and waiting. And waiting.


St Thomas needs economic boost


Technocrats attached to Jamaica's governmental agencies can be some of the most educated, intelligent and charming individuals one could come across. The arrogant and self-righteous ones are easily sifted out - those one should listen to and believe nothing they say.

I was a believer in most of what was told to me last Tuesday by Lyttleton 'Tanny' Shirley, chairman of the Factories Corporation of Jamaica; Dr Donald Farquharson, managing director; and Robert Nesta Morgan, director of communication and public affairs at the Office of the Prime Minister. The subjects were wide-ranging, but mostly about the planned development of the Morant Bay town centre.

Anyone who has driven from Harbour View and on towards St Thomas and Portland will tell you that St Thomas is an economic desert. Even the little bars look starved for company.

To be built out at the huge, old Goodyear factory, the planned complex will be something of a mini city housing a courthouse, tax office, RGD office, passport office, a university, light manufacturing zone, a HEART Trust/-NTA for young people, bus park, food court, BPO facilities, bank, police post, and more.

According to Mr Shirley, it is the synergies that will be the real game-changer. More than 365,000 square feet of rental space will be available. Development will be over two years.

"St Thomas is overdue for development. With this and the non-toll highway from Harbour View to Port Antonio, it will be about access and the further triggering of other development," he said.

This JLP administration ought to know that it will never be forgiven by the people of this country, and especially the deprived residents of St Thomas who have been left to their own devices for too long, if this is all talk and no action.

Those residents are not seeking any handouts. But a little jump-start would not hurt. The fact is, development attracts the spin-offs in further development. There needs to be a corridor stretching from downtown Kingston's redevelopment as a cruise ship pier to Port Royal to St Thomas to Port Antonio.

The old Bowden deepwater wharf is just sitting there, wasting away. The last time I visited it was in 1976 and ships were there loading bulk sugar for China.

Some of us remember the song-and-dance routine shamelessly doled out to us by Anthony Hylton, while he was minister of industry, investment and commerce in the PNP administration of 2011-2016. In his Krauck and Anchor pitch, he brought national embarrassment to Jamaica.

At the very least, the PNP could always fall back on its long waltzes with socialism and then make the claim that its members were dunce to the ways of the global market economy. Even so, the country cannot afford to have both ministers and technocrats in fancy suits laying on us the sweet syrup of meaningless, empty words.

The Caymanas Economic Zone, the Naggo Head Tech Park, the Garmex expansion at Marcus Garvey Drive, and the Morant Bay town centre all fall well within the JLP's historical competencies as a pro-business party.

Granted, at many junctures, the JLP administration has borrowed many of the 'bullo wuk', populist, one-off tricks of the 1970s PNP, and at times, the PNP in the past has indicated a welcome familiarity with the market-driven economy, especially under the whip of the IMF.

Now it's no time for fooling around.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs commentator. Email feedback to and observemark