Tue | Oct 20, 2020

Mark Wignall | Peter Phillips, expect an early shocker in 2020

Published:Sunday | September 22, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Peter Phillips, president of the PNP and opposition leader, speaking at the post-election press conference held at the party’s Old Hope Road headquarters on Wednesday, September 12.

After the squeaker of a win in the recent contest between Peter Bunting and Peter Phillips, the president of the PNP, home by political fate than by triumph, waded into the Noranda Bauxite issue and came out of it looking as if he had been in need of political pain.

Recognising that rough times were in the storm winds on the horizon, the workers largely saw Dr Phillips as coming out on the wrong side of the issue. Which begs the obvious question: Who was it that advised Dr Phillips to take an anti-mining message while he was on the way to Noranda and the workers?

Many years before this, blue-collar workers and most of those making up staff on the assembly line in manufacturing plants were not expected to think for themselves. They were expected to abide by the end result of any closed-door meeting held between management and union heads.

This is no longer the 1970s. Workers are smarter now, and the surreptitious deals made in those years have made workers in 2019 thinkers on their own and not rigidly locked into factional positions or led by political faithfulness.

Dr Phillips could well have remained in St Andrew instead of ‘going to country’ and getting to carry back home with him an embarrassing thumbs down.

And then, of course, there was that temporary vote of support in Parliament for the extensions to key areas of the states of emergency. Dr Phillips has signalled that there is no guarantee that his members will support lengthier extensions.

If he feels so strongly against the very existence of these SOEs and the potential for them to infringe on the rights of our poorest young men, why not vote against it now and not weeks down the road? Is he wetting his finger and sticking it in the air to determine the direction of the political wind? I think so.

One senses that PM Holness is getting a bit impatient with the parliamentary bother that the PNP has been to him in political deliberations in this country. One senses that he is pushing his Cabinet members to the limits of their physical, mental, and professional abilities. He wants to see that opening that will allow him to call an election, but this time around, he is hungry not simply for a win, but for an extra eight or 10 seats.

Will Bunting follow Phillips over the cliff?

Bunting must be ruing the fact that the campaign was not given an extra two weeks. That 76-vote loss has to be depressingly painful for him.

“We could have made it, Mark, but some internal processes were against us,” said a strong Bunting supporter and PNP MP. “We can’t afford to bawl now. The JLP is there waiting to pounce, and we have to show them that we have the forces to back them off. We have a long way to go to heal.”

Peter Bunting is a strong supporter of a crime-fighting regime that does not include SOEs. By that logic, if the murder rates decline over the next six months while the SOEs are in place, the entire PNP will be in for a shellacking should an election be held in, say, April or May 2020.

“I am not saying that Bunting is using the SOE as a political tool, but he is a politician, and he has to weigh those strategic possibilities,” said another of his MP supporters. “I think he knows that at some stage, the JLP is going to be caught flat-footed, and they will have to operate without a single SOE. There is likely to be negative implications for them at that time.”

There are consequences for election wins and especially for those terrible second-place blots in our political history. Peter Bunting will have to align himself with every policy proposal that PNP President Peter Phillips dreams up in his democratic socialist kitchen.

Oh, yes, Bunting, that big supporter of the capitalist way and a strong, market-driven economy, will have to hitch himself to the coat-tails of the socialist academic, Phillips, and even begin to talk like him, that is, if Phillips requires him to speak at all.

Drones and gang leaders

It was not exactly surprising to me to learn that some organised criminal gangs had been using drones to map out the movement of the security forces in areas of the SOEs. Not many people fully appreciate that in areas under the jurisdiction of an SOE, police and soldiers can’t be everywhere at once.

“Even inside an SOE, the ground commander knows that troops cannot be thinned out,” said a well-known security expert with 30 years’ experience. “There have to be pockets where they are concentrated. If you thin them out too much, you expose them to potentially tragic outcomes.”

“Are you aware of gang leaders using drones?” I asked.

“Can’t comment on that,” he said with a certain abruptness. Couldn’t quite figure out what he was trying to convey, but it was obvious that he wanted to bring the conversation to an end.

I turned to another of my regular sources in the JCF, a man with 15 years’ experience and a high-profile, specialist four-year degree, plus in-house training in Jamaica and abroad.

“If the JCF has been using drones, it would have to be not only on a very small scale, but as a top secret. And if on a small scale in order to minimise detection, there is the risk of ineffectiveness. Otherwise, there’s no common knowledge of its use,” he explained.

“Could you be wrong about this?” I asked him.

“I’ve been involved with investigation in the JCF at a high level and have never known of the use of drones in investigations or even a proposal for its use.”

To me, this is shocking. Criminal minds have always been one step ahead of the bureaucratic maze inside the top-heavy JCF. They have been ahead in terms of the use of cell phones, even if in a highly publicised court case and conviction of a popular entertainer a few years ago, it was the evidence from text messages on a cell phone that sent him to the big house.

I can well understand that using drone technology in tracking and investigating organised criminality will have to be supported by parliamentary policy. It will need to get a huge buy-in by the legal community in Jamaica, especially those who know that oftentimes, in-house corruption in the JCF is a standard that is expected in just about every area of the police force.

My suggestion, for what it is worth, is for an ultra-secretive arm of the JCF to set up drone tech in operation against the most ruthless of our organised criminal minds. The idea will not be to use it as evidence in a court of law, but to utilise it as leads in the legal fight against our smartest criminals.

Poor people and public transport

That viral video of a JUTC bus travelling in rain and leaking like trouble was quite depressing to watch. That some people were able to laugh at it had me wondering if we had lost our souls, that part which allowed us to feel for others.

Sympathy wrapped in a strong and secure sheet of empathy.

Some called it ‘JUTC Waterfalls. Admission $100.’ Even more reason for all politicians to use public transport for at least three days for the month. That would really be the epitome of joined-up government.

Part of that should lead our politicians to also spend two days each month doing a total of six hours in the front-desk area of a police station. Three hours each day.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public-affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.