13 Sep Contribution to the Discussions on Renewal
THE PEOPLE’S NATIONAL PARTY (PNP): MODERNIZING THE CHAIRMANSHIP ROLE by ANTHONY HYLTON, MP
At 78 years the People’s National Party (PNP) is the oldest and most mature political Party in the English speaking Caribbean. The President chaired the Party during the first 28 years as the Party’s structure did not include the role of a Chairman. Following the 1967 election defeat, then Executive Committee Member and subsequent Party Leader and Prime Minister, P. J. Patterson, ON, PC, QC, OE led an appraisal team that proposed the creation of the role of the Chairman, and of four co-equal Vice Presidents, as part of the Party’s formal organizational structure. This new structure was designed to facilitate greater efficiencies in executing the Party’s work programmes and to ensure that processes were consistent with the PNP’s Principles and Objectives.
During the ensuing fifty years sustained regional and global developments in all spheres have had marked influences and effects on vital Party functions, including substantial impacts on the Party’s machinery and on its organizational and political practices at both the local and international levels. The main challenges for the PNP and other political parties worldwide include the harmful effects of economic globalization which altered and reinforced various worldwide economic conditions creating winners and losers, with losers disproportionately located in lesser developed countries. Further, the combined effect of economic globalization and the global information and communication revolution has resulted in intense struggles for unity and ideological clarity within political parties everywhere. These challenges have induced such questions as whether long held ideologies remain relevant, whether revised ideologies are sustainable, whether change is the only certainty.
The new and changing environmental conditions in which the People’s National Party operates, coupled with the Party’s spirited internal discussions and debates on various salient issues represent compelling reasons why the roles and responsibilities of the Chairmanship of the Party ought to be reviewed and renewed. This is an important step in ensuring that the PNP continues its leadership and relevance as the most dynamic and responsive political organization that best serves the needs and aspirations of the Jamaican People.
The following outlines the proposed revised roles and responsibilities of the Chairmanship of the Party. This proposal provides the framework and approach that are required of the Party’s Chairman in implementing the essential tasks in pursuit of the Party’s Vision and to achieve the Party’s Mission and Goals.
PNP Chairman’s Main Roles and Responsibilities: Constitutional Framework
The Party’s Constitution and Rules define the main roles and responsibilities of the Chairman and make provision for a Deputy Chairman. While the Constitution and Rules provide the framework in which the Chairman exercises authority, control and direction of the Party, these are not prescriptive. They allow for proactive and creative direction of the Party’s affairs.
The main provisions invest the Chairmanship with ample authority to control and direct the Party’s main organs, including the Annual Conference, National Executive Council (NEC) and Executive Committee. To this end, the Chairman’s main administrative tool that is used to exercise control of various Party procedures and activities and to influence decision making is Agenda Setting.
Agenda setting is the process by which the Party decides which matters need attention, and focuses on, among other things, the determination and definition of the issues that subsequent policy actions are intended to resolve. Therefore, the shaping of the Agenda should be the outcome of consultations with Officers and members of the respective bodies, including the Executive Committee and the Party Secretariat.
Hallmarks of an effective Chairmanship are the skill, sensibility and sensitivity the Chairman exercises in efficiently crafting an effective Agenda while upholding democratic principles. Further, the economic, social and political issues of concern to the population form the basis on which the effectiveness of the Party’s programmes is evaluated. Therefore, the Chairman’s leadership skills are paramount in ensuring that Agendas and outcomes reflect these.
Additionally, in managing the Agenda Setting process, the Chairman must ensure that outcomes are consistent with the Party’s philosophy, ideology and overall programme and that these factors are not sidelined and remain central to the Party’s mission.
Original and Casting Votes
The Chairman’s authority also derives from his or her ability to deliver both an original and casting vote on issues arising during the conduct of meetings. As a consequence, the Chairman has the added responsibility of being, along with the Party President, General Secretary and other members of the Officer Corps, the guardian and protector of the Party’s Constitution, culture, structure and modus operandi. By so doing the Chairman and other Party Leaders protect the Constitution from being undermined or diminished and ensure that decisions and actions are consistent with the Constitution.
The Chairman also makes certain that strongly felt, time-honored identity and common ground claims and aspirations that bind together PNP members and which form the Party’s culture remain strong, functional and dynamic in service of the Jamaican masses, the Party’s membership, and the long term strategic interests of the Party itself.
Internal and External Engagement
In addition to these responsibilities, the Chairman has direct oversight of the arms and affiliates of the Party, including the Youth Organization, the Women’s Organization, Overseas affiliates and the Workers’ Union. The Chairman’s responsibilities in this regard include providing guidance and support on initiatives that support the Party’s overall vision and mission in ways that encourage participation and productivity with underlying integrity, discipline, responsibility and accountability principles.
