Golding declares PNP uninterested in moving to a republic while retaining UK Privy Council
In a charged atmosphere on Sunday, People’s National Party (PNP) President Mark Golding electrified the base of the opposition party, unrepentantly declaring his intent to push back hard against pressure from opponents as the organisation claws its way from the political wilderness.
“Whatever depraved and divisive vulgarities my political opponents may stoop to in their desperation to hold on to power, I will not be daunted. I have no fear of them,” Golding told hundreds of flag-waving Comrades, a slew of darts aimed at his ability to lead the PNP.
“I stand firm in leading our party in our mission of social and economic transformation to a better Jamaica for all our people,” he continued, in a speech that lasted just over an hour in front of a jam-packed National Arena.
The opposition leader, in his third year as head of the 85-year-old political movement, doubled down on his stance taken a week ago to “break every chain that is holding the country back”.
This includes the removal of King Charles as Jamaica’s head of state and a departure from the Privy Council as its final appellate court, Golding insisted.
“We need to decolonise Jamaica once and for all. We the PNP have no interest in moving to a republic while retaining the King’s Privy Council in London as Jamaica’s final court. That does not make sense,” said Golding.
He said the PNP has no interest in moving forward without twinning the two.
A two-thirds majority is needed in both Houses of Parliament to make changes to deeply entrenched clauses of the Jamaican Constitution.
Political commentator Dr Nadeen Spence said it was clear from Golding’s delivery that no support would be given to the Government’s constitutional reform agenda on the matter.
Spence, who sits on the Constitutional Reform Committee, said a number of bodies, including the Jamaican Bar Association, have placed on record support for Jamaica to adopt the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as its final appellate court.
But, she said, while the Government supports stepping away from the Privy Council, the matter of where the country heads next must be thoroughly discussed and agreed upon.
“If there’s an issue, I think that’s where it is,” she told The Gleaner, adding that there are Jamaicans who have reservations about the CCJ.
The opposition leader has asserted, however, that his party will not compromise on having the CCJ as the final court, noting that Jamaicans need a court where they don’t require a visa to travel to and where the costs are not out of their reach.
In the same breath, he said the PNP’s mission is to move the country from fiscal stability to economic transformation.
He said this cannot be done unless there is significant investment in education and training, pointing to statistics that show 30 per cent of children leaving primary school illiterate and approximately 50 per cent not having basic numeracy or comprehension skills.
He said those deficits in education and training leave Jamaicans behind in the global workforce.
Among his plans for the education sector is the formal recognition of the Jamaican language. This, he said, will help in advancing learning in English, arithmetic, and critical thinking.
Golding emphasised that a major cause of underachieving primary-school performance is rooted in the assumption that English is the home language of Jamaican children.
He said the PNP would also reintroduce civics in schools, remove the need for student loan guarantors and incentivise partnerships between state-training institutions and private-sector companies with strong training capacity to address the shortage of workers that is becoming a major factor in the underinvestment in the Jamaican economy.
On the matter of energy, Golding said its cost is unsustainably high, making it difficult for the economy to compete globally.
He said the next PNP government would introduce a programme to assist households in regularising their electricity consumption. This would include the installation of solar panels in people’s homes.
He said an administration led by him would establish a national research and development council, bringing relevant institutions together from within the state, academia, the private sector, and trade unions to develop, monitor, and evaluate a national research and development strategy.
Golding is also promising to revamp the Employee Share Ownership Plan Act, giving existing owners incentives to facilitate their employees acquiring a piece of the pie.
“It is also time to increase the income tax threshold from $1.5 million to at least $3 million to take account of the high levels of inflation since it was last reset seven years ago and to give a reasonable buffer for ongoing inflation,” he said.
At the same time, the PNP president wants more from tourism, arguing that the sector is not contributing enough to the economy.
Golding said large hotels have adopted what he calls an “enclave model”, where guests enjoy their entire visit by staying within the hotel or going on tours organised by the hotel.
He is pledging that a future PNP government will transition away from that model to “a more inclusive” one that is integrated into the Jamaican economy.
“We will provide incentives to hotels which integrate their business models with the local community and economy,” he said.
This, he said, is part of the PNP’s plan for social transformation, an area he claimed that the Government has “failed miserably” to tackle.
Golding said the Andrew Holness-led administration has failed in keeping his promise to make Jamaica a place where Jamaicans can sleep with windows and doors open and to deliver five per cent growth in four years.
Stressing that Jamaica had the worst murder rate in Latin America and the Caribbean at 52.9 murders per 100,000 people, Golding decried this as unacceptable.
Among his solutions is legislation in the works to enable the police to take dangerous criminals off the streets for a suggested 42 days under a court-supervised process that allows a prosecutable case to be built, where there is credible intelligence that needs to be turned into evidence.
“Those who choose a life of badness and won’t change their ways will face severe consequences. We will be resolute in coming down on those who insist on perpetuating badness.
“From the law-enforcement perspective, what is required is carefully designed legislation that allows spearfishing that enables the effective prosecution of dangerous criminals, not casting a wide net that makes the many who are good suffer for the few who are bad,” he said.
Other elements in his prepared text were not addressed as Golding’s speech was cut short in part due to a disruption in the sound system at the venue.
Political scientist Dr Christopher Charles summed up Golding’s delivery as one of a “wide-ranging and useful set of ideas”.
Charles, a professor in political and social psychology at The University of the West Indies, Mona, said those ideas range from investing in education and training, including early childhood education and teacher training that are relevant to a high-tech and high-growth economy; teaching Garveyism in schools; reforming the student-loan system, tackling food security, energy, agriculture, climate change; creating a national research development council; constitutional reform, including removing the king and the Privy Council at the same time; human rights; special economic zones; investments in small businesses; and legislatively empowering the police to take dangerous criminals off the streets.
Charles said the important context was that party leaders in general have a “dismal” record of moving their ideas to transformative public policies when they form the government.
He said there are many cross-cutting imperfections that foster persistent poverty in the country.
“Therefore, we need to hear a lot more over time from Mark Golding about exactly how he is going to get these things done if the PNP forms the next government,” Charles told The Gleaner.
He said if the PNP is serious, its ideas must be crafted into policies that are taken across the country to get feedback from the people.
“Moreover, Jamaica is in the middle-income country trap that we can’t seem to get out of. Jamaica is behind high-income developing countries that are struggling to make it into the First World club. Therefore, the county needs well-thought-out and concrete policy examples that are widely circulated and discussed throughout the country,” Charles said.