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Editorial: Reconvene Vale Royal talks

Published:Monday | March 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Prime Minister Andrew Holness struck mostly the right notes at his swearing-in on Thursday - especially when he reached out to his political opponents for cooperation for the national good.

"I believe the mandate is saying that we may not be on the same side of the road, but as much as possible, we should hold hands in cooperation to overcome obstacles for the good of the country," he said.

It is a sensible observation, for, as Mr Holness is well aware, with a mere one-seat majority in Parliament, he faces a potentially difficult job of governing, which can be far more troublesome by an Opposition that feels excluded from the process of governance. However, inclusive government doesn't mean that Mr Holness' administration must either surrender or abrogate its responsibility to lead, or to be held accountable for its actions.

Rather, in our view, it is an occasion for Government and Opposition, as well as other critical societal stakeholders, to agree on those areas of national life which ought to be removed from the more aggressive cut and thrust of partisan political argument.

Mr Holness identified education as one area in which there has been informal collaboration between the former Government and the Opposition that he intends to continue. Security and broad macroeconomic policy are two other critical ones that this newspaper believes should be at the top of that agenda. There are more.

For instance, we welcome the prime minister's undertaking to maintain the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), the novel body that, for the past four years, monitored and reported with independence on Jamaica's performance under its reform agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

But it was almost cacophonic that Mr Holness' endorsement of EPOC didn't specifically extend to its chairman, Richard Byles, who hasn't found favour with his economic advisers because he failed to find fault with the former Government's implementation with the IMF agreement when the data, in relation to performance criteria, didn't call for it.

EPOC, at this stage, with a year of the IMF agreement to go, would be of lost, or diminished, credibility if Mr Byles were removed as its chairman and someone of lesser stature, authority or independence put in his place. We are sure Mr Holness appreciates this.

The forum in which the subjects for enhanced discussion between the Government, Opposition and key stakeholders, and the parameters for their advancement laid out, should not be given to overcrowded and woolly discourse - the kind of environment where

little of value gets done. In this regard, Mr Holness already has a workable template: the Vale Royal talks.

In 2002, the then prime minister, P.J. Patterson, initiated on-and-off discussions between himself and the opposition leader of the day, Edward Seaga, at which crime and security issues topped the agenda. These talks followed preparatory discussions between government ministers and their shadows.

Subsequent leaders convened the Vale Royal sessions, but they haven't emerged as a formal, ongoing fixture in Jamaica's policy discourse. Given the special circumstances in which he governs, Mr Holness should seek to make them so.