Jaevion Nelson: Political parties must be held accountable
It is rather shameful that this election has not been as much about pertinent issues of national development as it has been about trivial personal matters and political one-upmanship. It was my hope that this election would have been different. One hopes that what has been happening could become the catalyst for much-needed changes, such as mandatory participation of political parties in the national debates, fixed election dates, and term limits to regain confidence in our political process and representatives.
I must confess that I find it most unsettling that both major political parties did not find it fit to publish their manifestos much earlier. I am mindful of the fact that the Jamaica Labour Party published a Ten-Point Action Plan. While I think this is an easy and effective way to bring focus to a party's plans, it is inadequate and cannot replace the importance of a manifesto. The blatant incongruence of our posture - the media included - about wanting sobriety and attention to the issues affecting our growth and development and what has been our focus the past couple of days cannot be ignored. How can we desire a more mature and forward-thinking country, but allow our politicians to budget so little time to focus on issues of unemployment, crime and violence, health care and other social and economic development issues on the campaign trail?
It is incumbent on us to do better. We must recognise our responsibilities as citizens where our participation, which is not limited to voting in the political process, is concerned. It is our duty to put the spotlight on what is important to us. There shouldn't have been a dearth of constructive discourse, with the vast number of studies published over the last few years about our developmental challenges bombarding us. It is up to us to hold our leaders accountable and demand more. Resigning in our frustration and lack of confidence in the system is not an option.
I find the matter of income inequality and economic justice to be especially critical this election. In 2013, Jamaica's GINI Coefficient was 45.5 and has been so for a number of years (the goal should be 0). GINI coefficient income, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (2013), is the 'measure of the deviation of the distribution of income among individuals or households within a country from a perfectly equal distribution. A value of 0 represents absolute equality, a value of 100 absolute inequality.' In December 2015, the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap report revealed that despite legislation from as early as 1975, women earn 60 per cent of what men earn. The minimum wage is also a problem.
We have to work collectively to remedy these problems. On Tuesday, J-FLAG published recommendations in a petition to Portia Simpson Miller and Andrew Holness to take steps to reduce income inequality and secure economic justice for all Jamaicans, which are worth considering. J-FLAG recommends that the next government should do the following in accordance with Goal 1, Outcome 3 of Vision 2030 which focuses on empowering persons to 'achieve their fullest potential':
1. Increase the minimum wage by at least 30 per cent to ensure that it is above projected inflation to allow individuals and families to have more purchasing power.
2. Promote gender equity and protect the livelihood of women by enforcing and amending, where necessary, the Employment (Equal Pay for Men and Women) Act 1975 to close the pay gap between men and women.
3. Establish a framework for reducing child poverty by developing targets specific to children, and developing child poverty-related indicators and a comprehensive monitoring and reporting system to be led by the ministry with primary responsibility for youth and the Planning Institute of Jamaica.
4. Eliminate the disparities in disbursement to boys and girls who are beneficiaries of the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).
5. Equitably share the tax burden by increasing the income tax threshold, reducing income tax, and improving tax compliance through integrated systems (such as the non-renewal of driver's licences for persons who owe property tax).
6. Promote the creative industry and other non-traditional careers as economically viable by incorporating into the secondary school curriculum and protecting creative markets with domestic and international legislation.
Let us take charge of our future. Let us commit to improving the lives of all our people by doing much more to put the National Development Plan - Vision 2030 into action. Let's play our part in advancing our welfare. It's up to us.