Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | January 13, 2013
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No time for party - Portia missing PNP executive meetings
People's National Party (PNP) president Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Seemingly bogged down by her job of steering the ship of State out of troubled waters, People's National Party (PNP) president Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has missed 15 of 17 meetings of the executive held in the year since her party was voted back into power.

But the excuse that she has been doing government work is not holding with some PNP insiders, as Simpson Miller's attendance record in the period leading up to the December 29, 2011 general election was not much better.

For the 2010-2011 political year, Simpson Miller attended only 10 of the 28 executive meetings while she led the party in Opposition.

The last annual conference of the PNP was deafeningly silent on the matter, even though Simpson Miller leads the executive body.

In both the 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 period, the PNP's secretariat indicated that on the accumulated 33 times that Simpson Miller was absent, she tendered formal excuses.

Stout defence

Although concerns have been raised in the halls of the PNP, the party's deputy general secretary, Julian Robinson, has launched a stout defence of his leader's stewardship.

Robinson asserted that Simpson Miller's busy schedule has frequently kept her away.

"The party leader has a lot of other responsibilities that others of us do not have, so her time is precious and limited; it really does not have any negative impact on the party," argued Robinson.

"Based on my experience over the last 10 years as an officer of the party, I don't think it is unusual for leaders to have the kind of attendance record at the executive that our current leader has," added Robinson.

However, other senior members of the party have not been so 'truant' noted some PNP insiders.

The party's chairman, Robert Pickersgill, has a perfect 17 from 17 record in 2011/2012 and 27 from 28 in 2010/2011.

The PNP's general secretary, Peter Bunting, is not as impressive, but he attended 25 of the 28 meetings in 2010/2011 and 11 of the 17 meetings in 2011/2012.

However, Robinson stressed that it was important to note that in addition to executive meetings, the officer corps of the party meets on a regular basis, which is not necessarily reflected in the report.

"As such, the party leader is constantly in touch with what is happening in the party," Robinson said.

"She is also briefed by the chairman of the party after every executive meeting that takes place."

According to Robinson, apart from these sessions, Simpson Miller meets on an ad hoc basis with different members of the party.

"The fact that she has not been able to attend as many executive meetings has not negatively impacted the operations of the party," asserted Robinson.

He argued that the PNP's structure has served the organisational processes well. "The general secretary is really what you would call the chief executive officer and the person who runs the party along with other members of the secretariat on a daily basis, in close conjunction with the chairman of the party.

"The party leader, on a weekly basis, sits in a standard meeting with the chairman and the general secretary, so her attendance at the executive has not in any way negatively affected the party. She has managed to maintain the structures of the party to deal with the issues that we needed to deal with effectively."

Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips has also been too busy to attend executive meetings of the People's National Party (PNP).

For the 2011-2012 political year, Phillips, who has been bogged down with International Monetary Fund negotiations, attended only three of the 17 executive meetings.

Apologies were offered for two of the meetings while Phillips, who holds no office in the PNP, was marked as absent for 12 of the meetings.

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