Holness firm on free tuition, health care
BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, December 19, 2011
JUNCTION, St Elizabeth — Prime Minister Andrew Holness Friday night stood by his party's policies of free tuition in public schools and free health care in the public health sector, suggesting they will remain in place should his party win the December 29 election.
"I am very passionate about education, and they coulda talk till dem blue, free tuition will remain for the Jamaican people...," Holness told thousands of Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters in Junction, South East St Elizabeth.
Regarding health care, Holness lashed the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) for limiting free access to those 18 years and under in their last administration, describing it as "foolishness".
Holness said the eradication of poverty would be an important goal of a JLP administration, post-December 29, and the provision of social services, including "access to health care" would be an important aspect of that drive.
Holness claimed that as a result of free tuition over the last four years "the number of students registered in school, and attending school up to fifth form, has moved from 70 per cent of the high school population to now 80 per cent of the high school population..."
The prime minister argued that "If you ask me, isn't it better to have more students attending school and finishing school up to fifth form, my answer is yes, and if you have more students in school, then as far as I am concerned things already better..."
Regarding poverty, Holness said job creation would be a cornerstone of the policy.
However, against the backdrop of the PNP's emergency employment programme, JEEP, Holness argued that the provision of jobs and the eradication of poverty could not be sustainably achieved by a policy of "hand-outs" but by facilitating the growth of business and self-help. "...You don't end poverty by give away, instead of giving the man the fish you teach him how to fish," the prime minister said.
Education was crucial to this facilitation process, he said.
Holness claimed that because the PNP is "so ideologically confused — they not sure if they [are] socialist or capitalist — they don't know how to address this issue of poverty. First thing you have to do is educate people (because) there is no educated country that is poor". He argued that "by virtue of our emphasis on education we have started to remove poverty from Jamaican landscape".
Holness, whose father is a St Elizabeth native, said the people of the parish were an example to the nation of how poverty could be overcome by industriousness and ingenuity. The practice of dry farming in the southern sections of the parish, which had enabled farmers to produce food crops even in periods of drought, was a manifestation of that ingenuity, he said.
"The role of government is to support people, provide them with education, provide them with critical services, support small business and the people, once you give them that basis they will find their way," Holness said.
"Government must support people..., it's not about hand-outs, it's about giving you the ability to earn and find your own way in life. This is what I want to do as prime minister and leader," he added.
He reaffirmed that the Government was in talks with bauxite/alumina companies regarding the reopening of plants that have been closed since 2009 because of plummeting metal prices and high energy costs. Alpart in St Elizabeth and Kirkvine in Manchester remain closed.
"They (bauxite/alumina companies) plan to reopen the plants and we are working closely with them so that (people) can get back their jobs and start earning their income again," he said.
Claiming that there were no fundamental differences in terms of outlined solutions between the Government and Opposition to the country's problems, Holness said the voting public would have to make up their minds based on which party was better able to implement available options.
"What you have to decide is who will lead this country in the next 50 years of our independence... this election is about the future of your children..." (and) who had the "capacity, vision, skill and knowledge" to lead.
He claimed the JLP was the obvious choice and that even those "who are not supporting the party, want us to win..."
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