Fri | Jan 28, 2022

Holness, Golding square off over vax campaign

Published:Sunday | October 17, 2021 | 12:08 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
Nicholas Nunes/Photographer 
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (left) discussing the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine with Trishana Jonas (right) in Scott Hall, St Mary, on Friday.
Nicholas Nunes/Photographer Prime Minister Andrew Holness (left) discussing the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine with Trishana Jonas (right) in Scott Hall, St Mary, on Friday.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding.
File Opposition Leader Mark Golding.

It started out as a Twitter spat between Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding over the Government’s COVID-19 vaccination blitz tours islandwide, which were supposed to include the Opposition to show unity and encourage vaccine-hesitant Jamaicans to become inoculated.

By late Saturday, it dissolved into contention and disagreement over the exclusion of Golding – and the call that reportedly never came for him to bring “greetings” – despite several tours in which Holness and his senior Cabinet ministers have participated.

Most visible has been Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie, under whose ministry the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) has been used to manage the process of sanctions and national focus.

Incensed by what he viewed as a snub to the Opposition, Golding, the president of the People’s National Party (PNP), charged that the vaccination public-education drive was being used by the ruling Jamaica Labour Party to campaign for the local government polls due by February 2022.

It prompted the Opposition to call on Holness to sign a memorandum of understanding not to hold the elections before February.

Yesterday, in a PNP media release, Golding again complained that the Opposition has been excluded from all aspects of what was supposed to be a unity campaign.

“I have been calling for the Disaster Risk Management Council to be used as a vehicle for making the major decisions related to the country’s management of the COVID-19 crisis. I have been calling for the council to meet, but those calls have gone unanswered. The PM wrote to me on the 1st of September, saying that he wanted me to be a part of a national vaccination effort and that his office would provide further details; however, those details have not been provided,” Golding said, adding that other opposition members of parliament have also been “excluded from that process”.

Golding said that his participation in vaccination drives has been limited to one he arranged in his St Andrew Southern constituency, and another based on an invitation from neighbouring St Andrew South Western MP Dr Angela Brown Burke, a PNP vice-president.

Neither JLP General Secretary Dr Horace Chang nor Chairman Robert Montague could be reached for comment. Holness’ Twitter account had also not responded and the JLP did not release a statement on Golding’s last comments that there was no follow-through on his promised engagement.

The country’s private sector has urged the nation’s leaders to avoid tainting the vaccination drive with politics.

Bickering among the leaders amid high levels of hesitancy – premised largely on religion, lack of scientific rigour, underlying health factors and fallacies, as well as downright refusals – may scuttle the efforts to drive up the numbers from the reported 12.3 per cent of the population fully vaccinated up to last Thursday.

The latest spat came on the day when the PNP was holding a private session of its annual conference, which was hosted at the Creative Production and Training Centre studios with delegates participating virtually because of COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings.

There was no challenge to the presidency of Golding, who will celebrate his first anniversary since winning a presidential run-off on November 7.

The four vice-presidential nominations of Norman Scott, Richard Azan, Ian Hayles and Eugene Kelley were also ratified after no contest.

Acting PNP Chairman Horace Dalley guided yesterday’s activities and delegates were placed in virtual breakout sessions for interactive exercises designed by chair of the unity committee, Maxine Henry-Wilson.

The conference continues today, first with a private session, which will end at 1 p.m., then a public session to start at 1:30 p.m.