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No free ride for the PNP - Civil groups reject claim that they have gone silent since the JLP ousting

Published:Sunday | October 7, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Bishop Robert Thompson (standing) offers prayer to kick off the first Cabinet meeting of the Portia Simpson Miller administration in January. - File

The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC) is rubbishing claims that it is giving the People's National Party (PNP) administration an easy ride.

The JCSC, which counts among its members several influential non-governmental organisations, has faced criticisms in recent weeks that it has gone silent in the wake of the PNP's victory in the 2011 general election, after being very strident while the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) formed the government.

"I am appalled that to date I hear very little from the same civil society and the media, which were so vocal under the last government," argued one writer to The Gleaner recently.

"What has happened to the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, the Jamaica Council of Churches, the National Integrity Action, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Alliance, ... etc?" added the letter writer as he echoed a view often stated by Delano Seiveright, former head of the JLP affiliate, Generation 2000.

But last week, members of the JCSC used a Gleaner Editors' Forum to scoff at the claim, even as they admitted that some key voices now speaking out in civil society came from a PNP-aligned background.

"It's an understandable criticism because a number of those of us in civil society have come from the left, if you want. Let's admit that openly because I certainly did," declared JCSC member Horace Levy, who represents the Peace Management Initiative.

"Perhaps we have given them a little breathing space since they have just come into office, but we are not letting them up in the least," added Levy as he pointed to the recent open letter from the JCSC to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

"We are not letting them off the hook. We have not indulged in any vitriol or any attacks because that's just not our style."


Levy was supported by JCSC chairperson Carol Narcisse, who argued that over the past nine months, much of the engagement with the Simpson Miller administration has taken place outside of the public glare and at several levels.

"One is the public advocacy which you will see in things like open letters and press releases, but the other level at which we work is directly with ministries, departments and agencies," said Narcisse.

"So [when] an issue arises, we invite the relevant minister to speak with us about what the Government's plans are, and we assemble civil society organisation, in particular those organisations that have an expertise in the issue that minister is addressing," added Narcisse.

She pointed to the major fire at the Riverton City landfill in February, and noted that after a member of the JCSC, the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET), wrote to the ministries involved and received no response, the coalition put its muscle behind the organisation and sent off a letter signed by representatives of several organisations.

According to Narcisse, that letter was responded to by all three government ministers involved and the JCSC subsequently met with the ministers and outlined the proposals which had been developed by JET.

"We are taking an approach that says the advocacy is important, the public pronouncements are important, but at the end of the day, you have to do the work that is necessary. Put forward what is the alternative you are calling for and then hold those ministries, department and agencies to account ... ."

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) also scoffed at the claim that it has relaxed its watchdog role because the PNP now forms the government.

"Our advocacy position has always been what is good for growth in Jamaica, regardless of which party is in power, and we have always taken the position that there is a place for policy formation, a place for discussion and behind-the-scenes lobbying ... and there is a place for speaking out when we have hit a brick wall.

"I will think that if you look at the PSOJ's approach across all administrations, our position has remained fairly constant," said Chris Zacca, PSOJ president.