Gordon Robinson | Operation Renewal
The best-laid plans of mice (and men) aft gang agley.
From media accounts, long-anticipated challenges to fill PNP vice-presidential posts are materialising as aspirants join the scavenger hunt in droves. Incumbent vice-presidents Fenton Ferguson, Noel Arscott, Wykeham McNeill, and Angela Brown Burke are expected to seek re-election, while three new aspirants, Damion 'Mout-a-Massie' Crawford, Mikhail 'Prince of Wails' Phillips, and Phillip 'NetServ' Paulwell, have already declared their hand.
Crawford: "... Two reasons why I should be positively considered. The first is that there are two demographics the party is trying to reach and, currently, I am, in my opinion, most connected, almost capable to reach that demographic (sic). One, the unattached, and, two, young persons, some of whom share demographics being unattached young persons, so I'm currently closest to impacting ... that demographic. I'd like to indicate to THAT demographic that I'm at the table; bringing them to the table; and, by extension, trying to bring them also to the PNP."
Sigh! See why lawyers tend to become politicians? Damion isn't a lawyer, but he shares a 'demographic' in that he seems incapable of using 10 words when a hundred will do. First, I'm so over the politically coined phrase 'unattached youth' since nobody has explained to what they ought to be attached. If you mean 'unemployed' or 'unoccupied', why not say so? Stop trying to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.
It'd take a month of Sundays to list all the flaws in his announcement, but the worst is declaring his purpose of running as "trying to bring them to the PNP". Now, this is something any PNP member can and should do. Also, VP electors are already PNP delegates. How one needs to be VP in order to indicate anything to 'unattached youth' defeats me.
Take him in hand
Still, I believe Damion should be encouraged as he represents the future. But somebody needs to take him in hand, occasionally cover his mouth, and open his eyes to the responsibilities of national leadership.
The second candidate I want to encourage is Mikael Phillips. He said:
"I've offered myself because I've spent three years as regional chairman for Region 5. I feel I'm able to offer more to the party in the position of vice-president and ... we have to prepare ourselves as a party to get ourselves ready for the next election when it's due, and, as such, I've offered myself to help to strengthen the organisation of the party and the party itself."
NOW you're cooking with Tropigas. Damion, this is an internal political party position, NOT a platform for self-aggrandising populist statements about 'unattached youth'. What this PNP needs more than dry peas need water is renewal. For the PNP to become nationally relevant, it must first accept that it has lost the electorate's confidence. Once it accepts this and, concurrently, the immense popularity of the current prime minister, it'll have begun the necessary process of renewal, whereby it can stop the boring, bungling, bumbling belligerence against Andrew Holness and commence the essential task of developing a new mission; a new mission statement; and, crucially, new missionaries.
Damion, if he can begin maturing quickly, should be an integral part of this fundamental PNP charge. Mikael has already established that he understands what's required.
Phillip Paulwell: "Yes, I'm definitely going to be offering myself to be one of the four vice-presidents of the People's National Party, having served the region for over 12 years and having learnt a lot in that process, and with some of the experiences that I have now, I think I can make a more fulsome (DWL) contribution to the party as a whole in all the six regions. So I think I do bring tremendous experience, energy and I am looking forward to a successful campaign."
N.B.: Mikael recognises a specific need and isn't afraid to say what it is: "... We have to prepare ourselves ... to get ready for the next election ... as such, I've offered myself to help to strengthen the organisation of the party."
'Learned' from 'experiences'
On the other hand, Phillip just wants to be VP because "with some of the experiences that I have now", he thinks: "I can make a more fulsome contribution to the arty as a whole" and his vision is for "a successful campaign". Yawn.
First, Phillip seems not to have read my column on the word 'fulsome' (join the club). Jamaica doesn't need any more 'fulsome' politicians. We've had enough of those. Jamaica needs constructive, effective contribution to urgently needed restructuring and renewal. Fulsomeness, schmulsomeness!
Second, experiences? They include:
- While he was trade administrator, an embarrassing scandal at the department involving alleged fraudulent motor vehicle importation;
- As commerce and technology minister, an apparent attempt at political interference with the OUR regarding fixing of telecoms rates, resulting in an appeal court/Privy Council ruling that he acted ultra vires;
- Approving a huge loan from public funds to subsequently failed information technology company NetServ, without matching equity. Government lost approximately $180 million. The then PM described his conduct as "youthful exuberance";
- Announcing the sale of Jamaica's fourth cellular licence to Solutrea Jamaica Limited without securing all the required public agencies' agreement. Nobody can be sure Solutrea ever paid the US$7.5 million licence fee;
- Five hundred tonnes of faulty cement was released into the market (nearly crippling a booming construction industry), then had to be recalled. Minister Paulwell refused to insist that the cement company conform to Bureau of Standards' certification programmes;
- Lucrative government contracts for nationwide distribution of light bulbs donated by the Cuban government were awarded to two recently incorporated companies, thus incurring a government bill of more than US$3.95 million. A government investigation absolved Paulwell of any wrongdoing;
- Botched contract negotiations with Energy World International (EWI), whose contract had to be terminated when the Inter-American Development Bank refused to grant a loan to finance the project. Paulwell then made bad worse by telling journalists, "I believe that if we are patriotic, we must see what has happened with the IDB as a damnation on our country, and the OCG (Office of the Contractor General) and the OUR (Office of Utilities Regulation) and must try to rectify that," possibly implying that he could direct the OUR and OCG.
Well, he says he "learned" from these "experiences". What do you think? Do you, like me, believe PNP requires renewal? Would you expect "renewal" to be a priority of Vice-President Paulwell?
In all this, I can't help noticing the very visible invisibility of my favourite PNP politician, Lisa Hanna. Readers know she's my idea of Jamaica's future, but she has been conspicuously absent from the public jostling for vice-president. She was the first PNP executive to call for party renewal, and it appeared to have cost her the last VP election. Since then, the party seems to have acknowledged her value with a promotion to foreign affairs spokesperson, which assignment, after an initial flare-up of fumble-itis, she has handled with aplomb, intelligence, and a commitment to research that suggests she's maturing at a rate of knots. Her first sectoral address in her new portfolio was a tour de force. But she seems to be giving this mad VP scramble a huge swerve. What message is that sending?
Equally, I can't help seeing the irony in Angela Brown Burke's re-election effort set against Paulwell's much-publicised support of her bid to succeed Portia Simpson Miller as South West St Andrew MP. Political commentators speculated, ad nauseam, that this represented a securing of delegates for his push to be future PNP leader. Now, with the party in perpetual flux, maybe those delegates won't belong to Paulwell after all, as Brown Burke seems intent on having their VP ballots marked for her.
A July 2017 Gleaner editorial asked Peter Phillips to stamp his authority on what it called the 'Machiavellian Options' available in the South West St Andrew selection. That stamp never became apparent. Now Peter has another chance. What kind of PNP does HE want going forward? Is this, likely his last hurrah, to go down in history as a feeble attempt to appease all for fear of fracturing an already-depleted party? Or will he stand up for Jamaica, regardless of personal political capital expended, to ensure that his beloved party has a chance at real renewal?
In my opinion, none of Michael Manley, Edward Seaga, P.J. Patterson or Portia Simpson Miller would ignore the prospect of elected vice-presidents they considered wrong for the party or inimical to the leader's agenda. Peter, time come. Tell Jamaica who you really are; what you really want; and where you expect PNP to go. Take control of this before it becomes another humiliation for the PNP!
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.