The Party Chairman is also responsible for representative engagement with other stakeholders within the society, and with regional and global fraternal parties. Admittedly, in contrast to what pertained in past years, such engagement has not remained standard practice. However, the dynamism and implications of global political and economic realities now demand high level engagement of the PNP with global fraternal parties to pursue agendas that are of considerable interest to the Party and the nation. Therefore, such engagement should be prioritized, especially considering the Party’s standing as a leading Democratic Socialist International member, with PNP leaders having served as President and past and current Vice Presidents of this influential global organization.
In addition to its formal powers, the Chairmanship performs an essential mediation role as the need arises between and among contending forces and interests within the Party. Such influence and authority derive from the Chairman’s personal attributes of fairness, balanced judgment, integrity, and people skills, along with his or her thorough knowledge of and reliance on the Constitution, Rules, culture and good governance practices of the Party. Hence, the Chairmanship plays a pivotal, though non-exclusive role, in keeping the Party strong, united and focused during inevitable periods of tension, conflict, renewal and transition.
Therefore, the ability to exercise exceptional tact, diplomacy and negotiating skills, and to make decisions that are in the best interests of the Party, are vital attributes and skills that past and future Party Chairmen are expected to possess. Additionally, the Office of the Chairmanship in combination with the Presidency, is traditionally used to protect and advance the power, prestige, authority, stability and sustainability of the Party. This too should continue into the future.
Keeper and Defender of the Party’s Philosophy and Ideology
A successful People’s National Party Chairman must possess clear and deep understanding of and respect for the Party’s philosophy and ideology and a commitment to ensuring the primacy of these in procedural matters and in decision making. The Party’s Principles of Democracy, Equality Justice and Rights have framed a democratic socialist philosophy which represents the ideological essence of the PNP since its founding in 1938. While the context and conditions in which the Party has grown over several decades have changed, the Party’s essential philosophy remains immutable and is reflected in the Party’s journey through various stages throughout its history. These critical stages are described in The Compass, The 21st Century Document and The Progressive Agenda with themes of participation, accountability and responsibility (PAR) of Party members having emerged as deeply embedded core values.
Furthermore, globalization has brought about the urgent need to identify practical and sustainable ways to enable the empowerment of people and to advance the interests and aspirations of ordinary citizens. Numerous shifts in the global landscape have resulted in the emergence of seemingly intractable political, social and economic challenges with far-reaching implications that require thoughtful, coherent responses. For example, there is the urgent need for a comprehensive program of continuing political education with the Party’s philosophy and ideology as guiding principles. The need to transform the Party into becoming a modern, transparent political organization with a sound technological platform that facilitates increased member participation, proactivity, and responsiveness is also essential in safeguarding the PNP’s continued relevance and centrality in serving the people of Jamaica.
- OBSERVATIONS ON THE PNP CHAIRMANSHIP and RECOMMENDATONS FOR ACTION
- The Chairmanship is a central and essential role in ensuring the good health and vibrancy of the Party’s Organs and is mission-critical to regaining and maintaining state power.
- The Chairman is a vital member of the Leadership Corps (President, Vice-Presidents and General Secretary) that is the keeper, protector and guardian of the Party’s Constitution, conventions, core philosophy and ideology.
- Through formal and informal means, the Chairman ensures the strength and stability of the Party by exercising leadership as part of the “center of gravity” of the Party in providing needed balance between contending forces when the need arises.
- The Chairman’s Agenda-setting skills and the skill and care with which the Chairman upholds democratic values are core skills and attributes of an effective Chairman on which his or her performance is assessed.
- The number and length of meetings held are not measures of the Chairman’s effectiveness. Rather, the quality and effectiveness of such meetings and subsequent outputs are important aspects of the Chairman’s work on which his or her overall effectiveness is measured. Nevertheless, an adequate number of timely meetings ought to be held to ensure that Party matters are attended to efficiently and effectively.
- The Party’s philosophy and ideology though immutable, must be applied in the prevailing contexts, circumstances and conditions of the times in which the Party functions.
- While recognizing that all politics is local, historically the Party has assumed leadership roles in international affairs that have resulted in substantial influence on philosophical, policy and programmatic matters that have yielded benefits to the Party and to the people of Jamaica.
- Acting within the Progressive Movement globally, the Party must re-engage with fraternal Parties in the region and globally, including with Cuba, China, United Kingdom, Russia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, Canada and United States of America.
- Consideration should be given to setting term-limits of ten (10) years for the Chairman role. The incumbent may remain in the role for an additional five (5) year period only by a vote at Annual Conference. This change is essential to keeping the Chairmanship position and Party refreshed, renewed and sustainable.
- The Deputy Chairman’s role is to be clearly defined with descriptions of the position’s roles and responsibilities to ensure the incumbent’s effectiveness.
11. Political education must once again be put on the Party’s main Agenda as a priority action item.