Peter’s salvo

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Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips yesterday fired a fresh salvo of criticism at the Government on a range of issues including corruption, inequality, and the performance of the economy as he outlined the People’s National Party’s (PNP) proposals for inclusive growth.

At the same time, he blamed the Government for failed bipartisan efforts so far to create consensus on a replacement for the states of emergency (SOEs) in fighting crime.

According to Dr Phillips, since December last year, the Opposition has been urging the Government to use the powers of the more intense zones of special operations (ZOSOs) in the crime-affected areas, including Mount Salem in St James and Denham Town in Kingston, which already has ZOSOs in operation.

However, the opposition leader, who was making his presentation to the 2019/20 Budget Debate at Gordon House, admitted that his PNP has also been urging the Government that, in addition to the ZOSOs, there was need for a “crime-fighting plan” which would involve amending the legislative framework and building national consensus.

In terms of the need for the PNP and the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to resume cooperation on crime fighting — as was the case prior to the breakdown which led to the Opposition withdrawing its support for the SOEs, thereby denying the Government the required two-thirds majority vote for the continuation of the measure — Phillips said that the talks which followed at Vale Royal have not advanced since their first meeting on January 7.

Dr Phillips said that a second meeting set for January 16 was cancelled and with no new date being set, meetings involving the churches, the private sector, human rights groups, the trade unions, and the NGOs have also been delayed since then.

“Mr Prime Minister, set the date. We will come, as we need to build a national consensus as we unite against crime,” Phillips said.

Phillips also outlined the Opposition’s proposals for what he described as inclusive growth and gave a charge to Jamaicans to “Beware of Holness’ promises”.

He criticised the Holness Administration for what he said was its failure to rebuild the rural economy, and proposed a “national mobilisation of resources” to rebuild the rural communities.

“The collapse of export agriculture and, in particular, sugar, and the failure to modernise domestic agriculture has left the majority of Jamaicans who live in rural Jamaica facing poverty, and has opened the doors for the proliferation of crime,” Phillips said.

“The PNP’s plan for rebuilding rural Jamaica calls for the national mobilisation of resources, to provide for quality education and training in order to create the kind of labour force that can:

• modernise agricultural production, with coffee, cocoa, cannabis, and other high value crops;

• expand economic opportunities with agro-processing, community tourism, music, sports, and other creative industries in which Jamaica has established unique brand and advantage;

• provide jobs through climate change adaptation and mitigation; and

• add jobs in the knowledge and innovation industry of the new economy,” Phillips said.

He accused the Government of accommodating “rampant levels of bared-face corruption”, which, he said, had caught the attention of the International Monetary Fund, and urged the Administration to reduce the General Consumption Tax from the current 16.5 per cent in order to stimulate growth.

He said that a PNP Government would reduce the export of raw bauxite from Jamaica and prioritise export of alumina to get value-added from the “diminishing” resource, and would seek a return to the use of the bauxite levy as a critical source of income.

Phillips also reiterated his party conference commitment to establish its proposed “first in the family” scholarships, and to subject the repayment of students’ loans to the employment of the student.

The opposition leader committed his party to bringing an end to the system of contract work which, he said, cost people who are employed under such conditions benefits such as vacation and sick leave, limited working hours, protection from wrongful dismissals, and no pension after retirement.

He also urged the prime minister to reverse the sale of the Bernard Lodge Estate lands, as “too many assets are being siphoned off”, and reiterated his proposal from last year’s budget debate to embark on a massive land-titling programme to allow for “easier, speedier and more affordable ownership” if his party is returned to Government.

The debate will resume next Tuesday with the contribution from Holness and will be closed on Wednesday by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke.

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