Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Assuming the reins as the country's ninth prime minister, Andrew Holness has declared it is time to end garrison politics in Jamaica.
In his near hour-long inaugural address, the 39-year-old Holness said yesterday that the country was yearning for a new politics to emerge.
"Zones of political exclusion are incompatible with freedom and aspects of our politics are an affront to liberty," Holness said after being sworn in at King's House in St Andrew.
"It is time to end garrison politics now," he declared.
In an invitation similar to one extended by his predecessor Bruce Golding, Holness extended his hand for Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller to walk with him in areas generally regarded as garrison communities.
"I am willing to walk with the leader of the Opposition in Tower Hill, and I may just turn up in Whitfield Town," he said.
Tower Hill boasts strong Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) support in Holness' West Central St Andrew constituency, while Whitfield Town votes solidly for the People's National Party (PNP) in Simpson Miller's South West St Andrew.
Holness said he would be writing to Simpson Miller, inviting her to discuss issues such as access to closed communities for representatives of differing political persuasions.
"Hopefully, this small step will lead to other steps that will eventually remove garrisons from our political landscape," Holness said.
The new prime minister said government must seek to integrate all of its citizens in the society.
"We must guarantee them equal treatment and respect from the state and they too will be emboldened to support our national strategy against crime, corruption and injustice."
He added: "Criminals must never be seen by the community as protectors. Once there is the integrated and shared vision, garrisons will no longer have havens for criminals."
Holness said Jamaica's politics must transcend petty politics and has invited Jamaicans at home and abroad to participate in the political process.
"If talented people make themselves available, I will make space for you in my government," Holness said.
"Jamaica needs her talented sons and daughters in the service of the public good now more than ever," he added.
According to Holness, such participation does not have to be in the area of politics. He pointed to service clubs, chambers of commerce, school boards, citizens associations, charities and sports clubs as some of the areas in which Jamaicans can help nation building through participatory governance.
On the economy, Holness said Jamaica would have to curb its appetite for borrowing. He said politicians must be brave enough to tell the electorate the truth about the state of the economy and explain the Government's ability to undertake certain expenditure.
"We must say unequivocally, there is a limit to borrowing and more debt is not the solution to poverty. If we were to veer from this path, or depart from fiscal discipline, or hesitate to complete the journey, all the sacrifices we have already made in the JDX (Jamaica Debt Exchange), and public-sector divestment and all the reforms and negotiations would be for naught," Holness said.
"We have come too far to turn back now. Let us decide here and now to once and for all get a handle on our debt problem."
Holness did not outline a plan for his first 100 days, but said he would lead a better politics which would allow for broad participation, honest conversations with the electorate, and effective governance.