Tension heightens over partnership pact name change
While indicating that he would not offer a comment on the absence of Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller from yesterday's signing of the Partnership for a Prosperous Jamaica Agreement at King's House, Prime Minister Andrew Holness signalled that he would have loved to have had all the critical stakeholders at the table to ink the accord.
"I would have loved to have every important social partner involved, but we don't live in a perfect world," Holness told The Gleaner at the end of the ceremony.
He said, however, that a member of the Opposition has been assigned to sit on the National Partnership Council.
Yesterday afternoon, the Opposition People's National Party said Simpson Miller did not participate in the signing because the Government had changed the name of the pact to highlight the Jamaica Labour Party's campaign slogan.
In a letter to Prime Minister Holness on November 25 this year, Simpson Miller said: "As the administration, which galvanised the support of the nation to achieve the Partnership for Jamaica Agreement, we do not agree with the change in the name to include the word from which the JLP's election campaign slogan 'Prosperity' was derived.
According to the opposition leader, the partnership is non-partisan and was designed to garner support from the widest cross-section of Jamaicans.
"Prime minister, we have come too far as a nation and have made too many strides towards depoliticising our institutions to take regressive steps," Simpson Miller said in her letter.
Said Simpson Miller: "While we all want a prosperous Jamaica for everyone, using the word from which the JLP's election campaign slogan was derived to alter the name, Partnership for Jamaica, is unacceptable."
With former prime ministers P.J. Patterson and Bruce Golding in attendance, Simpson Miller was noticeably absent as she was on the list of partners to pledge her commitment to the pact.
Representatives from civil society, labour unions, and the private sector all made presentations giving their undertaking to play their respective roles to strengthen the partnership among the various stakeholders.
Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust, who signed on behalf of civil society groups, said Simpson Miller's absence was unfortunate. She said that the partnership had always struggled with the Opposition, noting that "it is time to move on from that approach". She argued that as a representative of the environmental sector, she has many disagreements with decisions made by the Government. However, she said that the "whole point of the partnership is to have a place where those kinds of disagreements can, hopefully, be worked out and some change made."
According to McCaulay, even if the Opposition had reason to register a protest, Simpson Miller should still have signed the agreement and raised the issues that are of concern to them at subsequent meetings of the National Partnership Council.
"The signing is a symbolic beginning of some stated intentions and objectives that we are supposed to agree on. It was not a substantive meeting to agree on the problems the environmental sector has, or the Opposition has, but those things, if you are not part of the process, you lose the opportunity to do that."
At the 2013 historic signing of the Social Partnership Agreement, then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness did not show up to affix his signature to the accord at King's House. At the time, the Government, private sector, and civil society participated in the signing.
However, in 2013, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding was also in attendance and was praised for his role in the process, although the party he once led did not sign.