2012 Year In Review - Gov't faced with the fierce urgency of now
ONE YEAR ago, on December 29, 2011, the Peoples' National Party (PNP) handed the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) a crushing defeat by a margin of 42 seats to 21. It was a grand comeback for the PNP and its leader, Portia Simpson Miller, who were narrowly defeated by the JLP in 2007.
The PNP won the 2011 elections due to a number of factors, including, but not limited to:
1 Over 100,000 persons had lost their jobs under the JLP. If each of those who were working had an average of five dependents, it meant that 500,000 persons were directly affected. This was further aggravated by an economic programme, which resulted in the national debt moving from $950 billion to $1,600 billion.
2 Although he ditched the leadership of the JLP a few months prior to the elections, Bruce Golding, as prime minister, had lost his way. Arguing in defence of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke was the final nail in his coffin.
3 Many in the leadership of the JLP had gotten drunk on power. Arrogance, disrespect and 'lording' over their 'subjects' had become the order of the day. One minister classed the matron of the infirmary in Portland as 'ooman', while another political representative from Portland threatened to 'dig out' civil servants who did not support the JLP.
4 Portia Simpson Miller had regained the confidence of the people with her 'people power' mantra. She was able to galvanise increased support in every 'nook and cranny' of the country. While her critics were writing biting commentaries, and the armchair pollsters were predicting her doom and gloom, the people were speaking with their feet, as they hung on to her every word when she interfaced with them on the campaign trail.
5 The PNP, operating on a shoestring budget, had a far more organised party political machinery, as well as a far more acceptable political message. The manifesto, which remains the anchor of the party, and which informed the programmatic content of the party's messaging during the campaign, found greater resonance among the people.
It was this reality, among others, which forced the JLP to dump Golding and usher in Andrew Holness, whose first-time backsiding by the PNP, has left many in his own camp wondering, despite recent attempts to dust him off, if he has it in him to hold a traditionally rambunctious JLP together, much more lead it to victory in an election.
Now, one year later, a few of those same public commentators who had publicly predicted that Portia and the PNP would have lost the elections, are at it again, this time saying that she has failed in her first year.
It is in the context of massive failure by the JLP and superb organisation and clarity of programmatic enunciation by the PNP that Prime Minister Portia Simpson's Government's first year in office must be assessed.
The PNP's victory has taken the sting of arrogance and disrespect out of national governance. From her first week in office in 2012, Prime Minister Simpson Miller warned her ministers of government and state officials, that she would not be tolerating them talking down to those whom they serve.
She made it abundantly clear that she will be presiding over a Government where all stakeholders are treated equally, and that in the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-influenced talks with the representatives of the trade unions, the Government must not display a take-it-or-leave-it attitude as the JLP did.
The most taxing issue that faced the country when the Government took office in January 2011 was that of unemployment. This situation was massively aggravated by the economic policy of the JLP, which resulted in more persons losing their jobs within a four-year period than at any other time in the history of Jamaica.
In recognition of the urgent need to respond to this crisis, the Government created the Jamaica Employment Emergency Programme (JEEP) which, in the first phase, created 15,000 jobs, and in the second phase will provide over 35,000. JEEP is a temporary measure to deal with an immediate crisis.
It must also not be forgotten, that a few months ago, the Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, with the aim of creating a further 40,000 jobs.
The real long-term solution to the country's unemployment situation is the creation of sustainable employment by way of increased investments and business-oriented activities.
That is why the Government is actively pursuing mega projects such as the North-to-South leg of Highway 2000, the modernisation of the Kingston Container Terminal, the construction of a new container terminal at Fort Augusta, and the push to make Jamaica a logistics hub.
Critical to all of this is the emphasis being placed on energy conservation and the full use of the most modern form of technology to give support to the process.
The country displayed tremendous maturity in the execution of the plans undertaken to commemorate the country's 50th anniversary and the celebrations of the outstanding achievements
The work of the Government in this regard must not be underestimated or forgotten, because if the Government had gotten it wrong, the naysayers, and especially the anti-Portia elements, would have had a field day.
