'Time come' for PNP renewal

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'Time come' for PNP renewal

Ibrahim Konteh

Thursday, September 24, 2020

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The People's National Party (PNP) had several Daniels reading and interpreting the writing on the wall, but, like Belshazzar, the party's executive ignored them, and so here we are with a divided and stagnant party crying out for some resuscitation.

Following a hammering defeat at the polls on Thursday, September 3, 2020, it's now more than ever the party needs an overhauling of its operations. The PNP has had several appraisal reports commissioned in its over 80-year-old history. The first one was led by P J Patterson after its 1967 General Election loss. The party would later win the two following general elections in 1972 and 1976. When the party lost its 1980 election, Robert “Bobby” Pickersgill led the then review and the party would later win four elections in a row.

There has been a call for renewal within the PNP from as far back as 2007 with the Brian Meeks Appraisal Committee Report. This call was further amplified in 2016 with the release of the Robinson post-election report, as well as Comrades Peter Bunting and Lisa Hanna highlighting the fact that the party couldn't continue as is. Then, in 2019 we saw the People's National Party Youth Organisation (PNPYO), in what was dubbed as a mini-rebellion, trumpeting the message of reform and renewal, but to no avail. The party hierarchy carried on as though all was well.

It would appear as though the party's leadership has been reluctant to accept and implement any of these recommendations to its detriment. The party and its supporters have taken much comfort in the narrative that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won because the Comrades stayed home, or it was a 'buy election'. This reasoning is rather lazy and played out.

Revisit recommendations

Many have attributed the loss of the party to its leader, Dr Peter Phillips, while some have suggested that the party's manifesto was unrealistic, or it could be the broken political unity of the party. Whatever the reasons may be, the biggest issue is one of comprehensive reform. The party members must go back to its core values, then see how best they can shape a party that is current and attractive. They must also revisit the recommendations from the Meeks Report because they are still current.

One could argue that the recommendations were not addressed in a full way. The leadership of the PNP's Secretariat failed to meaningfully and significantly engage with and properly treat with the insightful PNPYO 21-Point Plan and, instead, reportedly dismissed them. One could argue that they co-opted the president of the YO as a means of silencing the mini-rebellion.

The 2020 whitewash has seen a resurgence of this mini-rebellion, with a strongly worded letter from the leadership of the YO declaring that the PNP must “change or die”. The PNP has failed to modernise its political education, treating it as a lowly stepchild. Political organisation, down to the grass roots (groups), is weak and virtually non-existent. Instead, what we have seen is abysmal canvassing and enumeration.

In a 2016 speech given by Peter Bunting it was highlighted that party groups is the channel through which over 90 per cent of members join the party. Party groups were created as a means of giving feedback to leadership and an opportunity for members to raise awareness of issues. Over the years, many have used 'paper groups' to gain the electoral victory, but no real machinery. Party groups should be more than just functional groups for voting.

Some of the recommendations are that a prerequisite for full group membership should involve participation in training workshops exploring leadership, personal development, financial literacy, the party's philosophy and constitution, as well as, political organisation. Party groups should be fully functional, not just as paper groups.

There were many lessons coming out of the losses of the St Mary South Eastern and Portland Eastern by-elections which seem to have been lost on the Secretariat. A 'party school' might have facilitated an exploration and transference of these lessons.

The PNP should show the country the type of structure we want in place at the government level through leading by example. The PNP should lead the call for term limits of elected officials by starting at home. There should be term limits for party presidents and all other executive positions, particularly the chairman and general secretary. An age of retirement should also be considered.

The Meeks Report recommended that the general secretary should be fully employed by the party, as was the case with Paul Burke. The party needs to re-engage this idea, as the current general secretary and two deputies were Members of Parliament (MP) or caretakers for seats. These seats required their intense attention. In addition, between 2016 and 2020, the general secretary had duties not only as MP but as spokesperson in the shadow Cabinet. These are too many responsibilities whilst having responsibilities as leaders of the party's Secretariat. Thus, they should be relieved of their role as general secretary and deputy general secretary to allow them to focus on being MPs and caretakers.

Additionally, the Secretariat failed to ensure the development and execution in quality and quantity of a fit for purpose, robust, agile, responsive, and cutting-edge political communications arm. This alone warrants the need for a change in the leadership of the Secretariat. The overly polite and pro-status quo mindset of the current general is out of step with the bold, assertive, and progressive approach that is required for the job. In other words, there is currently a misfit between what the present political realities require and the mindset. I am a great admirer of the skill sets and leadership potential of the general secretary, but like Tom Hagen in The Godfather, he's not a war-time consigliere.

The party should implement a key performance indicator and appraisal system for all MPs and caretakers, with immediate removal or appropriate action for non-performance. Amending the party's constitution to make these changes should be a top priority.

The nature and scope of our electoral defeat, characterised by weak and indecisive leadership, speaks for itself.

The PNP has also failed to modernise the financial model of our party. Note the now cutting of staff due to expected loss of financial inflows associated with electoral defeat. Renewal will serve to make the party more attractive to donors. A broke party cannot pull off an effective election campaign, enough to win even a by-election, let alone a general election.

The party must quit this fishing expedition of excuses and face the music. Instead, the focus must be shifted to demonstrating appreciation, understanding, working knowledge, and expert execution of 21st-century political approaches and tools in the areas of political organisation, research, communication, and administration. Whether we choose to brand it 'change or die' or 'renewal', the PNP must accept that 'time come'!

Ibrahim Konteh is a published author, banker, event manager, and a member of The Patriots. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or ibrahimibkonteh@gmail.com or @ibkonteh.


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