Venesha Phillips leaving politics soon, has sight on law enforcement

Two-term People’s National Party (PNP) councillor for the Papine Division, Venesha Phillips, who was defeated in her quest to represent St Andrew Eastern as Member of Parliament (MP) in the 2020 General Election, is indicating that she will be exiting the political arena soon.

“The reality is that, as I exit politics to make my contribution elsewhere — because I will exit politics soon — I would want to be able to say to the young women of August Town and to other women who are listening, you have a right to be in the space that you are, it is important that you stand your ground, it is important that you preserve your dignity, it is important that you have your say, make your contribution to your community,” Phillips said.

The firebrand, who has been at odds with key factions of the party leading up to and after a tumultuous leadership change last year, made the disclosure while participating in a virtual empowerment session for women put on by the August Town Community Development Council on Monday in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Phillips, when contacted by the Jamaica Observer, refrained from elaborating further on her plans, noting that she had yet to officially indicate to the party top brass regarding her departure.

“I don’t want a controversial exit,” she told the paper. She, however, made it clear that “I can’t see myself returning to the representational slate” before stating emphatically, “I will not cross the floor, it’s not on the cards, never was, never will be.”

Phillips, speaking on the panel which included five other females, among them Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) MP for St Andrew Eastern Fayval Williams, indicated that her path away from politics could take her into law enforcement.

“Politics was not my first choice… I always wanted to be a police officer. I did everything to get that job except that I was deterred by friends who thought politics would have been a better direction for me. I took counsel and pursued that path. Along that path I academically chose to do law. I have a bachelor’s degree in Law, I am actually completing this year [studies in] international human rights law and criminology because my passion has always been law enforcement and how I can contribute to the process of reducing crime in my country,” she told the forum.

Phillips, who has a reputation for being outspoken, gave a window into her experience as a female in a male-dominated sphere.

“Being in politics though has been a very interesting journey because as a female in a role dominated by men you are expected to nod and say yes and be part of that team. If you dare to have an opinion that is very different to the status quo, then you are usually labelled, called a rebel, sometimes a tyrant and the most unsavoury names possible,” she said.

“Being a representative, certainly for the last nine years as councillor, it has been a very challenging one as a female. It is very, very difficult to command the ground in the same way the men would do because you have to face the challenges of sexism, you have to face the challenge of people [doubting] whether or not you as a female will actually be able to manage constituencies and divisions like Eastern St Andrew, where you have challenges with crime and other social issues and so I believe that stepping into this field also has contributed to development of character where I am concerned,” she added.

After the forum, Phillips told the Observer her decision would not come as a total surprise to many as she had indicated over a year ago that she would not be returning as councillor when the next local government elections, which had been slated for November 2020, were called.

Parliament last year, however, approved amendments to temporarily modify the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) to allow the local government elections to be pushed back to a date no later than February 27, 2022 due to the impact of the novel coronavirus on the country.

The law provides for a period of extension of up to 90 days, commencing on the day after the fourth anniversary of the date of the most recent election. That election took place on November 28, 2016 and saw the governing JLP winning in a landslide over the PNP to take charge of the majority of the municipal corporations.

That extension would have extended to February 27, 2021. However, due to the fact that officials were of the view that the country needed more time to recover from the various setbacks, a temporary amendment was made to the ROPA, effectively extending the period to a date no later than February 27, 2022.

More than 220 councillors and the mayor of Portmore, who is directly elected, were down to contest the polls.

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