Sun | Mar 18, 2018

No disrespect 'Sista P' - Bunting pushes for changes in PNP as he eyes party's top job

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2016 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
PNP President Portia Simpson Miller (centre), has a word for her potential challenger Peter Bunting (right) at a meeting of the party's National Executice Council, while other senior members look on.
Peter Bunting (left) gets some advice from Portia Simpson Miller who he could face off with for the top job in the PNP.
Simpson Miller
Simpson Miller

Peter Bunting - the man who sent former Prime Minister Hugh Shearer into political retirement in 1993, and who intends to contest for the leadership of the People's National Party (PNP) - is rejecting claims that his challenge is to embarrass or disrespect the party's leader, Portia Simpson Miller.

According to Bunting, he wants to be PNP president to modernise the party and make it attractive to Jamaicans at home and abroad, and this will not impact the outstanding legacy of Simpson Miller.

"I think Portia's legacy is secure. It's largely one of coming from the grass roots to secure the highest office of prime minister," Bunting told The Sunday Gleaner in an exclusive interview last week.

"I think the successes in the last administration in terms of the economic reform programme and in a number of other areas, such as the pieces of legislation passed, finally getting a framework for the energy sector modernisation, that's there.

"History will record that is there to her credit," added Bunting, as he declared that his run for the presidency of the 78-year-old PNP is not intended to be disrespectful.

Bunting has until July 20 to be nominated to contest for the party's top job come September, and even though he has not yet officially indicated that he will challenge Simpson Miller, who has declared that she will be seeking another term, tension has been high in the party with some persons claiming that he would be rude to challenge a sitting president.

This has happened only once before in the PNP when Dr Peter Phillips unsuccessfully attempted to oust Simpson Miller after the party lost the 2007 general election.

But Bunting argued that history will correctly apportion Simpson Miller's legacy in the party and in Jamaica's political past.

According to Bunting, while there is much love and affection for Simpson Miller, which is well deserved, the judgement of many of those who love and respect her may be clouding their vision of what the party needs to make it relevant.

"Right now, to my mind, the final chapter would really be about presiding over a smooth succession-planning process. And I can't obviously suggest to her how to do that. That is going to be her judgement. But, she still has so much respect and admiration within the organisation that I think the instinct is to be deferential to her wishes.

"There has been some expectation of a departure timetable. So as clear as possible, some kind of succession timetable would be helpful, and to basically preside over it, so that it is less contentious than the 2006 and 2008 (PNP presidential) contests were," said Bunting.

The mild-mannered businessman, banker and politician, in making his case for leadership, said the PNP must assess its relevance in Jamaica today, and it must be modernised to meet the political needs of a party of the future.

"My approach has always been that I don't want to be in politics because I want a certain position. I came into politics because I wanted to make a difference, wherever I thought I had a set of skills that matched the needs of the party and the administration at the time," said Bunting, who served as minister of national security in the last PNP administration.

Citing his early stint in the public sector, Bunting said he accepted the invitation of former PNP president Michael Manley to enter the governance process in 1991.

"When I became involved in what was then National Investment Bank of Jamaica at the invitation of Michael Manley and was put in charge of the privatisation programme, essentially what he said to me was, 'Look, we are moving towards a market economy, liberalisation, deregulation, etc'.

"He said, 'None of us socialists in here understands much about the market. We need some young people who have had training in business, with MBAs. You guys come in and help us do something.' And that's how I came into public service and later into representational politics," explained the former co-owner of banking and investment outfit Dehring, Bunting & Golding, and currently investor in Proven Investment Limited.

But Bunting would walk away from the political process after his success in 1993, only to return two general elections later to the PNP.

When the late Donald Buchanan resigned as general secretary, Bunting said he returned to an active role in the party, considering the needs of the party against the skills he had to offer at the time.

"The party needed a manager who could transform the secretariat that Norman Manley would have recognised if he came back from the grave, so I brought the skill set as a manager. I thought some of those must be brought to the secretariat. And four years later, we won two landslide elections (general and local) so obviously, there was an impact with my being there as campaign manager," Bunting stated.

He argued that "the paradigm shifted on February 25" and the party now requires monumental changes.

"We are in opposition again, potentially for the next five years, and my assessment of what needs to be done, the buzzword is renewal. But I have also heard it said that we need a revolution, and I think what is really meant is that it (the change) can't be incremental.

"We need an overhaul. Most of the principal officers of the party have been around for 25 to 40 years. We need a change in message, messengers, the image we project to the public must be completely modernised, (it's dated)," the would-be contestant stated.

According to Bunting, the party faces challenges in respect of its groups and the group structure, and this must change.

"The old style of holding group meetings does not work anymore. The type of work, the type of transformation that we will be needing over the next four years is going to require somebody with the skill set, with a vision of where they need to go, to be able to develop strategies to get us there and, most important, to be able to execute on those strategies, and that's where I think my management skills are important," said Bunting.

The former PNP general secretary said he was still young enough to execute and has the vigour to be on the ground five to six days per week, with a new cohort of messengers carrying the message and selling the vision.