The Government has also been able to restore Jamaica's credibility in the eyes of the international community. It has been able to remove the image of the 'Duddusisation' of the country by the JLP, thus draining the stain of 'shame and scandal' from the eyes of the members of our large and invaluable diasporic community.
In relation to housing, education, water, roads, health care, sport, tourism, agriculture, justice and the protection of the most vulnerable, despite the ravages caused by hurricane Sandy and the persistent international recession, the Government has been able make significant strides in these areas.
The major challenges for the Government has largely been in four areas.
1. The failure to conclude a deal with the IMF by the end of the calendar year. This has resulted in uncertainty in the economy, with major investors holding back until the deal is concluded.
On October 22, 2012, the prime minister, while acknowledging that the Government was doing everything to complete the negotiations, stated that the Government has set out a programme of work which will impact the negotiations.
These include the wage negotiation with the public sector unions, action on tax waivers to severely reduce the amount given up by the Government and to limit the discretionary powers of the minister in this area, and defining an acceptable time frame for achieving the desired debt ratio.
To complete the negotiations and achieve consensus will require the continuation of hard bargaining to ensure that the interest of the country is fully protected. In this context, the aim is to achieve a Letter of Intent as soon as possible.
2. The second major challenge is that of the persistently high number of homicides, especially in Kingston and St James.
I am aware of the fact that the security forces have been working around the clock to deal with these issues. I am also aware of the fact that this issue is given a great deal of attention by the Government and the Ministry of National Security. However, despite the oversight given by those so charged, this problem persists. It is not a new issue, but it requires a new approach.
In its 2011 Manifesto, the PNP stated, "to effectively address the scourge of violent crime, the PNP will pursue a three-pronged approach to national security. These are institutional improvements, targeting organised crime and engendering trust". These remain laudable objectives, but the Government, working in tandem with the communities, has to quickly drag down the number of homicides taking place.
3. In a period of extreme austerity, there is greater need for increased sensitivity in Government's spend. The JLPs record in this area is scandalous and, therefore, it has no moral authority to comment on these matters. One just has to recall the evaporation of the funds under the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme, and the expenditure of $60 million on a Government house because a minister of government did not wish to live in "squalour".
The PNP Government, especially within the context of the "people power" mantra which pulled people under its banner in the election campaign, must be extremely judicious in how State funds are spent, ensuring that it gets value for money on every occasion.
I know that Prime Minister Simpson Miller is very particular in this regard, and she must continue to remind all and sundry of the party's election promise to be 'for the people' at all times.
4. Finally, communicating with the people. I am not here talking about, as some of the naysayers love to spout, Portia Simpson not communicating with the people. The facts do not support this assertion. The prime minister undertakes an average of four public speaking engagements per week. What is lacking are how sections of these presentations are thereafter promoted.
For example, the prime minister, as part of her 'conversation' with the people, attended and made major presentations in Spanish Town, May Pen and Montego Bay, yet apart from 'fly-by-night' excerpts, nothing in real terms have been packaged and consistently carried by the relevant agencies.
The different sections of the Government's public relations and marketing machinery need to be far more proactive and creative in the dissemination of information.
Of course, the Government must set the tone by being able to pre-empt criticisms and design and implement the necessary strategies to deal with the issues.
Having said this, however, an accomplishment of the Government has been its accommodation of the media. No one has stood in the path of media personnel as they go after their stories. Everything has been done to ensure that the media remains unfettered, and unencumbered, and so it must be in a democratic nation state.
One year in Government is a short time, but the immediacy of the matters at hand means that Government has to treat with every day as if there is no tomorrow. Jamaica's existing circumstances demonstrate the fierce urgency of now, and the need for each and every one of us to do what we can for the common good of all.
Delano Franklyn is an attorney-at-law and spokesman for the People's National Party. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.