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LETTER OF THE DAY - Not the time for cheap political shots

Published:Thursday | January 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

We must never play politics with the interest of the poor. I say this against the background of the Government managing to secure agreement with key players in the financial sector in terms of debt management. The private-sector leaders have indicated that this is a good deal and if all goes well, then it is likely that Jamaica will begin to see some growth in a few months.

The International Monetary Fund apparently is impressed with the moves being made by the Government in meeting its conditionalities and even the rating agencies, while downgrading Jamaica, are forced to do so with cautious optimism that if things go as planned, this could see them giving Jamaica an improved rating in the not-too-distant future.

Opposition negative

The Opposition, on the other hand, cannot seem to find anything positive in anything that the Government does. And while we chided them for the false start to the debate last week, we still expected that as the loyal Opposition they would not only criticise but would present serious and sustained argument for Jamaica's future. A plan that would take into consideration all the ramifications, especially for the disadvantaged groups in society.

It is not enough that the People's National Party should grandstand and say that it loves the poor. It was the infighting, characteristic of parliamentary democracy on the European continent that caused the German legal scholar Carl Schmitt to look at partisan politics as being destructive to the welfare of the state. Leaders must look to see how they can constructively work together.

The Government, faced with severe constraints, has expanded the social-security net and must continue to ensure that the needs of the poor are met. This does not simply mean catering to their everyday need for food, shelter and clothing but must also focus on their access to justice. According to the Department for International Development, "recent studies have highlighted the fact that for poor people, access to justice may be as important as access to health care or education". The World Bank's 'Voices of the Poor' has stated that "poverty is not just a lack of income. It is the experience of multiple forms of vulnerability, including exposure to violence and unlawful activities".

The Opposition must engage the Government in a comprehensive debate about how to alleviate the various challenges that beset those in our society that are most vulnerable. This is not the time for cheap political shots or sound bites for the media. It may be time for a conference or a rigorous debate inside and outside of Parliament about eliminating poverty, recognising that it is the next key area in the fight for human rights and justice.

I implore all of us not to play politics with the plight of the poor but must tackle poverty and treat its elimination as a necessary part of nation building

I am, etc.,

HAROLD MALCOLM

bruce_26@hotmail.com

London School of Economics