The challenge of renewal
published: Sunday September 21, 2008
Source: Jamaica Gleaner
Once the People's National Party's (PNP) leadership has settled in there are many questions to which it must turn its mind. The party has provided vital national, regional and global leadership in its 70-year history. It now has a choice between stagnation if it allows internal divisions to cripple its mission, and revitalisation if the new collective leadership can be moved by the inspiration of old.
The crises of our times require not stasis but activism. What will the winning team do about the critical situation we find ourselves in today? We live in a world where, for example, Haiti next door has to pay between US$5 million and US$6 million a month in debt service to rich countries, while the government can only afford to spend US$875,000 on the victims of four successive hurricanes/tropical storms that have killed many and devastated much. We need global economic reform as much now as in the 1970s, and Jamaica must re-establish its role in the reform movement.
In this absurd world, a food crisis exists and our own Caribbean governments are prepared to sign an economic partnership agreement with Europe to open up our economies in the same way that the IMF had forced Haiti to do in the 1980s, with the result that that country's rice industry was killed off by foreign competition, compounding its acute food crisis today.
We must not sign away rights to our markets before making ourselves more self-reliant in food. We need leadership that promotes greater self-reliance.
STRAIN ON REGIONALISM
This global crisis has created a great strain on regionalism. How will the party's leadership mend the broken fences of CARICOM, so badly breached after just a year since the party was last in office? Different members are going their separate ways on the EPA, political unity, and food security.
Can the new leadership restore Jamaica's pride of place among the African and Pacific countries that want a better world order, now that Jamaica has decided to defect to the EPA and Europe's new global ambitions? Will the leadership elected today get CARICOM to think seriously again about the Caribbean Court of Justice, the Single Market and Economy, a CARICOM Commission, and those other vital institutions needed for mature regionalism? Is the new leadership going to reassess globalisation under the present crises of energy, food and climate change?
There are hard questions to face about our domestic economy, as well. What will the new PNP leadership do about the all-inclusive tourism industry, which the Planning Institute of Jamaica, founded by Norman Manley, now shows to have failed the communities of these tourism parishes found to be among the poorest in the country? Will the new leadership recommit to making Jamaica achieve developed country status in a realistic time frame and, if so, how will it change our non-compliant society in which 50 per cent of property taxes, 80 per cent of company taxes and most individual income taxes, except for PAYE, are not being paid? What is the plan for the energy-efficient and climate-friendly re-industrialisation of Jamaica in which communities are integrated into production and benefit from the gains of production, and where alternative energy and greater food security are central to a sustainable economy?
What new and fresh ideas will it come with towards the Jamaican diaspora and its investment potential, and how will it convert the high levels of leakage of our best educated and trained persons to overseas markets to our benefit? Can the party tap into the talents of Jamaicans in ways that show good financial returns on our investments in developing these talents so that we can produce even more talent?
What will the party's new leadership do to remove the suspicions of corruption among its ranks? How will the new PNP leadership fight to reform campaign finance laws that prevent parties from raising enormously unaccountable amounts of money in a world where transnational criminals and selfish business lobbies pervade government and politics, and where both of our parties stand accused of being caught up in that mess?
protecting social gains
How will the new party leaders protect the social gains in poverty reduction from the high cost of food and living expenses, considering that the Inter-American Development Bank has warned that the poverty rate could jump from 14 per cent to 26 per cent? Does the party have a plan to prevent social instability from breaking out, as has been the case in many countries as a result of these price rises? By what measures will the new PNP leadership cushion us against the energy and food crises without contributing to ecological disaster?
How is this new PNP going to deal once and for all with crime in all its aspects, the violent nature of society in the home and on the street, and will it take a position one way or the other on the death penalty? Will the PNP leadership restore a workable arrangement with principals for financing schools? Is the party going to emphasise family and community, and how to build peace and healthy relations between the people in them, as it has tried before?
Will the party's new leadership give better constitutional protection to the Public Service Commission from prime ministerial dictatorship, and will it stand firmly on dual citizenship so that politicians do not have a visa with which to flee to a foreign country should they be wanted to account to authorities here? Will a new-look PNP leadership restore the role of the ministry of local government and get local government reform back on track in such a way to make reform really matter to people's lives? How can the party make people have confidence in local government so that the system that Norman Manley defended 60 years ago is not abolished, as Alexander Bustamante threatened to do back then?
freshened up leadership
Will a freshened-up leadership of the Opposition produce plans to make government leaner and more effective? Will it limit the size of government to 16 persons, as it was a year ago, rather than giving jobs to everyone elected, or by nominating loyalists as a return for political favours? What plans are there for us to get more out of ministers and ministries? What plans does it have to make the executive less expensive, considering that it is the most expensive it has ever been? Does the new PNP executive intend to curb the power of its own executive in government, considering the aggrandisement of the power of the prime minister at present through the concentration of power formerly falling under separate ministries in the prime minister's hands?
scrutiny of parliament
Is the new-look PNP prepared to require that appointees to boards undergo the scrutiny of Parliament and to make sure that 'watchdog' agencies are not compromised by special interests in carrying out their responsibilities? Does it feel that it can wipe out corruption in pubic life, including that in the justice system?
Does this new leadership remain committed to its party manifesto plans of 2007? After settling its elections, the new leadership must answer these many and sometime difficult questions if it is to become a government-in-waiting.
Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, University of the West Indies, Mona.