Tue | Dec 7, 2021

Holness stands out … But corruption and crime bedevil JLP Government four years later

Published:Sunday | February 23, 2020 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue - Senior Sunday Gleaner Writer
Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Howard Mitchell
Peter Espeut
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Four years after he led the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to the thinnest electoral majority in the country’s political history, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has significantly improved his national standing and is now being viewed as “the country’s strongest political leader in the last decade”.

While careful not to make direct comparisons between Holness and his two immediate predecessors – prime ministers Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson Miller – leading businessman Howard Mitchell is giving a flattering assessment of the current head of government, days shy of the poll anniversary.

On February 25, 2016, final results showed the Holness-led JLP winning 32 seats over the People’s National Party (PNP) 31. A total of 436,972 persons, or 49.5 per cent of the total electorate of 882,389, voted for the JLP.

Since then, the JLP has increased its parliamentary majority, winning the 2017 St Mary South East by-election following the death of incumbent PNP Member of Parliament Dr Winston Green; and in 2019 the party won the Portland Eastern constituency, following the murder of incumbent Dr Lynvale Bloomfield (PNP) – a seat it had not won for more than three decades.

Next week, the JLP is expected to retain the Clarendon South East seat in a by-election scheduled for March 2. The PNP decided not to contest that election.

STRONG POLITICAL LEADER

“There is no question that Holness is the strongest political leader in the country right now,” Mitchell told The Sunday Gleaner, zeroing in on widescale road improvement works, evidenced on major thoroughfares.

He further credited Holness for his “astute use of social media, by getting on top of issues strategically”.

“Even if you catch him on the wrong foot, he rapidly recovers, and gets on top of them; by polishing those aspects of his persona that the market likes. That is standard strategy for the market, and he has done that very well,” Mitchell explained. “And by the way, he is getting stronger.”

Mitchell, who is the immediate past president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, was strongly supported by Daryl Vaz, the minister responsible for job creation in Holness’ Cabinet.

Vaz praised the prime minister for his handling of the economy – in particular creating jobs and reducing the rate of unemployment to record low levels – while overseeing unprecedented infrastructural development.

In its 2016 manifesto, the JLP had promised to put the country “back on the path to robust economic growth, facilitating broad and sustained job creation and employment for every Jamaican who is able and wants to work”.

Vaz said the JLP has delivered.

ECONOMIC GROWTH

“I am proud to be a part of the Cabinet and the team under Prime Minister Holness. The Government has performed well, despite only four years. Growth has been consistent for 19 quarters, and unemployment at an all-time low, from 12 per cent to 7.2,” the minister told The Sunday Gleaner.

“The Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation has played its part in facilitating investments and ensuring that hurdles are removed in bringing them to realisation in the fastest time possible.”

The 2018 Economic and Social Survey (ESS) published by the Planning Institute of Jamaica showed that the Jamaican economy and labour market continued on a positive growth trajectory following improvements in 2017.

“Infrastructure projects are completed, and many more to start,” Vaz said in view of the ESS, which highlighted the fact that “for the first time since 2016 and the financial crisis of 2007, the local economy experienced the highest growth level of 1.9 per cent. Tied to this was a strong showing in the labour market, with average annual employment achieving the highest ever recorded of 1,215,975, an increase of 1.3 per cent compared to the 1,200,575 persons in 2017.”

A 1.6 per cent reduction in the total labour force was noted, with the heavy exodus of nurses, teachers and other professionals.

“Holness has the potential to be the best PM in our history. He not only has the vision but he is connecting the dots to implement it and, most important, he has found ways to communicate and inspire confidence from all age groups and strata of the Jamaican society,” said Vaz.

‘DICTATORIAL TENDENCIES’

Critics, however, give the Government zero marks for combating crime and corruption, as well as enabling stakeholder participation on important issues. In fact, almost from the get-go, back-to-back corruption allegations have plagued the Holness administration.

“The Government is heavily tainted by corruption. And from my point of view, they don’t give the impression that they like to consult much on anything at all. They impose things without consultations. They are dogmatic, autocratic, and that’s problematic,” social commentator Peter Espeut told The Sunday Gleaner.

He said the Government’s “dictatorial tendencies” was evident in its approach to the Inswood/Bernard Lodge housing project, bauxite mining in the protected Cockpit Country, and the Port Royal cruise development project.

“They have very little consultations with stakeholders, and for me that is a major shortfall in leadership,” said Espeut.

He also cited the planned removal of Kingston’s largest green space (the race course) and the “so-called secret cybersecurity arrangement with Israel” as worrying trends marking Holness’ tenure.

“The dictatorial decrees from on high are not good,” he declared.

Mitchell expressed hope that as “a strong leader”, Holness “will see that his real strength lies in developing participation, in encouraging dialogue and taking into account diverse and different views. Not attempting to subvert them or to get around them.”

CORRUPTION, CRIME

“Every party in power has corruption, and neither party has properly dealt with it. Neither is transparent and neither is prepared to make conflict of interest a criminal offence. Political favourites will always get a free ride to be corrupt. People are just not listening to either of them, because they think they are all the same. We are indeed in a sad state,” Espeut said.

And even with several areas of Jamaica being under states of emergency or deemed zones of special operations, major crime continues to be a serious problem, the critics noted.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com