Waite taking nothing for granted in St Elizabeth North Eastern

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SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Back in February 2016, with its constituency organisation divided and hundreds of traditional supporters actively supporting independent candidate Delroy Slowley, the People’s National Party (PNP) still took St Elizabeth North Eastern by 1,524 votes.

But current PNP standard-bearer Basil Waite is taking no chances. He insists he won’t be weakened by complacency in the final approach to the September 3 General Election in which he will be opposed by Slowley, now representing the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

“In politics, if your opponent is like a mouse you treat (him) like a lion,” Waite told journalists following his nomination in Santa Cruz on August 18.

“My focus is on winning the election. We are treating it as if it’s the most difficult campaign ever in the history of the world so that on the night of the 3rd, we will have (taken the seat for the PNP),” he said.

Flanked by outgoing Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth North Eastern Evon Redman, and councillor for the Balaclava Division Everton Fisher whom he defeated in a delegates’ vote two years ago to become the PNP’s standard-bearer, Waite said organisational unity had been achieved. The job now was to focus on election day, he said.

“I am not coming by myself, and my own experience and ideas, (I am) buttressed by a strong team in the leadership of the constituency. We have looked at the work that the former MP has done and how we can build on that. For right now it is about winning election, all the ideas we have, all the manifestos we have, means absolutely nothing because… politics is not a beauty contest. There is no runner-up or second runner up; there is a winner.

“So we need to ensure that come the night of the 3rd of September the people of North Eastern St Elizabeth (have bought) into the vision that we offer and understand that better days are truly coming,” said Waite.

His pragmatism and absence of triumphal rhetoric perhaps reflects the hard road Waite has had to travel to get to this stage, though as he told journalists on Nomination Day, he had been “prepared” for high office all his life.

Native to neighbouring St Elizabeth North Western, Waite – born to a mother who was a teacher and a community and political activist father— came seamlessly through as student leader at university, and president of the PNP Youth Organisation.

He has worked at the World Bank and as an adviser to government.

After then MP Kern Spencer was displaced because of corruption charges in relation to the Cuban light bulb scandal —which were eventually thrown out — the ever-popular Waite was overwhelmingly chosen by PNP delegates as their candidate for St Elizabeth NE in 2010.

But with the December 2011 election close at hand, the PNP chose to replace Waite with Raymond Pryce for unexplained reasons.

Waite’s star dimmed further in 2014 when he was arrested on a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice. But the prosecution’s case fizzled and the highly articulate Waite was soon back in the reckoning, appointed deputy general secretary of the PNP.

By the 2016 election, Pryce had withdrawn from St Elizabeth NE following upheaval in the PNP constituency organisation, to be replaced by Redman as the PNP’s candidate.

Within two years, Redman, a Santa Cruz businessman, formally indicated to his party he would not be contesting the next election.

That paved the way for Waite to cruise past Fisher in the delegates’ poll that followed.

On Nomination Day (August 18), Waite named five priorities should he gain election as MP for St Elizabeth NE on September 3: Water, agriculture/agro-processing, infrastructure, technology training and education.

He boasted of PNP representation resulting in a $43-million water project “99 per cent completed” in Aberdeen, northern St Elizabeth; and of approval gained for a $220-million scheme to “overhaul the entire water system in Balaclava”. Smaller projects had been completed in a number of communities, he said.

In agriculture, the closure of the Appleton sugar factory had underlined the need to modernise agriculture and to “make it attractive to young people”.

Closure at Appleton was “a death blow to the local economy and we have to be agile and astute and have ideas and work together and engage the stakeholders, to see how we are going to transform that situation,” Waite said.

Repairing roads would be an important part of his programme as Member of Parliament, but also, he would be focusing on the urgent housing needs of young professionals.

With young people in mind, Waite identified technology training as a priority.

“We want to get e-learning in all the schools, computer labs in all the schools, Internet cafes in the communities, especially in the more far-to-reach communities, so young people/students there are not disenfranchised and can still get a quality education.

“We have got approval for four community access points for free Wi-Fi in Braes River, Santa Cruz, Siloah and Balaclava,” he said.

Waite promised that technology training would be rewarded with the establishment of “a BPO/call centre in Santa Cruz to provide jobs and opportunities for young people of NE St Elizabeth”.

A HEART skills training course which, he said, had been established in the constituency through a partnership between Redman and himself had facilitated graduation (on August 20) of 150 young people.

“Prior to this any young person who wanted to be getting a skills training certificate from HEART had to go to Black River, Junction or Mandeville,” he said.

Waite promised that the skills training programme would be extended to the Sydney Pagon High School and the St Elizabeth Technical High School.

He was intent on certification for all basic schools. At the primary school level he was aiming for “a minimum” 80 per cent literacy and numeracy rate as quickly as possible. And at the high school level, the aspiring MP said his aim was to help all to have access to the best facilities to eliminate existing inequalities and ensure students have access to the “best education”.

His vision, should he become MP, was in line with the age-old philosophy of the PNP to “raise the level of everyone”, not just a few, and to build an “egalitarian society” in St Elizabeth North Eastern and the wider Jamaica.

He insisted that the vision was achievable.

“What we are selling is not a pie in the sky,” said Waite.

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