HOTEL mogul Gordon 'Butch' Stewart yesterday distanced himself from the looming race for leadership of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), saying rumours of his involvement were "absolutely not true".
Asked by the Jamaica Observer if he would confirm claims emerging on the streets that he was backing a particular candidate, Stewart said a firm "no".
"I have absolutely nothing to do with the leadership race. I have lots of friends on either side of the contest, as I do within the governing People's National Party (PNP)," said the Sandals Resorts International chairman.
Audley Shaw, the former finance minister in the previous JLP Administration, is expected this Sunday to announce in a national broadcast his bid to oust current JLP Leader Andrew Holness at November's annual party conference.
In recent weeks, Shaw has been doing what he calls islandwide consultation meetings, apparently to test his support among JLP members of parliament and delegates, and he now appears to have made up his mind.
Asked why he thought his name was among several persons said to be backing one candidate or the other, Stewart, who is chairman
of this newspaper, said he had "no idea, but that I have an easy name to call". But he found nothing wrong with parties wanting to change leadership.
"Political parties regularly have internal competition for different positions and at times the leadership, which is in keeping with the democratic values and ideals which we have all grown up with. I certainly wish everyone the very best as they seek what I consider a noble desire to serve their fellow men," said Stewart.
The hotel mogul stressed, however, that Jamaica needed to focus right now on the things that were going to make the country and people better off. He suggested that the only way that could be done was through teamwork and a willingness to sacrifice, as implied in the establishment of the social partnership agreement.
"The peculiar time in which we have found ourselves is summoning all of us to think bigger than ever. We don't have the luxury of doing nothing or waiting on others to do for us what we must do for ourselves. It's time to put the small things aside and dig deep," he said.
Stewart reiterated earlier suggestions that Jamaica was overtaxed with duties, cesses, income tax, and the like, that was suffocating the economy and driving more and larger sections of the economy underground.
"This is exactly what overtaxation does, and in the end it will reduce the pie and choke off opportunities for growth," said Stewart.
He again urged Jamaican governments to end the long-standing practice of overlooking local investors in favour of providing greater benefits to overseas investors.
"There are many instances where local investors have worked hard to build our brands and our image but are deprived of the concessions which are then showered on outsiders. It is time that we offer a range of benefits that our own communities can take advantage of," the Sandals boss said.
"When you take the bigger picture, it is Jamaicans who are going to make our country successful and attractive to outsiders. Only when we look good will we attract quality investment. In the meantime, it is left to us, as a productive sector and the government, to work together so that Jamaicans can be empowered to lift themselves out of this quagmire.
"There is no government that is going to solve the problem without the required unity, teamwork and inspiration of the wide community of Jamaica, guided by creative policies and big, bold strategy, which cannot include burdensome taxation.
"Let the country go, and let it become a race horse that is not burdened by the weight of taxes," Stewart urged.