If there is ever a week in politics that should capture the attention of Jamaicans, the one, which began yesterday, holds claim to being one such. Not only is Jamaica about to witness the official start of a duel for the leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) between Andrew Holness and Audley Shaw, but the governing People's National Party (PNP) will also be on show.
The PNP, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, will be staging its annual conference from September 19 to 22, and it will be interesting to see if the party, which won the 2011 general election by a ratio of 2:1 is still popular among Jamaicans. Let's see how it will be able to get people to cram into the National Arena to sing the praises of the leaders, who are yet to deliver a single quarter of economic growth since taking power.
For the sake of the country, we hope both political parties resist the temptation to use the events to advance their narrow interests. In fact, we believe both events present ideal opportunities for both our leaders and the general population to reflect on the journey on which we have come thus far and to commit to advancing Project Jamaica.
The Gavel, however, will not be fooled into believing that politics and ambitions will be cast aside by those who stand to benefit. We note, for example, during last week's sitting of the House of Representatives where Holness tried his best to convince perhaps himself, and others, that he is best suited to lead the JLP and thus hold the position of leader of the Opposition. Thus, following a statement from Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller on her recent trip to China, Holness sprang to his feet with what should have been some searching questions, but many of which turned out to be a lollipop, despite coming off a long run-up.
All this time, Shaw was campaigning to delegates in eastern Jamaica to make him the JLP leader, never mind the Parliament was just coming back from recess. The small committee meetings on the opposition side of the aisle tell the story of a divided house, seeking desperately to get its act together. Holness held a brave face, but the prospects of him being kicked out and tossed aside would have been real in his head. If he ceases to be opposition leader, it would be a major setback to his ambition of becoming prime minister again. Also, he would suffer an immediate paycut, and would have to pack his bags and leave his comfortable office at 1 West King's House Close, Kingston 6.
Perhaps Holness may do well to follow the advice of Simpson Miller. "I just want to say, I have been there, I understand. You had your eyes on me then, you know what to do," she told Holness last week. Simpson Miller in 2008 held off the challenge of Dr Peter Phillips, now her finance minister, to retain leadership of the PNP.
Politics and elections aside, we hope the country's representatives are attuned to the task to ensure the success of Project Jamaica. Starting with the Parliament, our legislators may do well to follow the tones set by Speaker of the House, Michael Peart, and Senate President Floyd Morris at the start of business in their respective sittings this past week. Both men appealed for order and decency in the Parliament, noting that this is expected to be a robust legislative term and there is no place for time-wasting.
Outside of the Parliament, the Cabinet, led by Simpson Miller, must buckle down and deliver real progress, not lip service, to Jamaica. Simpson Miller will address her party's conference with the country in the guts of a recession, and unemployment at its highest in nearly a decade. But it is not time to lose hope. The experts have said that Jamaica stands to climb out of the abyss in which we have dug ourselves if we are able to implement the Extended Fund Facility signed in March with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The programme set the target of having legislation to safeguard the economy against election spending and other reckless spending implemented by March next year. Tax reform and the public sector are also due by March next year, but the programme ensures that they will have to be implemented, giving Jamaica a chance to exhale at last.
While Jamaica's salvation does not rest with the IMF programme, it should by now be clear to us that without it we are like wandering sheep in the midst of a pack of wolves. It is for this reason we hope the Opposition will resist the temptation to self-destruct, and in some way become an obstacle to economic advancement. Similarly, the Government has got to shake up its folly ground and start talking to Jamaicans, in no uncertain terms, communicating the fact that the country has to pass through hell before we get to paradise.
The Gavel fears, however, that our stop at hell's gate could be inordinately long, especially if the Government fails to undertake tax and public-sector reforms with both dispatch and due regard for all Jamaicans.
We will be watching the platforms of Shaw and Holness, and we will be listening to Simpson Miller and Phillips at the PNP's conference this weekend. Let's hope good sense will prevail and that nothing happens during this festival of politics that will lead to our programme being hopelessly derailed.
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