Holding the fire – Holness - Opposition leader says JLP’s actions preventing street protest against the government
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness is taking credit for Jamaica not experiencing the disruption and street protests recorded by several other countries that have implemented similar punishing fiscal measures over the past few years.
But university lecturer, sociologist Dr Orville Taylor is not confident that the Opposition would have strong support if it decides to take to the streets.
"I'm not sure how well this leader of the Opposition reads the pulse of the people of Jamaica, and how willing they would be to protest, knowing the reality facing the country," said Taylor.
"Public-sector workers are the ones suffering the worst from the austerity measures and the last major protest from them was in 1985, and this was because the Government was not engaging the trade unions and the workers in discussions. This is not like the gas riots that we have had," added Taylor.
But Holness is convinced that persons were ready to protest and would have done so were it not for his decision not to head down that road.
"You think people who have to be now facing high school fees and high toll fees and all kinds of fees are not ready to protest," Holness told a Gleaner/Mona School of Business and Management Leadership Round-table Forum last Wednesday.
"And there have been times when people would have wanted me to be the nightmare, the match that lit the fire and I have resisted that. There is no political benefit for that," added Holness as he declared that his stance has caused him personal criticisms from persons determined to take to the streets.
According to the Opposition leader, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which he leads, is not prepared to be quick to block roads, demonstrate on the streets and be obstructive in Parliament despite being aware of the suffering the present Government is putting the people of Jamaica through.
Holness said the success of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme being implemented by the present government could have collapsed without the work of the Opposition.
"Every IMF report that has come out has a line in it, 'social consensus continues to be strong'. You think social consensus emerged just like that? You know the price I had to pay personally to ensure that social consensus remains?
"That social consensus is a reflection of how I have run this Opposition, constructive and responsibly ... the IMF programme only works because there is social consensus," Holness told members of The Gleaner team and representatives of several sectors at the forum.
He argued that the fiscal discipline being introduced by the present Government is a carry-over from the JLP administration of 2007 to 2011 but this is not enough to move Jamaica forward.
"That fiscal management in and of itself will not solve the problems, you must have growth," said Holness as he boasted that the economic growth enjoyed by Jamaica under the previous JLP administration, "even as small as it was," outpaced the present administration.
"But we have conducted ourselves because we know that fiscal management is important. We make the point, however, that it is not the be-all and end-all," said Holness.
For Taylor, Holness is patting himself on the back for what any opposition party is mandated to do in a democracy - be responsible.
"It is unlikely that if the JLP was forming the government now it could do any better. It must be remembered that it was the Opposition that went to the IMF for a deal and then reneged on it, so it has to take some responsibility for where we are now," Taylor told The Sunday Gleaner.
But according to Holness, if his party is elected to form the next government, it will appoint a growth tsar to do the institutional reforms which the island needs to ensure that the economy reaches the heights that it should.