PNP's missed opportunities


PNP's missed opportunities

Of election boycott, the PNP mission, and inequality


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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WHEN through marbled lens other generations look back on our troubled time, they will ask why men and women so exposed to enlightened scholarship failed to end pernicious inequality and capital discrimination in our land. Did we not understand that it was those two inequities that blocked our path to reduced criminality, economic growth, and modernity?

Answers will be sought, too, of the many unforced missteps the People's National Party (PNP) made in the new millennium — a party that earlier created the Bank of Jamaica, National Housing Trust, the telecommunications revolution, and Highway 2000; a party whose founder, Norman Manley, grew our economy “at a faster rate than Puerto Rico, England, the United States, or Canada between 1955 and 1957”. From that lofty pillar, we have sunk low.

'Bloody 24 hours', the Jamaica Observer, Friday, February 21, 2020 front page shouted, and its subtitle even more bizarre: 'Nine people killed as gunmen run amok'. Strangely, such headlines shock us no longer but even more baffling, PNP shadow spokesman for security, Fitz Jackson, as yet without his own crime plan, is looking forward to the 'highly sophisticated national security plan' announced by the JLP, whose failed policies have led to the unprecedented bloodletting blanketing the nation.

With rampant corruption demanding equal media space, Andrew Holness, a Teflon politician, concocted a distraction to test the PNP's readiness in the Clarendon South Eastern swing seat, where his party holds an uncertain voter advantage despite its sizeable war chest. And the PNP blinked.

To be clear, the PNP's boycott offers no principled claim, not after contesting Portland Eastern. Nor could the excuse of financing two campaigns be accepted, with the unpredictable Andrew Holness having at least a year to call a general election, affording Pearnel Charles Jr, a competent minister, valuable time as the new Member of Parliament, a position gifted to him by the PNP. For certain, he will use the period to endear himself to the voters and, more potently, expend State funds soon to be greatly enlarged by Nigel Clarke's announced 2020 'infrastructure budget'. Thereafter, he will be significantly more prepared and stronger — an unmistakeable contrast to his vulnerability at his first coming.

Preoccupied with the fear of losing another by-election, the PNP unwisely discounted the popular disgust at the lack of achievements and vulgar emptiness of Ruddy Spencer's five-term tenure and internal dissatisfaction with Charles Jr's imposition. In addition, there could be no PNP loss at Clarendon South Eastern, a long-held Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) seat. Contemplation of a loss here was no more than distorted images of collective minds, conjured from their nightmares of earlier failed campaigns. In truth, the PNP could only win or learn for the major battle to come. Importantly also, with the last national polls not encouraging, a PNP victory in Clarendon South Eastern would lift confidence and precipitate much-needed contributions.

Enter Derrick Lambert, a son of the soil and discarded PNP fighter, exercising his right to contest as an independent candidate. The PNP, having officially boycotted the by-election, had no further need for flyers and mobile criers to usher voters, whether PNP or JLP, away from Lambert's cause. That flagrant overreach precipitated the poignant sight of the Vere-born Lambert walking alone, but defiantly, across the nomination yard, amidst the JLP throng buoyed by outsiders from every constituency known, railing in animated triumph. The scene not only told of an opportunity missed to learn from the contest, but would have created an unnecessary division in a must-win seat for the PNP.

For those of us who knew Lambert from a time of struggle as a PNP Youth Organization leader; a National Workers' Union warrior who walked with Michael Manley; a disciple of the people's champion, Anthony Spaulding; and a Comrade who lost the Clarendon South Eastern seat in 2011 by a mere 107 votes, it was indeed a sad day. More regrettable, it offered another surreal footnote on the PNP's tortuous journey to regain State power.

In all this, we dare not miss the more profound message of Lambert's candidacy, which boldly announces, “A new day for SE Clarendon”, in which he will fight to prevent the wholesale appropriation of the “natural resources and lands of Clarendon South Eastern as the JLP have done in St Catherine”. Notwithstanding the PNP chairman's meagre 20-acre interest in the unholy Bernard Lodge enterprise, the larger issue involves not only optimum usage and lack of transparency in the allocation of Government-owned lands, but more importantly, the spreading tentacles of inequality in our country.

Beyond the ephemerality of temporal power or personal political interests, Lambert's intervention harkens the PNP back to the binding charge of its founder — to create economic independence for the broad masses in our time. It is therefore a definite call to hope and opportunity over desperation and pervasive criminality, offering a stake to the least among us. Using impressive flyers and knowledge of his constituency, he identifies the local investment pathway; whether through the acquisition of residential or small farmstead lots on Crown lands; public shares in the development of pristine white sand beaches at Peak Bay, Welcome, and Salt Island; water sports at West Harbour; ecotourism ventures at Goat Islands and the Portland Bight Cays; an upgraded mineral bath at the Salt River Spa; or new trans-shipment ports at Jackson Bay and Rocky Point.

Finally, his narrative provides not only a blueprint for community consultations but also a springboard for the party's generic mandate to educate and empower the uninformed masses to access investment possibilities in the money and capital market, the exclusive playing fields of the rich, pointedly summed up by the late John Maxwell:

“The elite are interested in 'wealth management'. The rest of us are concerned with the management of misery, destitution, and violence; of drought and water shortage; of malnutrition, gastrointestinal disease and stunted children; of teenage prostitution and what, 40 years ago, I called the 'acres of hunger' represented in thousands of acres of idle land and the hundreds of thousands of idle people.”

So, yes, Lambert's proclamation challenges us to confront and correct the 'paradox of thrift'; the unrequited outflow of savings and investment returns from communities like Clarendon South Eastern. By applying technology and embracing the capacities and creativity of our people, as called for by the insightful Andre Haughton, we can end the poverty cycle, without which any crime reduction plan will fail.

If these lessons are heeded, Lambert and his people will already have won, signalling a new resolve to obliterate inequality from our midst for the benefit of this generation and those to come.

Paul Buchanan supports the People's National Party and is a former Member of Parliament for St Andrew West Rural.

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