If Andrew Holness' handlers have cause to complain about Audley Shaw's policy document in support of his campaign for the leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), it can hardly be the supposed theft of his ideas and plagiarism of his speech.
For, as Christopher Tufton, Mr Shaw's right-hand man on policy observed, neither candidate can claim proprietary right to ideas - no matter how curious it may seem that Mr Shaw posited his programme as 'Five Es', similar to Mr Holness' formulation in a speech more than a year ago.
Education, energy, employment, efficiency are, after all, critical to a growth-oriented economy and would have been expected to have floated around the councils of the JLP. If this is so, perhaps the more pertinent question is, why the move to unseat Mr Holness? Judging from this squabble, the differences in the JLP are not of policy, or substance.
Indeed, Mr Shaw's policy document, except in a few minor details, is no significant departure from the JLP norms; nor does it offer big, transformative ideas.
But more important, the document fails to provide an insight to Mr Shaw's thinking on, or how, as JLP leader and/or prime minister of Jamaica he would respond to the pressing economic issues of the day. We refer, specifically, to Jamaica's debt and the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (MF) to bring it under control.
J$1.8 TRILLION DEBT
That debt is J$1.8 trillion, or nearly one and a half times the value of the goods and services Jamaica produces in a year. It will, this fiscal year, take 88 per cent of all the income expected from taxes and grants to pay interest and principal on the debt.
With limited capacity to borrow, the Government has been forced into economic austerity. Its programme with the IMF requires it to run a primary surplus of 7.5 per cent of GDP.
Noticeably, Mr Shaw's document does not at all address this matter, or the fact that during his watch as finance minister an agreement with the IMF quickly collapsed. Mr Holness, it must be noted, was a member of that administration, which may not have had the discipline, or felt it necessary, to impose the tough reforms demanded by the IMF.
While we appreciate that this is an internal election, the candidates, by their approach to the campaign, and Mr Shaw in his publication of a policy document, understand its national import.
We, therefore, believe that Mr Shaw would not be unwilling to explain how, in the context of the debt and the IMF agreement, a government he leads would finance his proposed expenditures, including for a rural school bus service and bond offerings in support of small and micro-businesses. At least, Mr Shaw has placed some issues and a wish list on the table, albeit short of depth and without implementation strategies.
Mr Holness can't believe that as the incumbent he has a pass and a right to retain his party leadership. Nor is being first to enunciate 'Five Es' good enough. It is his turn to put substantive issues on the table.
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