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PNP still practising divisive politics

Phillips, Campbell, Crawford, and Waite's word and deed tell the story

Sunday, August 11, 2019

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The frog enjoys itself in water, but not in hot water. — Wolof proverb, Senegal

Regrettably, 181 years after the abolition of slavery in Jamaica, some among us, including Basil Waite, deputy general secretary of the People's National Party (PNP) and one who seeks high public office, still do not understand what National Hero Marcus Garvey meant when he prescribed: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, for though others may free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.”

This shameful utterance by Waite recently, “And some of the likkle nasty nayga dem, who ah call themselves Labourite...” suggests deep-seated self-loathing.

Novelist Toni Morrison, who died last week — the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize, and Pulitzer Prize winner — espoused similar sentiments to those of Garvey in her groundbreaking novel Beloved. She wrote, among other things: “Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”

Does Basil Waite understand this?

Some people, for reasons best known to them, will doubtless say, Waite's vituperation at a political meeting was mere words, just undeliberate jiving on the political stump; 'rum talk' even, meaningless banter, or innocent political hazing. I beg to disagree.

Those who disagree with me might want to revisit the juncture at which party political violence metamorphosed into a veritable Frankenstein in this country. In my The Agenda piece in the Jamaica Observer some weeks ago, I pointed out that, “Political violence, credible scholarship has shown, germinated in the 1940s. Initially it was mostly unfriendly banter in the 50s; thereafter, nasty epithets and vitriol descended into stone-throwing; and later distribution of assorted weapons, inclusive of Molotov cocktails, also known as petrol bombs or poor man's grenades, in the 60s, and by the 70s and 80s guns were brought into the deadly political descent.” ( Jamaica Observer, April 28, 2019)

I believe Waite's nasty pronouncement at a PNP rally in St Elizabeth was, in part, the deep recesses of his inner consciousness emptying itself. In a society like ours, with its history of slavery, colonialism and horrific political violence, we have not only a responsibility, but a duty to examine Waite's invective.

It was a very grotesque reminder of the tempestuous road of schismatic politics which Jamaica has travelled before. The results were near economically, politically and socially catastrophic.

There is no middle ground here, we must resoundingly reject the purveyors of divisiveness. They have stymied our development for decades.

By way of official police statistics, 844 Jamaicans were murdered leading up to our ninth general election. This was the tragic political culmination of divisiveness. Its genesis was the racist and classist epithets 40 years before.

Pattern of behaviour

In recent months, several members of the PNP's top-tier leadership have foolishly been resurrecting a past that betrays the practical significance of our national motto, “Out of Many, One People”.

Recall the classist, sexist, and misogynist comments made about Ann-Marie Vaz by the PNP's most popular politician, Vice-President Damion Crawford, in the race for the formerly ninth-safest seat of that party. The Gleaner of March 4, 2019 reported excerpts of Crawford's tirade inter alia: “If you look at potential, the furthest this lady will go is Mrs Vaz. If you look at potential, how far can I go, and how [far] will you come with me?” Crawford stated. He also declared that, “If this lady beat me, it will be a travesty!”

Recall also incendiary statements made by the Member of Parliament for St Ann North Western Dr Dayton Campbell at a PNP gathering in Port Antonio on March 3, 2019. Campbell said, among other things: “East Portland, let's do this. We gonna do this for a fallen soldier. Ah never sick Dr Bloomfield sick and dead. A kill dem kill Dr Bloomfield inna the middle of the battle. If dem think seh dem a guh come kill wi doctor and then come tek wi seat, dem mek a sad mistake.”

Recall Peter Bunting likened some Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters to John Crows in 2015. A Nationwide News Network news report on July 13, 2015 tells the story. Does a leopard change its spots? The late American civil rights advocate and poet Dr Maya Angelou said: “When people show you who they are, believe them...When a person says to you, 'I'm selfish,' or 'I'm mean,' or 'I am unkind,' believe them. They know themselves much better than you do.”

Remember, too, Bunting's opprobrious attack on Dr Nigel Clarke? The Gleaner of March 5, 2018 reported these woeful details:

“In a sense, he reminds me of the black Englishman of colonial times who aspired to be sort of black royalty,” Bunting charged, controversially, in a video on social media site Facebook.

“According to Bunting, Clarke has 'great British education and sort of mimicking the values and the affectations of the former colonial masters'.

“The former national security minister argued that Clarke's personality contrasted with that of his People's National Party (PNP) opponent Keisha Hayle, who he claimed has a 'rural and down-to-earth ethos'.

“Clarke is a Rhodes scholar and has affiliations with the University of Oxford, The University of the West Indies, and serves as the chief operating officer at the Musson Group.

“He also serves on a number of boards and has been an ambassador-at-large in the Andrew Holness Administration, according to his profile on Bloomberg.

“However, Bunting, a high-profile banker, argued that the people of Jamaica have adopted an elitist mentality in deciding the profile of those who should seek representation.”

These excerpts, I believe, reminded us that slavery and colonialism are also states of mind.

Also, there was this diatribe by Dr Peter Phillips, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and incumbent president of the People's National Party: “Make sure, Comrades, that the People's National Party is ready to become the Government of Jamaica. Remember is only one [seat] separate us in Parliament, and we don't know is which one, whether is one weh a go prison, or is a sick one, or a crazy one, but is one, and any number can play, so get yuhself ready.” This was delivered by Phillips while addressing the constituency conference of St Ann North Western in August 2017.

Phillips, Campbell, Crawford, and Waite submitted mealy-mouthed apologies over their philippic, but only after public pressure.

