PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller used the platform of the People’s National Party’s (PNP) 77th annual conference to tout an agenda of progress and prosperity, while saying very little on the issue of crime which many were expecting her to address.
On the issue of crime, which the Opposition on Friday insisted that the prime minister address at the conference, Simpson Miller said the Government is improving the operational capabilities of the security forces, and highlighted the passage of several pieces of legislation aimed at boosting crime-fighting, as well as the refurbishing of court facilities across a number of towns.
A passionate Simpson Miller also reminded party supporters inside the National Arena in Kingston that stricter laws are coming for those found guilty of rape and carnal abuse, and also parents who neglect their children.
But, for the most part, the party president’s speech focused on the Government’s achievement to include efforts to improve social security, through a $5.5-billion expenditure on social programmes, an additional $600 million for pensioners, and increases in grants to students under the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education. She also pointed to additional expenditure in the health and education sectors, as well as improved infrastructure across vulnerable communities.
Meanwhile, Simpson Miller chided the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) for its harsh criticisms of the Government’s policies and programmes, pointing out that up to September 2007, when the JLP took over, the economy was growing.
“The number of persons below the poverty line was less than 10 per cent…the unemployment rate was 9.6 per cent, the lowest in our history. Jamaica had eight consecutive quarters of positive economic growth up to 2007. Jamaica enjoyed good relationships with the multilateral agencies. Jamaica was headed in the right direction,” she told the mass of chanting, dancing, vuvuzela-blowing supporters.
The prime minister charged that when the JLP left office at the end of 2011, however, “the economy was in shambles”, although partially because of the global economic crisis, “but mainly because of poor management”.
She further accused the JLP of abandoning the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme and presiding over 14 consecutive quarters of negative growth. “We must never go back there,” the PNP president declared, adding that her Administration had no choice, when it took office in 2012, but to renegotiate a deal with the IMF. She said although the terms of that agreement has been challenging, it was necessary, boasting of the nine IMF reviews that the Government has survived.
“By passing the IMF quarterly reviews, Jamaica has been able to re-enter the global capital markets and secure the lowest interest rates ever. Our country’s credit rating has consistently improved; multilateral funding has been released for numerous projects, we are meeting our fiscal targets, and we are reducing Jamaica’s national debt,” Simpson Miller said.
She argued that the Government had not just passed IMF tests, but has actually improved lives, pointing to what she said was the creation of 60,000 jobs under the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme, expansion of the business process outsourcing sector, jobs provided through projects such as the north- south link of Highway 2000, hotel expansion, the resumption of bauxite mining, and more financial support for the micro small and medium-sized sector.
She dismissed criticism that the economy is in a slump, contending that over the past three years $53 billion had been spent on the tourism sector, and that foreign direct investment for 2014 was more than US$700 million.
She also underscored investment projects in the energy and agricultural sectors, and the development of the island’s sea ports and airports to promote trade.
Meanwhile, Simpson Miller worked supporters inside the packed National Arena into a frenzy as she delivered her message, and despite the palpable mood of expectation and even the blaring of the telltale Fly di gate, from the sound system after the party president’s over 90 minute-long speech, there was to be no announcement of a general election.
Before launching into her presentation, Simpson Miller told Comrades that, while the party respects the voices of all its members, the conduct of some had not been in keeping with the rules and spirit of the PNP.
“We have a constitution that provides us with guidance and structure that we must honour and respect. No issue in the PNP is beyond the capacity of our constitution and democratic system to address. If we follow these, we will remain on a path that is decent and right,” she stated, stressing that the party remains united in its mission.
The comments come in the wake of the recent battle between St Elizabeth North Eastern Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce and challenger businessman Evon Redman, which saw Pryce supporter and former mayor of Black River, Daphne Holmes, securing an injunction in the Supreme Court to block the delegates’ selection. The action was said to have ticked off the PNP leadership, who days later squashed the matter. Pryce was said to have withdrawn his bid from the selection process. Reports followed that Redman had been approved to contest the seat by the PNP leadership.