Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has denounced the Portia Simpson Miller-led administration for its spending on high-end sport utility vehicles for ministers while the country is facing austerity measures.
Holness, scoffing at Simpson Miller's recent attempts to justify the purchase of the vehicles, declared that had he been the prime minister, it could not have happened.
"I take a very utilitarian approach to governance. I am not going to say because it is the policy, it has to be done," Holness told members of the Negril Chamber of Commerce during its quarterly luncheon in Westmoreland on Saturday afternoon.
"I never drove a government vehicle," Holness argued, adding that his predecessor, Bruce Golding, resisted buying a new vehicle when he was prime minister, opting instead for an old one from the fleet.
PM's car broke down
The Volvo Golding inherited from Simpson Miller after he took office in 2007 soon became a topic of public discourse after it broke down on multiple occasions.
Holness' claim about his predecessor is borne out in the fact that rather than accepting a new vehicle, Golding opted for a Mercedes-Benz which had already been in the fleet at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But with regard to Holness' claim about not driving a government vehicle, it was reported in the media last November that he chose to utilise a BMW from the foreign affairs fleet as he was too tall for the Benz previously used by Golding.
On Saturday, the opposition leader claimed that, as prime minister, he only used a fleet vehicle when his personal motor car was out of service.
The Government has been facing public criticism since it revealed last week that more than $60 million has been spent to purchase motor vehicles for its ministers who took office after the People's National Party won the December 2011 general election.
"Why did we (government ministers at the time) take a 10 per cent salary cut and the PM take a 15 per cent? Because we felt it was important, not just as a symbol, but in solidarity with the people," Holness said.
He argued that if his government was going to ask the people in the country to bear austerity, "then we have to bear austerity too".
Holness said: "You can't come to me dodging around telling people that salary freeze, possibly there may be cuts in the civil sector, yet you are buying expensive vehicles."
He admitted that ministers of government are entitled to certain standards, but argued that economical ways can be found to ensure those standards are maintained.
The opposition leader blasted the Government, even as he stated he had no intention of trying to destabilise the country or create any nightmares for the ruling party.
Addressing the subject of governance, he said a plan needed to be communicated to the nation's citizens.
"I want to hear of a plan, whether it is a plan to restore the economy, a plan for education, health, environment, I want to hear it articulated, Jamaicans are waiting to be inspired. Jamaicans are waiting to be shown the way," he argued.