In our political context, it is the norm for one's intended political objective to be achieved on the hustings, even if it means the use of acidic references; and then you appease the general public with pseudo-apologies. I have long contended that these so-called apologies are little more than a manifestation of what George Orwell and other analysts of dystopian mindsets called double-acting — essentially, you believe one thing, but say/act in the opposite way, and/or hold two diametrically opposite views which are utilised as crutches of convenience in different settings.

According to a report which I heard on radio last Wednesday, Waite said his remark was “awkwardly put” and he did not “intend to offend anyone”. Really? In a population in which 97 per cent are black people? That, in itself, tells a whole sad story.

In a video circulated on social media, Dr Peter Phillips was seated on the very podium only metres away from where Waite delivered the despicable comments. Phillips did not grab the microphone from Waite and tell him to stop what he had been doing. Neither has Dr Phillips, since the incident, attempted to dissociate himself from Waite's contemptible remarks.

According to media reports, when the general secretary of the PNP, Julian Robinson, was contacted and asked to give a comment on Waite's revolting submission, he ducked the question by saying the matter was with the political ombudsman.

These reactions, or more so lack thereof, tell stories in themselves; the significance, we should not mistake. These are warnings. We best “tek sleep and mark death”. That is way better than ever musing, “If mi did know...”

Double-acting, ahoy!

Our 18th parliamentary election is due in 2021. To date the country has not heard the operational specifics of the PNP's policies, plans, and programmes to achieve better results than the Andrew Holness-led JLP Administration in key areas of crime, the economy, education, health, housing, and the like. Instead, we have been getting an abundance of standpipe brawls, razzle-dazzle, political fluff, and double-acting.

As examples, some days ago the PNP voted for the extension of the states of public emergency in St James, Hanover and Westmoreland. They also voted for the extension of the state of emergency in St Andrew South Police Division. Soon after, I saw a story on the Nationwide News Network's site, entitled 'Opposition threatens court action over use of SOEs in crime fight'. Among other things, the news item said: “The Opposition People's National Party (PNP) says it plans to take legal action against the Andrew Holness Administration over its use of states of public emergency in the crime fight.” The birds shriek that this was done to appease the Bunting faction.

Recently Dr Phillips and the PNP made a hullabaloo in Parliament about this Administration issuing two credit cards to ministers. According to Loop Jamaica: “Phillips also asked Samuda whether he was aware of Ministry of Finance guidelines which stipulate that ministers are prohibited from being issued with credit cards and, as such, what breakdown would have allowed Reid to be issued with one.” ( Loop Jamaica, July 24, 2019)

Then truth floated to the top like foam. “Truth will out,” said William Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice. Soon enough information from the Dr Nigel Clarke-led Ministry of Finance showed that credit cards had been issued under the previous Administration and approved by the Ministry of Finance — then led by Dr Peter Phillips in 2012-2016. According to Ministry of Finance data, five former ministers in the Portia Simpson Miller Administration were issued a government credit card facility. Did Dr Phillips mislead the house?

Dr Phillips was de facto prime minister and finance minister during the previous Administration. He seems to have forgotten a lot about important decisions which were made by the ministry he headed.

Recall some months ago he made a song and dance about consultants hired by this Administration. I did a little research and came upon this. The Gleaner of November 7, 2012 published a story entitled 'Massive consultants bill — State pays more than $250 million to support staff'.

The story said, among other things: “Ninety-eight consultants have been engaged by the Portia Simpson Miller-led Government, at a cost of more than $255 million, since the Administration took power in January.

“The information was provided by Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips in response to questions tabled by Opposition Member of Parliament Audley Shaw.

“Several politicians who carry the flag of the governing PNP are included among the list of consultants. Among them are Basil Waite, Phyllis Mitchell, Marjorie Taylor, Burchell Whiteman, Delano Franklyn, and Lucius Thomas.”

On July 8, 2012, The Gleaner had this screaming headline: 'Big bucks for Gov't advisers, eight of 16 ministries paying out close to $100m for 40 consultants and assistants'.

The story said, inter alia: “While Minister of Finance Dr Peter Phillips has presented the country with an austerity budget to reflect the choppy waters the economy is sailing through, it appears that members of the Cabinet are facing no such restraints.

The Sunday Gleaner has confirmed that even as Phillips was tacking on tax to certain basic food items to raise revenue, at least eight members of the Portia Simpson Miller-led Cabinet were busy adding millions annually to the Government's wage bill.

“Information released through Access To Information requests show the eight Cabinet members committing close to $100 million annually in wages to some 40 consultants and executive/personal assistants who were hired between January and June of this year.

“That figure could grow when the contracts expire, as most have a gratuity clause, usually 25 per cent of basic salary per annum, written into the agreements.

“Official documents gleaned under the Access to Information Act revealed that the Ministry of Finance and Planning, headed by Phillips, was responsible for hiring the most advisers and assistants of the eight ministries randomly placed under the microscope.

“The documents show that the finance and planning ministry hired nine contract officers to assist Phillips. The ministry now has a new chief technical adviser, an adviser, a special adviser, a communications adviser, two special assistants, two executive assistants, and an administrative assistant — at a cost of $22.6 million.

“All of the advisers and assistants hired by the finance and planning ministry are assigned to the executive office.”

Accusing the Andrew Holness-led Administration of that which the PNP is guilty, and double-acting will not win the PNP any significant political traction. Many higher-ups in the PNP continue to foolishly believe that, as was the norm in the 60s and 70s, a privileged set remains in control of the conduits of information. The 20th century British philosopher Bertrand Russell coined a term: the “indignation of hypocrites”. The PNP has been found out!

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.


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