Golding slams Government's management of economy

Laments Jamaica's socio-economic divisions

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-Large
South/Central Bureau
myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — The Petrojam scandal and other allegations of misconduct in governance were hot topics at the People's National Party's (PNP) Manchester Central constituency conference here Sunday night.

But shadow spokesman on finance, Mark Golding, also underlined what he called the “disappointing” performance of the Jamaican economy under the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government.

Golding told Comrades, who had come out in support of Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting at Manchester High School, of sluggish growth since the JLP took office in early 2016, and what he said was a 17.6 per cent decline in foreign direct investment in 2017 “relative to 2016”.

This, Golding suggested, was partly the result of a cumbersome governance structure caused by the Office of the Prime Minister's (OPM's) embrace of a range of crucial public sector agencies and departments. The assignment of a number of ageing ministers to the OPM had made the situation worse, Golding seemed to suggest.

“All of the major agencies of the State are under one ministry, all concentrated under (Prime Minister) Andrew Holness … NHT (National Housing Trust), Factories Corporation, Port Authority … the list goes on and on… [and] now we have energy as well,” he said.

The reference to energy was triggered by that portfolio's transfer from Andrew Wheatley's responsibility in the fallout following reports and allegations of misuse of funds, cronyism and other corrupt practices at the State-run oil refinery, Petrojam. Controversially, former Energy Minister Wheatley still has Cabinet membership as minister of science and technology.

According to Golding: “Not only are all of these State agencies under one ministry, without the output that we need, but now we have old ministers being parked at the office of the prime minister...”

He also took a swipe at the Economic Growth Council — chaired by business magnate Michael Lee-Chin — which has a mandate to advise the Government on growth initiatives and to monitor progress.

“The Economic Growth Council [has] all the very successful businessmen on it, but we not seeing results… not even hearing from them again. They seem to be dormant; we need a new approach…” said Golding.

He argued that the “source” of much of Jamaica's problems “are really socio-economic, not strictly economic”.

There was need for policies that will “redress some of the real deep-rooted problems in our society”, such as the school system which is “divided in terms of traditional and non-traditional schools” with sub-par performances from students in under-resourced, non-traditional schools.

“We need to redress what has been described as the apartheid system in our education system,” he said, adding that early childhood education also needed special attention.

He called for training of young people in a relevant way, with areas such as the business process outsourcing sector (BPO) being given targeted consideration.

“We need to develop a five-year plan for BPO,” said Golding. “We are seeing the BPO plan being rolled out and jobs being created, but we need to raise the level of those jobs and raise the skill sets so that instead of basic call centre operations, we have more value-added, more skills… so that our young lawyers, our young accountants and others [such as] software writers and so on can get work in the knowledge process business. And we need to train… to feed those services…” he said.

He called for an initiative to assist those struggling to pay university and college fees.

“Too many young people have struggled and their families have struggled hard to get them through high schools and get grades and get to tertiary education and [then they] can't meet the costs. Comrades, it's not right; we have to find a solution for that,” he said.

He argued that “the PNP must take that one on because we are the party of equal opportunity and transformation for our society”.

Golding, who is Member of Parliament for St Andrew Southern, which includes social and economically depressed communities such as Trench Town and Jones Town, drew attention to what he said was a difference in approach to the delivery of services and the treatment of people, depending on where they live.

“[For] Comrades in my own constituency, the main issues [include] street lighting and garbage collection. But uptown those are not issues. Street lights work uptown, garbage is collected uptown. Why is it that in communities such as the one I represent those are real problems plaguing the people?” he asked.

“This is because there is an elitist approach to the delivery of services to the people. We must put an end to it. Those people deserve the best treatment because the conditions in which they live are the hardest, so they must have adequate and proper street lighting and garbage disposal,” Golding said.

He argued that as the party which became the vanguard of Jamaica's nationalist movement in the build-up to self-government and Independence, while advocating an egalitarian society, the PNP had a historical responsibility to lead the way in redressing the social imbalance.

“It is the PNP that has a philosophical outlook that says these are the orientations that a Government must have in a society that is coming out of a background of colonialism and slavery,” he said.

“We want to empower people, where all have a place in a society that works for all. That is what we are committed to and that is what Jamaicans deserve,” Golding said.

As the PNP prepares for its annual conference in September, with contests likely for executive positions including vice-presidential posts, Golding warned Comrades against destructive infighting.

“We must be united and strong. We are going into an internal race. My message to all: deal with it in a respectful way. Don't tear anybody down. We must go to conference united and strong,” he said.

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