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The current Opposition is a gift to the JLP that keeps on giving

Richard
Blackford

Thursday, December 28, 2017

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I had taken the decision that the less said about Jamaica's political Opposition, the People's National Party (PNP), the better, since in my opinion the organisation has done very little in the nearly two years in the Opposition benches to warrant writing anything.

To my thinking, the organisation's lethargy has dispelled any previously held view that the Andrew Holness-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government's one-seat majority in the nation's Parliament would have made it very difficult for the Government to accomplish any meaningful tasks on its legislative agenda. That the Government has accomplished very little had more to do with the fact that the JLP had actually come aboard with very little to offer, and the PNP has been as idea-less as the West Indies cricket team against a high school side.

That was my position before I read columnist Garfield Higgins' The Agenda piece in the recent Sunday Observer in his regular canonisation of his party. In this instalment, Higgins characterised the JLP's 19 months in government as showing “signs of (economic) sunrise”, stating that “the Andrew Holness-led Administration has built on the gains of the previous Administration” even calling it “good governance”. As Higgins pointed out, the JLP has simply embraced the PNP's economic platform and is now reaping the benefits of the foundation laid by the PNP.

I am sure that no Jamaican who loves this country would have wanted any other result and, despite coming to the wicket with a very shallow game plan for governance, one has to give credit to Andrew Holness as he has marshalled his troops well enough to weather the powder-puff deliveries that were fed by a rudderless Opposition.

It is my assessment that in as much as the JLP had no plan to govern, so too the PNP had been unprepared for the role of providing Opposition in the Parliament. Their current scorecard reflects a group devoid of a plan or any demonstrable approach as to its understanding of the role of the Opposition. Against that background, Higgins' canonisation does some deliberate dance steps away from some significant facts. For starters, he made no mention of the Holness 10-point plan that was trumpeted during the 2016 General Election campaign as the blueprint upon which the economy's resurgence would be secured. No mention was made either of the five per cent economic growth projected over a four-year period, neither was any mention made of the super growth ministry created to deliver this strategy — not to mention its palpable non-delivery to date. No mention was made of the fact that the economic needle has not progressed beyond the traditional one per cent move of the last 15 years, and which still runs below the island's average four per cent inflation rate.

Did I mention the crime scourge? Well, Higgins, like the Opposition PNP, was completely silent on this critical issue. Considering that the JLP campaigned on a platform that suggested that an Andrew Holness Administration could produce the magic bullet that would, for the first time, address the crime and murder scourge that has, for decades, dogged Jamaica, Higgins' omission is quite glaring. No mention was made of the 13 per cent increase in murders from 1,192 recorded in 2015 to 1,350 in 2016 — its first year at bat. No mention was made either of the sprint towards 1,600 murders by year-end with more than 1,540 deaths year-to-date.

Higgins, however, got one thing right. He never mentioned the Opposition PNP, probably because all this time the island's elected Opposition has been speechless. It is indeed interesting that the PNP is so far out to sea that even the architect of this economic resurgence, its current leader Dr Peter Phillips, has remained silent while the JLP openly claims success for its work.

What is inconceivable, though, is the fact that crime which has been identified as the most visible impediment to Jamaica's chances for economic growth, and the staggering murder rate which threatens the very fabric on which any citizen can hope for guarantees of personal safety has failed to spur the Opposition into action. Dr Phillip's game plan has been to argue against the politicisation of the nation's crime problem — a position that was never observed by Holness as he sought the reins of the nation's government. In the circumstances, the PNP has, in fact, gifted the JLP a near two-year apprenticeship period for governing, and Holness has begun to not only find his footing, but to also provide proof that he is indeed a worthy political adversary.

The fact that the JLP could have survived the multimillion-dollar de-bushing scandal speaks volumes as to the moribund state of the Opposition. Add to that the JLP's use of its muscle to flip the St Mary South Eastern seat from the PNP while burying the PNP candidate in a deluge of public relations tactics which only reflect more negatively on the Opposition's readiness. It does not help either that, in the face of these defeats, all the time the PNP has only succeeded in reinstalling aged dinosaurs in shadow positions, most of whom are disconnected from a changing electorate. I would not be surprised if the Holness-led JLP springs a surprise general election on the hapless PNP during the latter half of next year. This would certainly wipe out the party and perhaps provide an opportunity for fresh shoots to spring in that organisation as the current PNP is merely a gift to the JLP that keeps on giving.

Richard Hugh Blackford is a self-taught artist, writer and social commentator. He shares his time between Coral Springs, Florida, and Kingston, Jamaica. yardabraawd.com Send comments to the Observer or richardhblackford@gmail.com.

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