Since he indicated his intent to contest for the presidency of the People’s National Party, discussions have shifted from his achievements in helping to move this country forward over the past few years to his age and how old he will be at the next election. While I admire a young and vibrant leader, age cannot be the only criterion by which a leader should be judged or defined. For me, performance is also an important factor and if we are to assess the last administration, Dr Peter Phillips could be deemed the top performer by a mile and a half. What then should disqualify a top performer from leading a political organization or the country? Just age? I disagree.Some of my best educational experiences have been with older medical consultants, others have been with the younger consultants; both having an important role to play. Many can certainly appreciate that experience is an invaluable asset for anyone to have. When I encounter some of the arguments about age in politics, I completely repudiate them. Like any institution, a blend of age and experience are required. Is Jamaica where it should be with the correct blend? No. More still needs to be done to include younger voices in decision making in both the political and non-political spheres. Does this mean that those who have political experience but fall into the category of “old” should all be shoved to the curb? Most certainly not.
In the recently concluded US election season, it was proven by the eldest candidate in the primaries that politics is more than just about age. Bernie Sanders, at 74 years old, mobilized the young voters like no other candidate in the Democratic or Republican primaries; every single one being younger than he was. Bernie Sanders was old but he brought something new to the table. He brought forward proposals that people could identify with and that they believed could better their lives. For Bernie, it was the message that resonated; that mobilized voters like no other candidate could, and for Dr Peter Phillips, his message to the people must resonate with all groups- young, old, man, woman, rich, poor, healthy, infirmed.
When it comes on to solid achievements, Dr Peter Phillips has a bunch of those behind him, across all the ministries that he has served. No one is trying to say he was perfect at what he did, no one is but what we can all appreciate is that he is a performer and a man who is serious about leaving his mark wherever he goes. It is his solid performance that led Professor Basil Wilson of Monroe College in New York and John Jay College of Criminal Justice to rank Dr Peter Phillips as the best Minister of Finance that Jamaica has seen.
The growth agenda that Dr Phillips and his team instituted is behind the successes that we are seeing in the economy now. It is his hard work that led the Jamaica Labour Party away from 2011’s promise of bitter medicine to 2016’s promise of prosperity. It is the solid foundation laid out by Dr Phillips that has led the current government and its Economic Growth Council to confidently promise us 5 per cent growth in four years (5 in 4)- if you have any doubts about that, ask the revered Michael Lee Chin who chairs the Economic Growth Council. Many who were sceptical of Dr Phillips’ appointment by the former Prime Minister have lived to see the impact of his work in the Ministry of Finance in setting us on a path for significant economic growth.
When Dr Phillips assumes the role of Opposition Leader, he has much work to do in order to build a formidable opposition which is very important to keep the government in check. He has much work to do to unite the party around a common vision which he must set out clearly from the onset and direct his party to that common vision. He has a task to outline/reaffirm the ideology and core principles of the People’s National Party. Dr Phillips has an important task to bring more youth to the table; to take seriously the counsel coming from that demographic. He will need to bring to the table those younger politicians who feel shunned in anyway and he must dialogue with them so that somehow, common ground can be found since they are very important to the party and the entire political process.
For the sake of our country, Jamaica needs a formidable opposition that will put forward formidable policies/policy alternatives to move this country forward. The country does not need an opposition that will only oppose for opposing sake but one that will partner where necessary and at all times seeking to defend the rights of all Jamaicans. We do not need an opposition that will have to backtrack on all that it said in opposition, should it become government, because the stances taken are simply stupid and politically expedient. Dr Phillips will be charged with ensuring a formidable People’s National Party and a formidable Opposition.
At this time, the tested and proven performer Dr Peter Phillips is the right man for the job as Opposition Leader. There will be much work for him to do to stamp his own legacy as Leader of the Opposition and President of the People’s National Party but there was also much work for him to do in the Finance Ministry in 2012 and he did perform. There is therefore no doubt that Dr Phillips can live up to his pledge to move his party “Forward Together”.