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Political parties urged to continue Vale Royal talks

Published:Thursday | March 3, 2016 | 3:00 AM

If there was ever a need for a revival of the Vale Royal talks, initiated by former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in the 1990s and continued by the Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson Miller administrations, it is now.

This as the one-seat majority (32-31) in the House of Representatives requires the need for a consensus-seeking approach to governance.

"After being sworn in, Prime Minister Andrew Holness should reconvene that forum by the end of the month," declared Professor Trevor Munroe, a former participant in the talks that later continued under the banner "Prosperity for Partnership" and then "Partnership for Jamaica".

Far-reaching decisions

Munroe noted that far-reaching decisions were made over the three dispensations of the talks, including many of the 14 governance changes pledged by Golding, including the Independent Commission of Investigations, whistle-blower legislation, and campaign financing reforms, among other matters.

"(A continuation of the talks) would certainly assist in going forward," asserted Professor Errol Miller, former chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.

Miller said such a forum would be a good attempt at seeking consensus before going into the Houses (of Parliament), with almost equal numerical support on the two sides of the political divide.

"If there were to be a consensus agreement in which more informal talks take place on formal matters, the gentleman's agreement could be brought to bear," said Miller.

The Vale Royal talks have also included representatives from trade unions, civil-society groups, and the private sector.

Miller added: "I think that initiative, taken by the earlier administrations, may well be one that could be emulated in moving the country forward as it can bring the majority on board to support the democratic process."

Political analyst Dr Hume Johnson notes that with a negligible one-seat majority (32-31), she is anticipating that Holness will demonstrate humility and attempt to set a different tone for politics.

"He will want to speak to all Jamaicans - those who voted for him, those who did not vote for him, and those who did not vote at all," said Johnson.

"He will want to unite the country around him."

In late 2007, the Vale Royal talks were stalled after an acrimonious exchange between Golding and Simpson Miller, but the then PNP Opposition relented and the discussions got under way again in January 2008.

Despite a number of breaks in discussions, both Golding and Simpson Miller expressed optimism that much value could be derived from the talks.

- G. S.