Peter Phillips | Bringing together the two Jamaicas
This is an edited extract from the opposition leader's Budget speech.
The fact that Jamaica is in the grip of massive inequality, which leaves too many Jamaicans behind, is not in doubt.
The citizens in one Jamaica are able to afford First-World health services wherever they are available, here or abroad. In the other Jamaica, the majority are forced to languish in decrepit and run-down conditions and are left to use health facilities offering less than basic standards of healthcare.
One Jamaica has access to up-to-date traditional high schools giving a reasonable 21st-century education, while the other two-thirds of our children are left behind with little hope of overcoming the deficiencies of underperforming educational institutions.
Some live in plush surroundings, while a quarter of the population lives in substandard squatter communities and are forced into criminal activity to access electricity, water, and the other amenities of life.
We cannot continue in this way. No nation can make progress or achieve prosperity if we leave intact the basic structures that create this inequality.
Our mission must now be to mash down this divide that sustains this inequality.
We are not saying that these conditions emerged in the last two years. And it is also true that since the right to vote was achieved in 1944, administrations drawn from both sides have made important contributions to improving the quality of life of those who have been left behind.
God knows, errors have been made along the way by both sides.
I spent much effort and energy, particularly between 2012 and 2016, taking this country from the brink of bankruptcy and disaster. We moved the debt down and stabilised the ship of state. I spent a lot of my political capital getting it right for the country and in protecting the most vulnerable, who, daily, struggle to survive.
Now that we have secured macroeconomic stability, let us resolve never to go the way of unsustainable debt again.
We must now take on, frontally, the mission to break down the inequalities that still scar our country and sap the will and morale of our people.
We must now lift up the performance of our high schools and give opportunities to the two-thirds of our children left behind. With opportunity, they will flourish.
The People's National Party commits to a massive land-reform programme that will unlock the potential of our landless farmers.
The present distribution of land ownership, together with the arrangements for access to land for both agriculture and housing, reflects a pattern of inequality that has persisted since Emancipation.
Many efforts have been made along the way to modernise the basic framework for land titling contained in the Registration of Titles Act, which was passed in 1889 and has been amended twice in its 129 years of existence (Adverse Possession and Vesting - sections 85 & 155).
We are determined to remedy the injustices that have long existed and which continue to be perpetrated against our people. Land reform has been one of the tenets of any progressive country, and it will be a priority of a future PNP administration.
We commit to the 700,000 Jamaicans languishing without land titles in so-called squatter communities to transform their quality of life. They, too, deserve a chance to pursue a real Jamaican dream.
We commit to building a new economy for our small business people, using creative techniques and $200 billion of credit on call.
We commit to giving respect to workers and their negotiations. We reject dictatorship and respect democracy. We will build on the foundations laid to secure growth and equality.
To our young people, in particular, I want to say, do not give up hope. Instead, join us in this struggle to build on the foundations laid by those who have gone before.
We know by the examples of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh, Usain Bolt, Donald Quarrie, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Merlene Ottey; and by some of our scholars like Orlando Patterson, George Beckford, Norman Girvan, Carl Stone, and contemporaries like Chronixx, Protoje, etc.
We are a creative people, with talent in abundance.
Jamaica is a God-blessed country, with people tested and nurtured by the challenges of our history.
Let us take up the challenge of our time and join together to build a better Jamaica that works for all the people.
As Jimmy Cliff says:
"You can get it if you really want ... but there are many rivers to cross."
- Peter Phillips is opposition leader and president of the PNP. Email feedback to email@example.com.