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Andrew alone? Civil society lukewarm to JLP leader's call for protest against bus fare increase

Published:Sunday | August 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness
Everton Hannam, president, National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica
Rev Gary Harritt, general secretary, Jamaica Council of Churches
A JUTC bus. - File
Oniel Grant, president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association.

Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

With less than 24 hours to go before members of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) hit the road in what its leader Andrew Holness has described as a peaceful protest against today's Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) bus fare increases, it is unclear whether they will be joined by civic organisations.

Holness has invited civil society to join with the JLP and "other Jamaicans of varying interests and persuasions to send a clear signal to the Government that this increase in bus fares is beyond what Jamaicans can presently bear".

But up to late last week, members of civil society were not saying if they would be taking to the streets.

President of the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica, Everton Hannam, declined to say if he would join the protest, although he made it clear that he was not averse to it.

According to Hannam, a peaceful protest is an integral part of Jamaica's democratic process, once it is not abused or causes inconveniences in a way that would set back the gains of the country or cause injury and harm to others.

"Each organisation, after analysing the situation, tends to adopt the best way to convey their feelings and highlight the issues," said Hannam. "The approach that a political organisation would use would, therefore, be different from that of another organisation."

He said while some Jamaicans baulk at the prospect of a protest, based on its poor reputation in Jamaica's history, it is a right.

"We want to ensure that a peaceful protest is what it is - peaceful - as this is one of our democratic rights. So I personally would not see any problem with them going ahead as long as it is not inconvenient to others," he asserted.

For general secretary of the Jamaica Council of Churches, the Reverend Gary Harriott, there was no indication that his organisation was keen on protest action.

Harriott disclosed that he has circulated a correspondence he received from Holness inviting the Church to participate in the peaceful protest.

"I am yet to receive an official
position from the Church, but based on initial feedback, members are
concerned about an increase in bus fares at the start of the new
academic year.

"There is general concern for the
plight of the people, but there is also awareness of the financial
realities faced by the JUTC," said

Meanwhile, Samuel Coates, past president of
the Young Entrepreneurs' Association, made it clear that he would not
support the protest.

"I don't think it is a good idea
to engage in a peaceful protest at this time when one looks at the
financial costs to operate the JUTC."

Coates argued
that given the realities of the costs facing the JUTC, it is obvious
that the Government is trying to offer improved services at a more
economical cost.


Trade unionists also appear to be baulking at the
prospect of a street protest.

President of the Jamaica
Civil Service Association, Oniel Grant, says his association, which
represents thousands of public-sector workers, will not be joining the
protest as his team considers such action a last

General secretary of the National Workers'
Union (NWU), Granville Valentine, said members of the NWU are free to
attend the protest, but the union will not give its support to any
politically motivated protest.

Valentine says if it
becomes necessary, the Jamaica Confed-eration of Trade Unions will call
its own protest.

Late last week, Holness started
issuing invitations to civil-society groups to join the JLP in peaceful
protest in Half-Way Tree square tomorrow morning at 7

"We believe that this is an unconscionable
act at a time when parents are already struggling to send their children
back to school," said Holness.

He noted that people
receiving fixed income and public-sector workers, whose salaries are
frozen, would be severely impacted.

"The increases
also run counter to our collective social conscience that vulnerable
groups such as the elderly and the disabled should be protected," he

"We are not convinced that the JUTC has
undertaken and exhausted all cost-cutting and efficiency-promoting
reforms that would open the door to considering increases," said