By Alexander Britell
Dr Peter Phillips is the former Minister of National Security, Minister of Transport and Works and Minister of Health in Jamaica, having also served in two other ministerial posts. He is now the campaign director for the People’s National Party, the current PNP spokesman on finance and a candidate for the Jamaican Parliament for the St Andrew East Central constituency. Phillips is facing off against the Jamaica Labour Party’s Beverley Prince in tomorrow’s national election. To learn more about tomorrow’s vote, CJ Politics talked to Phillips about the economy, the International Monetary Fund, the government’s extradition policy and the growing economic influence of China in the region.
How has the campaign gone in your opinion?
I think it has been a good campaign. It has been an intense campaign, but it has generally gone well. It has been a generally peaceful, with very enthusiastic crowds. So I would think it’s been a good campaign.
What is the biggest issue facing Jamaica in this election?
I think it’s the economic issue – the question of how do we return the country to economic growth and job creation. Of course, there is the issue of trust, that is, about reestablishing the proper foundations for good governance, because there have been these whole breaches of trust – in relation to the Christopher Coke extradition matter, in relation to the dealings with unregistered financial organizations. All of that is really the issue of trust, and proper standards of governance. Alongside the question of economic management, those are the two issues that we have had to deal with in this election.
How can Jamaica’s economy be improved?
Well, I think the debt is the central issue – we have to grow the economy, and reduce and contain public expenditures, so that you maintain credibility in the financial markets. That is essentially the challenge we have, and there are ancillary things, like reducing the bureaucracy that impedes effective investment, and ensuring that there is a level playing field relating to the small business sector, and maintaining proper fiscal balances – all of those things. But the central issue is how do we reduce the suffocating weight of debt.
How would you address the issue of Jamaica’s International Monetary Fund agreement?
The PNP have said that we want to negotiate a longer-term agreement with the IMF. The current agreement obviously died on the way. We believe that you need an agreement to restore confidence in the financial market and in the investor community – it needs to have in it the restoration of this important agreement, and it needs to be done quickly, so that is our position. And I think it’s a generally accepted position.
What would you say to foreign investors considering Jamaica?
Well, I would say that Jamaica needs investment, it welcomes prime investment. We have a long tradition of openness as an economy, and we had a major wave of investment inflows from all over the world in the 1990s, and the early part of this century. We have constitutional protections for property holders, and I would say that Jamaica certainly is welcoming of foreign investment overall – I would say, “come to Jamaica.”
The influence of China has grown in the Caribbean and in Jamaica. Can you talk about its impact going forward on the market in the country?
Well, I would say that China represents an important pole of economic growth in the world. A lot of countries have recognized the potential value of Chinese investment and economic activity. Mostly, economic powerhouses like the US are showing that they have a clear recognition of China, both as a market for their goods, and as a potential source of local supplies and a investment capital, similarly in the Caribbean and in Jamaica. We recognize the tremendous economic potential that China offers, and we certainly would welcome Chinese participation in our economic life, but not exclusively. We value our traditional partners as well – the US, the UK, Europe, and we will be looking also to new economic growth centres in the hemisphere – Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and others that we think offer tremendous potential. Of course, you have to look at other growth centres, among the BRIC countries, the Middle Eastern countries, southern Africa. So we certainly have a global perspective in our view, and the main focus of it all is to stimulate growth domestically, and overcome the historic disabilities of low growth and joblessness cause for the country.
You mentioned the Christopher Coke matter. As a former Minister of National Security, how would you handle extraditions as an administration?
Well, we would essentially revert to our position, which is that extradition is a matter for the courts to determine, and there should be no political interference. I think that goes to the heart of the question of trust, and the quality of governance. Whenever we have the chance to enter the sphere of decision-making properly reserved for the courts, we run the risks of all kinds of extraneous considerations, against the foundation of our governance. So it is not so much a new policy, it’s a matter of maintaining the traditions that are well-established in our constitution and in our system of government.
How much can Caribbean integration help Jamaica’s economy, and what would you do to move forward integration?
Well, we continue to be regionalist in our orientation, our philosophy, our policy orientation. We think there are benefits derived from regional participation and a regional integration movement. We think orienting our market can facilitate our industrial production, to strengthen our diplomatic weight in the world, to offer a lot of services to our populations – like education, health services. So we are committed to the regional integration movement within CARICOM and we’re committed to also broadening the scope of regionalism to include the Association of Caribbean States, in which we participate.
What will be the deciding factor for voters on Thursday, and why should they ultimately choose your party?
I think the deciding factor is going to be who they believe have the interests of the Jamaican people most at heart. I think the record of the PNP, the quality of the PNP team, the quality of our leadership and our programmes, will cause the voters in the majority to vote on behalf of the People’s National Party.