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Peter still wants to be Prime Minister ... But focused on getting PNP reelected, fixing economy

Published:Tuesday | January 5, 2016 | 1:00 AMGary Spaulding

Dr Peter Phillips, the man who has led Jamaica to 10 successive quarterly International Monetary Fund (IMF) reviews, has admitted that he has not taken his eyes off the position of prime minister of Jamaica.

"It would be a great honour should there be a vacancy and at that point where I am able to contemplate it. It would be a great honour to lead the country, but, day by day, I try to focus on the tasks immediately in front of me," Phillips, 66, told The Gleaner.

But for now, as the minister of finance and the public service, Phillips says his immediate focus is on securing a sound economic footing for the country.

He said, too, that he is also focused on helping the governing People's National Party (PNP), under the leadership of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, win another election.

"I live one day at a time," he said.

Phillips has failed in two previous attempts - 2006 and 2008 - to gain the support of the majority of delegates' votes in PNP leadership contests. On both occasions he finished behind Simpson Miller, now 70.

However, with a general election due this year, Phillips, the campaign director for the PNP, said being prime minister is not on his mind at this point. He said that the two immediate tasks at hand are bolstering the economic foundations of the country to achieve growth, development and job creation, and guiding the PNP to victory under Simpson Miller's leadership.

Apart from continuing the programme of economic reform to secure increased levels of growth, Phillips cited the need for greater competitiveness in the economy.

The economy recorded 1.5 per cent growth in the June to September quarter of the current fiscal year.

As the man directing the campaign machinery, Phillips said the PNP will be "building on the great work which was done in 2015 and secure the victory for the PNP."

Asked why economic growth was not accelerated while the IMF tests were being passed, Phillips said that the initial focus was on fundamental structural reforms to the economy.

"We have done all of this and secured the growth in the face of a collapse of the bauxite-alumina sector globally," said Phillips. "We have kept our sector going to the levels that we had before and that has been one of the main drivers of the economy."

He added: "We have had major issues that we have had to deal with such as lowering the cost of energy and transforming the energy economy which is essential to competitiveness."

He reiterated that the first order of business, when the PNP took office in 2012, was to correct the long-term structural imbalances. "It is not just a matter of priming a pump and getting growth, but of getting sustainable economic infrastructure in the context of a global environment which is still uncertain."

Phillips noted that the only economy that is recording sustained rates of growth, higher than before the 2008 crisis, was the United States'.

"Europe is still very soft, Asia has declined. All of that has led to major problems and prices globally have plummeted," he stressed.

Phillips was emphatic that it would have been catastrophic had Jamaica not been able to pass the IMF tests.

"We would not have been able to finance anything, as we would not have got any access to any of the funding, including refinancing the Venezuelan debt and reducing our debt overall," he said.

Phillips said failed tests would not have triggered buoyancy in the stock market; massive investment in hotel rooms which have provided jobs; and expansion of the BPO sector.

*NOTE: The story had previously stated that the economy recorded 0.6 per cent growth in the June to September quarter of the current fiscal year. That was incorrect. The actual figure is 1.5 per cent.

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com