Jamaica’s PM, Andrew Holness, is expected to smooth the way towards winning the next general election at the 75th annual conference of the Jamaica Labour Party next Sunday at the National Arena, according to its Chairman Robert Montague. The leader of the opposition Peter Phillips during the PNP’s 80th Anniversary Conference at the National Arena in Kingston in September gave a rallying cry to the PNP faithful on the back of a second tier leadership contest that was expected to energise the opposition party. However, he has been seen at the dispatch box in parliament almost napping during important debates which seems to suggest that he is not fully up for the job; the only improvement that Dr Phillips has made within the PNP is to increase the girth around his pants waist. Since the last general election, the leadership of the PNP is asleep at the political wheel, waking up every now and then to sow seeds of propaganda, discord and disinformation about the newly proposed National Identification System ( NIDS). However, the leadership of the JLP should not become complacent as the PNP as an organisation-is formidable campaigning machinery that is capable of carrying weak and jaded leaders to victory. They have also mastered the dark art of waking up from their political slumber to promise their way to an election victory.
Never-the-less, with two years remaining before a general election Andrew ‘Star Boy’ Holness, who was a diminutive figure in Jamaica politics two decades ago, is currently riding high on a wave of political popularity both locally and internationally. This is mainly because of Jamaicas recent economic improvements. This might lead him to political cult status in Jamaica and a possible second term in office if he is able to curtail violent crimes in Jamaica. Under PM Holiness stewardship, unemployment and debt to GDP are at its lowest in 50 years and barring a natural disaster is on track to grow its economy. Andrew Holness has delivered on two major aspects of his election manifesto early in his stewardship. However, he has tasted defeat as a political leader and is well aware that in the next 3 years leading up to a general election a lot could happen with a fickle electorate. The challenge for is to begin to build an organised and disciplined political organisation capable of delivering a two term victory. The JLP is woefully lacking in strengthening its organisational institutions and need to do urgent capacity building. Take for example, in the age of internet savviness, it has not updated its website since the last general election. Yet the organisation expects to attract the youth and women vote in order to remain winnable. Notwithstanding, the labour party has worked to its core strength which is to provide good financial leadership on the Jamaican economy and has won plaudits for the following reasons:
Under his premiership, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Jamaica expanded 1.60 percent in the second quarter of 2018 over the previous quarter. According to the Bank of Jamaica statistics he countries Net International Reserves (NIR) as of September 2018 was J 3,026.72 billion dollars. Under the PM stewardship Jamaica’s FDI stock reached a record USD 15.99 billion in 2017 while other similar Caribbean countries were registering a decline of inward and outward investments. According to a UNCTAD 2018 report, Jamaica is also currently the second highest recipient of FDI inflows among the Small Island Developing States.
Under his leadership, poverty has declined and unemployment is at a 50 year all-time low. According to recent world Bank statistics, the poverty rate in Jamaica has declined from 21.1 percent in 2015 to 17.1 percent in 2016 , and is projected to continue to decline from 2018–20. Unemployment fell to 9.7 in April 2018 from 12.2 percent in April 2017 while youth unemployment also fell by 3.2 percent to 25.8, the lowest rate since 2007.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Holness leads a government that struggles to contain burgeoning crime concerns; Jamaica’s murder rate remains one of the highest in the hemisphere. The country has a significant number of drug traffickers, armed criminal youth gangs and scammers alongside institutionalised corruption.
Jamaica is now the de facto “leader in the Caribbean” in the renewable energy environment and is way in advance of achieving its 2030 industrial policy target of 30 percent of renewable energy consumption. The countries energy policy lays out aggressive targets for a 30 percent renewable energy share and a 50 percent reduction in energy intensity by 2030. The Jamaican government is also pushing private investment in liquefied natural gas (LNG), to provide cheaper and cleaner energy to households and businesses. Through partnerships with local and international companies has begun to bear fruits and will reduce the countries fuel bill further in the near future.
