UPDATED: Support for sale - People demand benefits to join the PNP
People's National Party (PNP) incumbent vice-president, Noel Arscott, who is seeking reelection on a promise to transform supporters into members, said there is strong resistance to get people to join the movement, as they are demanding benefits for membership.
Arscott, the final of six vice-presidential candidates interviewed by The Sunday Gleaner last week, said the task was difficult but not impossible. And even more so in the immediate future, as the party is now rocked by allegations of campaign finance scandal. The party’s treasurer, Norman Horne, has pointed fingers at several individuals whom he accused of collecting monies for the organisation’s 2016 general election campaign and which have not been turned over to the treasury.
Arscott said the issue has not only damaged the PNP’s image, but the task is even more difficult now to attract genuine members.
“I see a worrying trend where this is creeping into the body, where people want benefit for their support. They say, what is in it for myself? Not so much what can I do to build my community or my country, but what I can get for me. Personal pronoun ‘I’ is now very much a part of the language of politics,” explained Arscott.
But he was cautious in responding to whether such ‘benefit seeking’ has morphed into vote selling and vote buying, an allegation that has been made across both major political parties, and in particular during internal elections. In at least one instance in the last four years, delegates were alleged to have pocketed $40,000 each to secure their votes.
“I couldn’t say in a vulgar fashion that it is so, but I know it happens. How widespread it is, I can’t tell you. I don’t think it’s a mass movement of people selling votes, but it occurs,” he stated.
Although he has offered “assistance” to constituents for various constituency-related issues, including school and medical assistance as well as home repairs, Arscott said he has not indulged in vote buying or vote soliciting. However, it remains a difficult task to convince individuals to become members of the PNP.
“I try to sell them the ideals of nation building and strengthening the party for a better Jamaica. Some will say yes, some will say no. Some say they are not interested in politics and there is a wide spectrum of reasons, especially depending on their antecedents. But we have a lot of supporters, and I want to transform that support into membership,” Arscott declared.
According to him, it is always easier to convince someone whose family members are supporters of the party, but even that is being resisted.
“There are others who are saying, ‘Look, my family has been supporting PNP all their lives and they do not have anything to show for it’. So, you have to explain that the party is not about goods and benefit, it’s about building a nation. You appeal to the sentiments of being a Jamaican, and what the party can do to build a better Jamaica,” he maintained.
In the meantime, PNP President Portia Simpson Miller has asked the party’s integrity commission to investigate and provide a report on the recent allegations in one month.
Arscott is the first PNP official to have declared that he is not one of the individuals so accused. He has expressed distaste and displeasure arising from Horne’s action.
He is still to be convinced that Horne’s approach was the right one, and believes that going forward, the PNP should provide a list of “vetted officers” who can collect on its behalf. Arscott said given all that has happened, the task by all will the harder, “unless we get to the bottom of it”.
“When things are tough, the real PNP people will stand, and those busy tearing the party down will soon be exposed. It’s not easy to maintain a party like the PNP for so long. It will undergo its challenges, but we will rise stronger,” he promised.
(An earlier version of this article indicated that Norman Horne had resigned as treasurer of the People's National Party. However, that is inaccurate as Horne has advised that he remains treasurer of the party.)