PETER PHILLIPS has been insisting on the need to recalibrate the national conversation in the hope of countering the pervasive distrust in the society and edge to broad consensus on important issues of development.
"The real challenge to our politics is to be able to debate more of the things that are in the national interest and subordinate the national competition, which just allows everybody to take the easy populist route," the finance minister told editors and reporters of this newspaper on Tuesday.
Perhaps, just maybe, Dr Phillips is finding traction for this new approach to political competition. Audely Shaw, the shadow finance minister, gave us hope.
Hours after Dr Phillips spoke at The Gleaner, Mr Shaw responded in Parliament to the finance minister's $612.4-billion budget for the current fiscal year, the measures by which he hopes to finance the spending, including a $19.3-billion tax package.
This newspaper was encouraged by the maturity of Mr Shaw's presentation. It lacked the usual hyperbolic declarations of supposed policy failures that opposition members usually lay at incumbents. But, more important, Mr Shaw recognised the depth of Jamaica's economic crisis and the narrowness of the options faced by the country.
This is not to suggest that Mr Shaw agreed with all the policy prescriptions offered by Dr Phillips, and he was not above the occasional wave of the partisan flag. Indeed, he vigorously defended his four-year stewardship as finance minister, until the Jamaica Labour Party's defeat in last December's election.
But that is all right. Politics is not expected to be an overly sterile exercise.
Major, unsustainable crisis
What is more important, in our view, is that Mr Shaw mostly disagreed on substantive issues. He suggested, like us, that Dr Phillips might have moved faster on the supply side of tax reform to help to stimulate growth. And there were criticism of the formulation of some tax measures.
But none of these betrayed any fundamental disagreement on the fact that our debt burden of 130 per cent of GDP is the major, unsustainable crisis facing Jamaica, or broad strategy that must be followed to fix it. Except, perhaps, that he has put back on the table for debate ex-prime minister Edward Seaga's proposal for a pegged exchange rate for the Jamaican dollar.
We hope others will heed the widsom of Mr Shaw's, like Dr Phillips', call for honest debate.
Said Mr Shaw: "It is time for us to lift the bar of public discourse where our people can feel the combined energy of a dynamic democracy at work for and on behalf of we, the people of Jamaica, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary."
This newspaper agrees.
We have noted the government's struggle, as was confirmed by Justice Minister Mark Golding, to meet the J$500 a day paid to jurors to help meet their expenses.
It may not be the main cause, but it contributes to the shortage of jurors that helps to slow down and clog the court system. That is bad for justice.
We have a suggestion. Perhaps members of parliament would agree to the reallocation of the nearly $1 billion from the pork barrel called the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to the justice ministry to compensate jurors, at a rate substantially higher than $500 a day.
We expect that Daryl Vaz would be the first to agree.
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