These achievements bear testament to the JLP progress in office and has pivoted the Jamaican economy towards a path of economic growth and shared prosperity not seen in the past 50 years of independent Jamaica. However, there are many hurdles to cross in order to fully win the hearts and minds and some very important task to be completed by Mr Holness if he is to secure the economic rights of Jamaicans and to guarantee their security safety and happiness.
Crime and violence levels remain high, emphasizing the need for the JLP government to urgently further address issues of youth unemployment, further job creation, education, skills training and social cohesion. Stronger and more resilient economic growth is needed to eliminate poverty and boost shared prosperity. There is also a lingering doubt if the JCF has the necessary resource and the alacrity to bring crime under control given its history of institutional ineptitude. Dr Horace Chang the General Secretary and Security Minister has a difficult job on his hand to provide the necessary resources. To fund a professional criminal justice system that is fit for purpose and attuned to the country’s economic goals and not a hindrance to it.
Prime Minister Holiness has the intricate task of settling Jamaica’s future with the Caribbean court of appeal especially clarity concerning the appellate jurisdiction of the Court. The main challenge for the Jamaican PM will be to bring finality to speculations concerning the abolition of appeals by Jamaica to the Privy Council and the possible replacement of these appeals by access to the Caribbean Court of Justice. Given the fact that Jamaica tends to have a huge case load at the Court of Appeal level in the UK that is bigger than most other Caribbean countries, it is imperative that he acts swiftly arriving at a decision. The prime minister has indicated that such an important issue should be put to the people signalling the need for a plebiscite on the matter. It would be remiss of the honourable gentleman to delay by kicking the matter into the political long grass of the future.
The PM is yet to decipher how to curtail a bloated public sector which crowds out spending on important infrastructural projects aimed at attracting Foreign Direct Investments. The Government promised in its manifesto to root out corruption. Yet, the Prime Minister Andrew Holness has admitted on radio on the 14th of July this year that there is corruption at the state-owned oil refinery Petrojam and as a result he ordered a strategic review of its operation. Mr Holness should be mindful that such corruption damages a countries international standing among the international community. Furthermore, it also prevents important foreign investors, international aids and grants from donor countries. We at Kinstonmouth .com, despite being supporters of the JLP, expect that the findings of the review will be published in short order.
Prime Minister Holness also faces a challenge locally to roll -out a new identification system 2019. He has faced hostility from the opposition PNP who is contending that there are concerns about several of the law’s provisions that has created the New National identity System. This includes the possibility for excluding some people from government services and other human rights concerns. The National Identification System, called NIDS, is a unique, reliable and secure way of verifying an individual’s identity. It is expected establish a reliable database of all Jamaican citizens and will involve the issuance of a unique lifelong National Identification Number to every person. In the long term, the NIN may be used alongside a multipurpose card, or be uploaded onto smart phones. The use of biometric (fingerprint or retina) scan is also being explored. This issue has permeated an extensive debate in Jamaica and the Prime Minister has to take leadership in communicating the need for this very important programme before the intent and purpose is corroded by fake news. Kingstonmouth.com supports the NIDS project as it will integrate the diverse identity systems being utilized by various public sector bodies in Jamaica. In addition it will strengthen immigration, border control management, public safety and national security. We hope that the Prime Minster takes the responsibility of communicating this very important policy that is so vital to the countries national security interest and that he will use the JLP conference to communicate the importance of NIDS.
Towards conclusion, Mr Prime Minister, whilst the die –hard Labour party supporters will turn out in their thousands endorsing your premiership at the National Arena, much has been achieved but there is more to be done. You are mid-way through the Jamaican electoral cycle and the economic trickledown factor will take a while before it reaches the ordinary Jamaicans. They are a very difficult electorate to please. The last election was a closely fought contest that led to the JLP unseating the PNP Prime Minister Portia Simpson by a slim majority (32/31). People that experience persistent poverty and social deprivation over a 50 year period are sceptical and expect tangible deliverables in terms of an improved public service. Long years of economic stagnation has left most of the countries rural and urban poor dissolution and apathetic towards politics. Despite an increase in employment as a result of increased FDI mainly due to Greenfield investment tourism it will take a long time before the benefits are felt at the grass root level. Matters of economic understanding are far flung from the ordinary Jamaican below the poverty line; their base level interpretation is that the government is stealing the money which is not necessary always true. Over the next three years the Holness government will be aiming to get the Jamaican people to buy into the JLPs vision of the future and to restore credibly along with peoples participation, good communication, safer communities and honest governance.
