2024 will be a watershed year
From all indications, the political fortunes of both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding will hinge greatly on the outcome of the local government elections which are due in February next year. Indeed, even as both men are likely to face a very sceptical electorate that has become disenchanted with the political process, this impending voting exercise will prove to be a litmus test in terms of the nation determining whether it should continue to tolerate an increasingly unpopular incumbent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government or opt to “try out” the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) that has been biting at the bit, impatiently waiting for “Brogad” to fly the gate.
Suffice it to say that, whichever way the cookies crumble, it will be a watershed year for Jamaica, land we love. And, to put it bluntly, the upcoming local government elections will not just be about electing councillors and municipal corporations, it will be a referendum on which is the better party, as well as who is the better leader.
In the case of the prime minister, one of his biggest problems is an increasing lack of credibility. Indeed, even as he boasts about the creditworthiness of the country in the eyes of the international community, and its creditability because of the positive macroeconomic indicators thanks to his astute Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke, Holness’s “star boy” image has been taking a battering, fast losing its sheen because of a widening credibility gap.
Undoubtedly, the JLP leader’s Achilles heel is the crime monster that so far he has been unable to tame. And implicit with that scourge is corruption, which has become all-pervasive. Against this backdrop, one of the things that he should have the courage to say in his New Year’s message this time round, is to be humble and apologise to the nation for that unfulfilled promissory note he gave us some years ago – that the people would be able to go to bed with their windows and doors open without fear under a JLP Administration. It has not happened, and he should apologise forthwith if he is to regain any amount of credibility on the way forward.
In his 2023 New Year’s message, the prime minister said: “…2023 is the year when Jamaica will start to see a sustained reduction in violent crimes, particularly murders, and see an increase in public order and safety as well.” At best, it is safe to say that the jury is out on this one.
In this same context, Holness also said: “Motorcyclists are both a significant cause and victim of road crashes. The new law makes it mandatory that all riders and pillions must wear a helmet and that motorbikes must be sold with helmets.” Really? Just this week, Dr Lucien Jones, vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council (of which the prime minister is chairman?) lamented the fact that motorcyclists continue to dominate road fatalities. Enough said!
And even as the prime minister prepares to give his 2024 New Year’s message, members of the Jamaican Diaspora, in a letter to Audrey Marks, Jamaica’s ambassador to the United States, has given notice of a country-wide protest because of concerns they have about the increasing state of public corruption; the high level of violent crime; the Government’s failure to provide promised service delivery; unfulfilled promises to the Diaspora regarding its involvement in the political process; and the legal defence that Diaspora members do not have legal standing to sue the Government. As we say in Jamaican parlance, “Things come to bump!”
Opposition Leader Mark Golding, in the meantime, would be foolhardy to think that all he and his fired-up Comrades need to do is to wait for the JLP’s house of cards to crumble. Already the spectre of only some 37 per cent of the voting population expressing a willingness to cast their ballots casts a shadow. This signals that, in essence, John Public at large is saying “a pox on both your houses”, “no better herring, no better barrel”.
Yes, Golding, “Time come”, but this now well-used political slogan must be expanded to acquaint the Jamaican people with the PNP’s policies and modus operandi when it comes to good governance if and when the time comes. It is not sufficient to just oppose, oppose, oppose. The time has come when the PNP should propose, propose, and propose.
In keeping with such an objective much effort should be put in a public education campaign to enlighten, especially the younger voters who Don Anderson’s most recent polls suggest are leaning towards the PNP, as to what will be different about a Mark Golding-led Administration as opposed to what now entails under a Andrew Holness regime.
It cannot be business as usual, even though the PNP has moved away somewhat from its stated socialist posture and has been embracing capitalist tendencies. There are several ills, among them economic justice and equity, that must be tackled, and the PNP historically has some amount of credibility in those areas.
In the meantime, even as the political fisticuffs intensify, the PNP must be able, by way of its shadow Cabinet, to show that, mano y mano, it has the team that can hit the ground running should it be elected to form the next Government. At present, there is no such clear picture, as the PNP team seems to be lacking in substance and its members are not pulling their weight against such JLP heavyweights as Edmund Bartlett, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, and, of course, Dr Nigel Clarke. In this regard, Mark Golding should bear in mind that, in the new dispensation of Jamaica becoming a republic, one of the suggestions is to create a system whereby Government can pull on talents from academia and the private sector by way of the Senate.
Finally, the big elephant in the room is crime, whose tentacles take in murders, scamming, corruption, you name it. No one Government can tame this gargantuan monster, so it is going to take courageous and transformational leadership that can unite the nation around a patriotic stance against crime. Is either Holness or Golding capable of becoming a veritable St George bravely tackling this dragon? The year ahead beckons. Who will answer the call?
Lloyd B Smith has been involved in Jamaican media for the past 48 years. He has served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.