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Editorial | Reconvene Vale Royal Talks, with a twist

Published:Thursday | September 14, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Early in his premiership, this newspaper suggested to Andrew Holness that he relaunch the Vale Royal Talks. A year and a half into his administration, he hasn't heeded our advice. He should. The circumstances warrant it.

For anyone who doesn't know or may not remember, the Vale Royal Talks were initiated a decade and a half ago by the former prime minister, P.J. Patterson. The aim was to seek political consensus on matters that the society believed should be above the cut and thrust of partisanship. Crime and education were at the top of the list.

In their own time, Mr Holness' two immediate prime ministerial predecessors, Portia Simpson Miller and Bruce Golding, convened the sessions. We don't know if, or how involved, Mr Holness may have been in these discussions. During the Golding administration, though, he was the education minister - a portfolio that would have been focus of attention. At the time of Vale Royal, he was already a member of parliament and a protege of the then opposition leader, Edward Seaga.

The discussions at Vale Royal weren't, and can't be, a panacea to Jamaica's problems. Nor are they expected to rob the elected executive of, or extricate it from, its reasonability to govern. But they helped in the past to ease tensions in the society, as well as provided a forum in which the political parties reached agreement on matters that threatened to be divisive.

Mr Holness leads a Government that has a majority of a single parliamentary seat.

"I believe the mandate is saying that we may not be on the same side of the road, but as much as possible, we should hold hands in cooperation to overcome obstacles for the good of the country," he said at his inauguration.

That was the context in which we exhorted the prime minister to launch a new round of the talks and the logic upon which we repeat the call. Many of the issues, in particular, crime, which impelled Mr Patterson to the first session, are again on the national agenda, insisting upon our urgent attention.

Nearly 1,200 people have been murdered in Jamaica already this year, a jump of around a quarter over 2016. The declaration of Mount Salem, St James, as a zone of special operations under the administration's latest crime-fighting initiative, has not slowed the national bloodletting. Even the choice of Mount Salem as the first such zone, on faulty crime data, mired the action in controversy. The Mount Salem debacle suggests the need for a wider group than now exists to decide on these special zones.


Broad national dialogue


Peter Phillips has proposed a broad national dialogue to agree on strategies to deal with the crisis, with an independent body - similar to those that have tracked the country's agreements with the IMF - to monitor their implementation. We agree! For there is no more pressing a problem facing Jamaica. Its solutions will require the buy-in of the broadest base of Jamaicans, as well as the parties who have largely fostered the social and political environment in which gangs and criminality thrive.

Against this backdrop, it would be politically strategic for Mr Holness to commit the Opposition to a radical reform agenda, if that is his disposition. That agenda might include the dissolution of the admittedly corrupt and inefficient Jamaica Constabulary Force and the reconstitution of a new national police body, with a different leadership. However, this round of Vale Royal Talks ought not to be limited to politicians. The private sector should also be at the table to help keep them honest.