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Stabroek News

Positioning for power
published: Sunday | October 12, 2008

Robert Buddan

The People's National Party is in the midst of positioning itself for the tasks of opposition and future government.

It has settled elections for its party president and four vice-presidents. It has selected its new council of spokespersons. It has since held elections for its six regional executive councils. It has begun discussions of the party structure and possible constitutional amendments. It holds the public session of its annual conference today, and plans to have a post-conference National Executive Council next week.

In the meantime, the party has also delivered a critique of the JLP's first year in office.

The party leader's speech today will be well worth hearing. One can expect confirmation of signals already sent. First, would be the message to respect the MPs who supported Dr Phillips in the leadership contest not only because they had a right to have done so, but in the interest of unity and harmony within the party. Second, would be the party leader's restated commitment to an inclusive form of leadership and a place for all who wish to make a contribution to rebuilding the party.

Third, would be for a progressive agenda for national development that the new council of opposition spokespersons, the shadow ministers, would speak to. Finally, we would expect to hear a critique of the JLP's first year in office. All of this will have to fit into the vision expressed by the party leader for 'One Jamaica, One Family - Shaping the Future Together'.

This conference marks Portia Simpson Miller's consolidation of power in the PNP. She might have lost her power as prime minister but she now has better support among the vice-presidents, officers, regions and shadow parliament. She should feel much more secure and able to offer inclusive leadership from this position of strength. However, she still needs to visit all the constituencies in the days and weeks ahead to spread this message of One Jamaica, One Family ... in order to do so personally, both within the party and across the nation. She has more time to spend on party rebuilding now that her party is no longer in power. In fact, Simpson Miller and her team have major tasks to accomplish, both as party builders and nation builders.


Portia Simpson Miller

There is little doubt that we are in the midst of a historical shift in the way the global system operates and what this means for the kind of society we can build. The crises of climate change, energy, food, crime, health and poverty, in short, the crisis of development, mean that governments have to find new ways of doing things and new partners with which to do them. This is what the PNP's council of opposition spokespersons must turn their minds to right after the conference.

International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction (this past Wednesday) should be a reminder that everything we do must be done with an eye on how to prevent, mitigate or prepare for natural disaster. Indeed, some believe that we live in a world where the state has a more fundamental task than even protecting human rights and democracy in normal times. Its task is to plan for growing risks to the very survival of the state and its people. The damage that extreme weather causes to shelter, social services, infrastructure, and production means that the spokesperson for the environment, science and technology (Noel Arscott) must have a plan to reduce Jamaica's vulnerability in all of these areas.

By October 1, 57 of our children had been murdered. If a government's first duty is to protect its citizens, it must protect the children first among them. The spokesperson for information, youth and culture (Lisa Hanna) and for national security (Peter Bunting) must come up with a plan to protect our citizens and the most vulnerable of them - children and the aged.

If the plan requires stronger local government and community development, then they will have to work out their plan with Colin Fagan and if the protective services depend on the state of local government and community exposure to environmental and natural disaster, then they must integrate their plans with Noel Arscott's. By this same logic, vulnerability measures must be built into plans for human development, food production, education security, and so on. This way, the PNP must have a plan that recognises that we live in what more and more people call the risk society. With this is the concomitant need for governments to plan for risks so that the most vulnerable are protected.


It is one thing for Simpson Miller and her colleagues to secure their power in the PNP. It is now left to them to use that power to secure the safety of the society.

The rule of free market ideology is over, at least for now. The ownership of the financial system, the heart of capitalism, is being socialised through bailouts. The British have spent 50 billion pounds to bail out its banks. The Americans have spent US$700 billion. Iceland is regarded by the United Nations as the most developed country in the world. Now it has to bail out its banks with a loan from creaky Russia. The credit crisis is global and affects emerging markets too. Credit is the oil that makes economies work and now markets have to depend on governments to bail out corporations.


Dr Omar Davies, spokesperson for finance and planning, and his colleagues who operate on credit to build up industry and commerce (Mark Golding), agriculture, land and rural development (Roger Clarke), infrastructure and housing (Robert Pickersgill), and investment and development (Ian Hayles) have to start thinking differently about international sources of credit and how the global crunch is affecting loans to developing countries. Economies like ours depend too much on credit and there is less of that going around globally.

On top of all this, the Inter-American Development Bank says that Jamaica's poverty rate could rise to almost double what it is, from 14 per cent to 26 per cent in the short to medium term because of the food and energy crises. Those responsible for housing (Bobby Pickersgill), health (Fenton Ferguson), education (Basil Waite), youth (Lisa Hanna), and gender (Sandrea Falconer) have to ensure that they can find more resources in an environment of financial uncertainty when there is less to go around. As usual, the most vulnerable will be hit the hardest.

The global financial crisis will hurt United Nations programmes and the UN has already begun to talk about a 'development emergency'. It is a world with very big challenges for Anthony Hylton who is spokesperson for foreign affairs and foreign trade.

The era of market fundamentalism, deregulation, and corporate friendly policies has impoverished the poor and is now hurting the rich too. It holds an opportunity to return to responsible public intervention and regulation. It requires thinking about development in ways that include the environment, social protection, poverty reduction, international cooperation and production. Positioning for power means positioning the society to avoid the worst of what is going on and reinventing society so that sane and noble ideals can find workable solutions under prevailing circumstances.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, University of the West Indies, Mona. Email may be sent to

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