Current Affairs

Current Affairs



Patterson and the PNP
Monday, June 03, 2002
The Observer



BURNS... The poor will ultimately determine the party's fate

LAST time, I focused on Mr Seaga and the JLP. Now, I flip the coin to take a peek at Patterson and the PNP. The budget presentation by the prime minister was great. At age 67, Mr Patterson did not announce any additions to his family. He spoke, instead, of its existing structure. "Let the progress continue," was the common theme throughout his presentation. What progress? The JLP asked. "The same progress your leader, Edward Seaga, acknowledged and vowed to continue," the PNP replied to booming and energetic applause from its members.

From the onset, Patterson highlighted the consensus reached, between opposition and government, on virtually all policy issues. He did so by making the case to the electorate to stick with the programmes of his government because there are no alternatives to come from the JLP. The prime minister brought some relief and good news. Without fear of contradiction, I am prepared to say, most National Housing Trust (NHT) mortgage holders and prospective homeowners welcome the reduction in mortgage rates. It was also encouraging to hear government announcing increases in budgetary allocations for education and national security.

PATTERSON...We must accord him full respect

Mr Patterson is the longest-serving prime minister. We must thank him for his service to our country and accord him full respect. He has presided over the toughest period of structural adjustment our country has ever seen. With the economy now showing signs of recovery, we must pay tribute to him for his leadership and determination in pulling our economy from slumber, and for forcing us to face, head on, the challenges of globalisation, and the need to become and remain relevant.

I am first to echo, "if you take the praise, be willing to take the blame." However, sometimes, after listening to some of Patterson's critics, I am inclined to agree with P J that his upbringing and hue are, oftentimes, used against him. In a country where the majority of the population boasts similar hue, this truth is disheartening, to say the least. Some of us still believe the garbage that "nuttin weh black nuh good" and continue to show preference for the so-called "browning" above those who are melanin-endowed. Shamefully, the 1997-election campaign in Clarendon, the raunchy internet series, and the odiferous "chi-chi man" motif of the Northeast St Ann by-elections were pitifully used, by the JLP and others, to promote the most impetuous campaign aimed at tarnishing Patterson's character and diminishing the office of prime minister. A friend once remarked, "If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." How callous! Patterson-O, or Seaga-O, never again should we allow ourselves to be so coated with the slime of character assassination or blinded by bigotry to the extent where we become so indifferent and unkind towards one another.

My impressions of Patterson's strength, as a leader, have not always been positive. In his early days as prime minister, I found his spinelessness vexingly backward. Recently, I attended a "Live and Direct" session, held at the New York Marriott Hotel, and it struck me, for the first time, how personable, arguably strong, and statesmanlike P J Patterson really is. Amidst some of the harshest and up-in-your-face criticisms, embroidered with subtle coarseness, the prime minister held his own and never, for a minute, censured or disrespected anyone. I guess to be in politics is to be misunderstood.

The non-confrontational approach taken by Patterson is, by and large, the best gift he could have given to redefine our political culture. However, in terms of governance, this approach is seen as a weakness and has led many, myself included, begging for strong leadership. Most Jamaicans perceive P J as weak and ineffectual. The lacklustre performance of some ministers and members of parliament have come to haunt him. On the one hand, and in fairness to Patterson, he alone should not be made the object of ridicule or blame. On the other hand, the buck stops with him, he is the captain of the ship.

My biggest disappointment with Patterson and the PNP has to do with the party's buckling over on some sound policy issues. The "values and attitudes" initiative comes readily to mind. This leads me to declare that this PNP government holds the unenviable position of having the worst public relations/communication record in the history of this country. Whoever is in charge of the communication apparatus needs to be relieved immediately of that responsibility and the job given to a more competent person. How many of us know, for example, that in 1991, Jamaica's national debt was 180 per cent of GDP and that it has now been reduced to 130 per cent? Use the media, for God sake, and stop pussyfooting. The solid achievements being touted cannot be refuted. The PNP, after being in office for 13 years, should have developed a winnable strategy to propagate its achievements and to mobilise the support of the country. Instead, the party is scouring around, like a decapitated wild fowl, trying to remind us of its achievements. If the party were marketing itself, in tandem with the quality and quantity of its output, the task of convincing the electorate would be easier.

There are great programmes available, especially in micro-business enterprise, but this is not being communicated in an effective way so that the man on the street can understand and take advantage of them. I am also greatly distressed by the government's inability to get the little things done. Things like street-vending, commercialisation of residential areas, garbage collection, and so on. I know the society is rife with general nastiness and lawlessness but these are not tasks that require any extraordinary amount of effort on the part of government. I am not encouraging citizens to abdicate their responsibility in helping to engender a cleaner and more sociable environment, but government must enforce the laws without fear or favour.

People want strong and decisive leadership. People want leadership that communicates with them in language they understand. People want, in addition to improvements in social infrastructure and the economy, a leader who can motivate. I am sure Jamaicans have come to realise that the messiah will not come bursting out of the clouds. However, they expect something in exchange for their many years of struggle. Many are not asking for handouts, they want some help, much less than that which has been given to the millionaires in the private sector. Winning a fourth term will be no easy task for the PNP. It is the poor, those begging for an opportunity, who will ultimately determine the party's fate. The PNP must revisit the theme it used years ago, "Power to the people" and move to empower them once more. We will see if PJ can row the boat ashore again.