We expect the usual carnival atmosphere at the 75th staging of the Labour party conference to be brimming with acolytes of the prosperity and JLP lingua- Franca such as ferocious shouts of ‘shower!’. After the conference is over and the self-congratulatory chest thumping from your political lieutenants wears off , please be reminded that the over the past 75 years JLP doesn’t just exist to get bums on seat in the Jamaican parliament, it serves other purposes such as feting and rallying the party faithful in a carnival atmosphere. The JLP has to change the character of governance and improve the way it communicates its economic and social policy so that is understandable in laymans terms. When in power the JLP employing fiscal conservative policies that have positive outcomes that benefit the many and not the few but often gets mowed under by the PNP propaganda that has often cleverly position themselves as champion of the Jamaican poor. The overall apathetic feelings are mostly brought about by the huge gap between the rich and the poor and the harsh reality of blinding persistent poverty and the frustrations that it carries from the cradle to the grave. Long years of austerity imposed as a result of a long history of borrowing arrangements by external international lending agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank. A generation of Jamaicans have lived for half a century of political promises of ‘better must come’ have lost respect for politicians. But according to recent statistics of reputable Intergovernmental organisations such as the IMF the wold Bank and UNCTAD things are about to change. If Mr Holiness JLP government play their cards right and the environment is kind over the things could improve socially for the poor and politically for the JLP. At the conference it is expected that a number of his cabinet ministers will lay out their political stall for the remainder of the electoral cycle giving an outline of their policy positions on various issues within their portfolio.
Already instrumental to the Prime misters Success is his Heath minister Dr Christopher Tafton who has performed credibly in the Ministry of health and is spearheading import Health and wellbeing policies. He has the respect of the Jamaican people who consider him as a hard and disciplined Minister as his presentation is expected to go over well at the conference.
His Ministry of Tourism Mr Ed Bartlett has performed well in the tourism Ministry; under his stewarded visitors to the island has increased and similarly Greenfield investment in tourism has also increased exponentially .Recently released provisional data from the Jamaica Tourist Board outlines that gross foreign exchange earnings from the beginning of this year to July, increased by 6.3 per cent with approximately US$2 billion, compared to the same period last year. He is well respected around the world and has just been appointed as a director to the Africa tourist board and he will be much lauded at the conference.
The Hon. Dr. Nigel A. L. Clarke, MP an Oxford graduate is the Finance and public service mister and a rising star in Prime Minister Andrew Holness cabinet. He is charged with Jamaica’s economic growth and rationalisation of 190 public bodies as part of the Government’s public sector reform that is being fast-tracked to place the country firmly on a path to economic independence. His speech at the conference is much anticipated on the back of a robust speech made recently about Jamaicans infrastructural improvement.
We expect no serious policy announcements at the JLP as mid-term JLP conference is much about rallying the party faithful decked in green outfits, the blowing of vuvuzelas political sound-bites and gyrating of hips from the shower posse. On a serious note, Kingstonmouth wishes the JLP a happy 75th anniversary and hopes that the message of prosperity and the massive task ahead is not lost in the frenzied attendance and the usual celebrations of drinking Heineken amidst large plumes of cannabis smoke.
This article was written by Donovan Reynolds CEO and edited by Ann Smith Managing editor of Kingstonmouth.com. Donovan Reynolds is an Independent blogger and Human Right’s Activist of Jamaican descent and a legal Academic who has an interest in Human Rights, Culture and International Development issues. Readers of this article are welcome to provide feedback at the space provided at the end of this article at firstname.lastname@example.org useful commentary made on our Facebook and Kingsonmouth@twitter pages.