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Editorial | Why the talks were important

Published:Thursday | December 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Tuesday's meeting between the Government and the Opposition is unlikely to have had the sexiest of items on either side's immediate agenda. Portia Simpson Miller is consumed by her imminent retirement and the issue of succession in her People's National Party (PNP), while Prime Minister Andrew would prefer to be focusing on his growth agenda.

However, the session will be among the more important of matters they will have attended to - especially if it leads to a return of a constructive governance relationship, which is critical to social stability and Mr Holness being able to meet his targets for expanding national output. In this regard, we commend what we take at face value to be a display of pragmatism by the prime minister, rather than an act of political cynicism.

Politicians, of course, do politics, which includes attempting to position their parties as the best choice for voters when they decide on which one should form a government. Unfortunately, in Jamaica that has evolved overwhelmingly into the politics of patronage, from whose excesses the country is now only begun to hesitantly disengage.

That the disengagement is halting in execution was on display on the eve of the municipal elections of a fortnight ago. This newspaper abhors the politicisations of economics, including any distribution of jobs and or contracts based on party quotas or perceived political affiliation.

Indeed, we eagerly anticipate the time when politicians are totally excluded from the allocation of contracts, jobs and related matters and such decisions become the purview of an a-political state bureaucracy, whose decisions are based on transparent criteria that have nothing to do with political support. Progress in this direction has been slow. At least these days, all parliamentarians and local government representatives, sometimes including caretakers, are usually engaged about projects in their ridings.

That did not happen this time. The government, almost surreptitiously, it appears, approved a near J$600 million national clean-up programme, with the obvious intent of having the low-skilled recipients of the associated jobs cast their ballots in its favour.

The Opposition not only cried foul, it announced it would suspend all cooperation with government and cementing that stance when the administration, inadvertently perhaps, added an element of the slogan from its recent election campaigns to the forum at which the government, opposition, the private sector, the labour movement and civil society groups trash out national development. So, Mrs Simpson Miller boycotted the signing of the agreement for the latest iteration of what is now the Partnership for a Prosperous Jamaica. This name adjustment may seem too small a matter to create contention. But politics plays on symbols and subliminal messaging, so it is not surprising that Mrs Simpson Miller and her party noticed and read political motive on the part of the government, even if that may not have been its intent.

In the event, with its slim majorities in the national parliament and municipal councils and given Jamaica's still delicate economic circumstance, Mr Holness needs national consensus on his economic programme to maintain fiscal stability and ensure an environment for growth. He can ill-afford to waste political capital, especially on matters which for the government nothing fundamental is, or should be, at stake.

Hopefully, that was the conclusion of Tuesday's meeting and is now the trajectory of the administration.