Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Wednesday | November 28, 2012
Home : Commentary
A development plan for MPs?
Dennie Quill, Columnist

All politics is local, it is often said. If politicians are to make a difference in the development of the country, they had better start paying greater attention to their constituencies. I believe that is the message that Finance Minister Dr Peter Philips was trying to impart to his political colleagues in St James recently.

A senior member of Government, Dr Phillips reportedly called on People's National Party (PNP) parliamentarians and parish councillors in St James to play a greater leadership role in the constituencies and divisions they represent.

Dr Phillips' comments add new urgency to the argument, but it is far from new. Countless commentators, both in print and electronic media, have repeatedly pointed to the weak political leadership being offered to the country.

For example, where is the political leadership in communities where the lottery scam has thrived, resulting in dozens of people being killed? The scam, which seeks to bilk mainly elderly Americans of their life savings, could not have mushroomed in the various communities of St James and its environs if the constituency leadership was active and alive to illegal happenings.

PHILLIPS' CALL FOR VISION

Dr Phillips, a former general secretary of his party, appeared to have had a frank discussion with the gathering by telling them that it was not simply about winning elections. He reportedly called for better leadership and vision. In fact, he suggested that they should have a development plan in place. Seriously?

I can imagine how uncomfortable this may have made some people feel, because too often we hear citizens complain that their political representatives have simply disappeared from their lives after winning at the polls. In our highly tribal communities, those who support the losing side are used to being ignored and neglected. Few politicians have successfully conveyed the message that they represent all the people, including those who did not vote for them.

For me, the report on the meeting ought to have gone further to find out from the participants how they felt about the minister's comments and what they will do differently as a result of his exhortations.

The minister had much more to say. He also challenged the participants to "carry reality into the minds of the people". This could, of course, be a hard sell. For instance, when a constituent asks his representative how committed is the Government to an austerity programme the answer will somehow be obscured by the recent news about the acquisition of expensive new vehicles for politicians.

BLINKERED ON VICTORY

The sad truth is that when one listens to some political aspirants, it is obvious that they have one goal: to beat their opponent and be elevated to a position of prominence. There is really no plan. How can anyone be successful at anything if there is no plan, no target, and no strategy?

On a visit to any constituency, it will soon become obvious where there is dedicated political leadership. And there are very few of the 63 constituencies that can make that claim.

We hope that Dr Phillips' comments push the question of the quality of political representation to the centre of the political debate in the days and weeks ahead. Many constituents are helping themselves by eking out a living in tough circumstances, but there are those who are like little children waiting on handouts and for someone to take their hands and lead them.

In fact, many community-based organisations have been doing the leading with limited resources.

It is high time that the political leadership show its hand.

Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and denniequill@hotmail.com.

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