Opposition insists on ignoring social partnership signing today

BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

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THE Government is to go ahead today with the signing of a social partnership involving itself, Opposition, private sector, trade unions, and civil society, but the Opposition says it will not be forced into an agreement without the support of all levels of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

The Government could go through, like its predecessor, seeking a partnership without the involvement of the opposition political party, but the history of such partnerships have not been encouraging.

Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding also tried to get a social partnership going in 2009/10, including the then People's National Party (PNP) Opposition, en route to a stand-by agreement with the International Monetary Fund in 2009/10.

Golding invited the participation of civil society institutions to force wider participation in the process, But, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, the then Opposition Leader, said her party would not participate in what she described as "an insincere and purely cosmetic public relations exercise".

Now with the shoe on the other foot, Simpson Miller is hoping that Opposition Leader Andrew Holness can convince his party to put all that behind them and co-operate with her People's National Party (PNP) government and the other stakeholders.

But, some JLP insiders are insisting that the PNP should not be allowed to cajole the party into taking a decision on the latest partnership proposals, without it going through the party's democratic process.

"There is no need to rush the signing," former JLP Cabinet minister, Dwight Nelson, told the Jamaica Observer on Monday. Nelson has been involved in the current partnership discussions.

"We have a democratic process and we can't sign until that is exhausted. Every level of the party has to be consulted," insisted Nelson, who was intimately involved with Golding's efforts.

Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, Arthur Williams, another member of the JLP team involved in the partnership discussions, said that the party's position had been fully expressed by Holness in a statement last week.

Holness said then that the JLP was not convinced that the Government is totally committed to fundamental economic reforms, such as comprehensive tax reform and public sector reform, or has seized of the urgency of these reforms.

"Neither does the JLP agree with a tacit policy of devaluation of the Jamaican dollar, while asking workers to accept a wage freeze, nor do we accept the lax approach with which the Jamaican Government treats with our trade imbalance with Caricom (Caribbean Community)," the Opposition Leader added.

He said that while the JLP agreed, in general, on targets and priorities such as debt reduction and infrastructure development, "ultimately it is the Government that sets policy and is responsible for the implementation and outcome of their actions".

He pointed out that the role of the Opposition is to give oversight to government proposals, hold the government accountable for its actions, oppose bad policy, and where deserving give critical support to beneficial policies.

He said that the Opposition has participated, and would continue to participate in the process as part of it duty to the public, but without complete confidence in the commitment of the government, and that the Opposition reserved its right to take a critical position against bad policy and weak commitment to reform.

The National Partnership Council (NPC), which is chaired by the prime minister, is comprised of representatives of the Government, Opposition, private sector, trade unions, civil society, academia and special interests.

A document outlining the thrust of the agreement says the partners to the Social Partnership "reaffirm and recommit" to the principles of "social dialogue and partnership, specifically to further the process of deepening democracy and participatory decision-making and to engender meaningful participation of all partners in national development."

The partners will agree to certain measurable targets and mechanisms will be set up to monitor these targets, the document states.

Co-ordinator for the NPC, Ambassador Burchell Whiteman, has hailed the upcoming signing as a "step in the right direction and an important move for a nation that is seized with the urgency of growth and balanced development."





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