BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor -- special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
LEADERSHIP aspirant of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Audley Shaw yesterday unveiled a policy framework outlining five critical national issues which he intends to tackle if he is successful in the November 10 internal election.
The policy document, slated for circulation to delegates and the wider Jamaica, was released at a press conference at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston. It highlights the five main areas for immediate attention: education, energy, economy, employment and empowerment.
Shaw said the JLP, under his leadership, will incorporate infant schools as a formal part of the educational system in Jamaica and implement the proper curriculum and nutritional programmes.
"We intend to take over the entire system over a five-year period; it has to be phased because you wouldn't have all the teachers trained and ready in one year," he said, adding that it would cost an incremental $12 billion more per year.
Education, he said, cannot be a political football as it requires a national consensus on the way forward.
Among the other plans for education is the expansion of access to student loans for tertiary students, and resource allocation to schools based on needs assessment along the criteria of age cohort, gender and rural/urban gaps.
As for energy, Shaw said the plan is to create a system that incentivises low consumption of electricity at the domestic level.
"We are proposing that we create a two-tier system; those who consume below a certain threshold will get a lower rate and those who consume above that threshold will have to pay a higher rate," he explained.
Under the plan, he said, manufacturers and industrial users of electricity will also be eligible for incentives.
On the matter of the economy, Shaw said one of the most important things that must be done to turn around the economy is the implementation of a system that shortens, to less than three months, the approval process for new investments. The plan, he said, will be to float a special long-term low-interest bond in order to have an additional pool to fund small businesses.
He also said that a JLP under his leadership will not tolerate an oppressive regime that discourages expansion of the tourism industry.
"The incentive regime, as implemented, must be consistent with what our partners in the region are offering; if you are not consistent with that you are going to shut the door on the expansion possibility for Jamaica," Shaw said.
Team Shaw noted that tax reform will be a top priority. The plan, according to Shaw, will be to reverse the decision of the current administration by reducing transfer tax and stamp duties, eliminating double taxation on dividends and reducing corporate taxes for unregulated companies.
There are issues related to the Caribbean Community that will be addressed to ensure that there is a level playing field for Jamaican manufacturers.
The plan to develop downtown Kingston will also be fast-tracked.
On the issue of employment, Shaw said the plan will be to ramp up the HEART programme and introduce more remedial training programmes in existing primary and high schools.
The focus will also be on establishing a logistics hub with special economic zones, including Caymanas and Vernamfield industrial development and port facilities.
In terms of empowerment, Shaw said a national health insurance plan will be implemented, which will see contributions similar to those made to the National Housing Trust.
"We can link it to the National Health Fund and the private health insurance system, but it requires some work and we intend to put a task force on to that," he said.
Public transport, he said, will also be transformed with the divesting of the examination and testing of motor vehicles to private individuals as well as the establishment of a rural school bus system.
He also announced plans for the justice system and crime management to include a shift system at the Supreme Court, more intelligence-gathering and support technology and mobility for the police.
Flanked by a number of his backers, including members of Parliament Ed Bartlett and Rudyard Spencer and former parliamentarians Dr Christopher Tufton and Michael Stern, Shaw said this policy framework will no longer be a Team Shaw but will morph into Team JLP as it will be an inclusive team.
"It will be a team that reflects the position of the JLP and it will be inclusive in the sense that it will reflect the past policies that worked well for us and reflect intonations and changes that are of necessity if we are to remain relevant, and if we in opposition are to present ourselves as a credible and viable alternative government in waiting," he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Christopher Tufton, an Opposition senator, said the release of the policy document elevates the race for leadership of the party beyond the rhetoric that people have become accustomed to in recent weeks.
He said while the issues need to be fleshed out, the framework provides an insight into areas of focus for both the JLP and the country as a whole.
"It is a document that will give you a good idea as to what we are thinking, where we would like to take the JLP and the country," he said.