PM Committed to Improved Accountability


Since taking the Oath of Office on September 11, Prime Minister Bruce Golding has led the charge to create a framework for good governance, through improved accountability and the elimination of undue bureaucracy as the government seeks to advance economic and social development.
The launch of Vision 2030 Jamaica National Development Plan, a strategy, which will help to chart the way forward for the country for the next 23 years, was endorsed by Mr. Golding in November. He said the long term development strategy, which seeks to put the country in a position to achieve its full potential and achieve developed country status in just over two decades was the beginning of a process that must achieve early in its gestation, a shared vision. “There was a time when we made the mistake of believing that the vision and the plan to achieve that vision was the property of the government, and various governments have come to office believing that the mandate that they received from the people was sufficient authority to proceed on a plan. The mandate may give you the statutory authority to implement, but the mandate doesn’t give you the power to inspire,” Mr. Golding pointed out. He said the attempt to engage as many stakeholders as possible, has been critical to the plan. However, he noted, it was important to engage others who are not a part of any formal group.
Mr. Golding stressed the importance of good governance, stating that the country faces a crisis of trust, where persons are cynical and skeptical of the process, and political institutions.
“It is not going to be easy to get them to be responsive to any direction, to any plan, to any vision that is outlined, unless we can give them reason, despite their own experiences and despite the cynicism, to invest trust once again in those of us who offer leadership and who occupy positions of authority in the country,” the Prime Minister said. He said it was important for the vision 2030 development plan to place emphasis on the creation of opportunities, so that everyone, provided that they are prepared to work hard, would be able to enjoy a better life.
HURRICANE DEAN CLEAN-UP
One of the initiatives undertaken during the first 100 days of the new administration, as mandated by Mr. Golding during his inauguration speech, was a massive post-Hurricane Dean clean-up operation. This was to address the lingering impact of the disaster, which occurred in August.
The clean-up, which was carried out on September 29 to 30 and continued on October 7, saw a multi-sectoral approach involving government agencies, the church, non-governmental organizations and businesses, all working together to remove the physical remnants of Hurricane Dean.
In October, Mr. Golding gave the assurance that his administration would roll out a new tax system for the 2008/09 financial year, as increased revenues are critical to reducing the country’s debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio.
“In order to reduce the debt, and our heavy reliance on additional borrowing, we are going to have to secure more revenues. We believe that the tax system that now exists is itself not assisting in revenue enhancement. We have had recommendations before us for a major reform of the tax system, most of which have not been implemented. It is something that we are looking at seriously,” Mr. Golding told members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps at a meeting at Jamaica House on October 3.
STRENGTHENING PARLIAMENT A stronger Parliament and more effective political representation for effective governance, was also at the top of the agenda for the Prime Minister. As part of efforts toward this, he called for amendments to the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, to allow Members of Parliament (MPs) who are not Ministers, to make statements during sittings. Mr. Golding, who was speaking at the opening of the new session of Parliament and swearing-in of members of the Senate and House of Representatives at Gordon House, noted that currently, only Ministers are entitled under the Standing Orders, to get up in Parliament and make statements to the nation. “I want to see this Chamber not just a place for doing the business of government, I want to see it as a Chamber for representing the interests of the people, who sent us here to represent them,” he said.
TRADE NEGOTIATIONS AND CARICOM
The Prime Minister, as Chair of the Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on External Economic Negotiations, has also placed high priority on the development agenda, to assist countries like Jamaica to benefit from trading opportunities under the Economic Partnership Agenda (EPA). At the specially convened meeting of the CARICOM Prime Ministerial Sub committee on external trade negotiations in Montego Bay, also in October, Mr. Golding expressed concern about the pace of the European Union (EU)/CARICOM negotiations towards establishing a new Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Mr. Golding emphasized the importance of having an agreement in place by January 2008, but stressed equal importance on having an agreement that has built-in flexibilities that take into account the different levels of development within the region.
He argued that the new EPA should not make CARIFORUM countries any worse off than they were under the previous agreement, adding that the negotiated agreement must place development at its core, and take account of the interest of the countries and peoples of the region.
In mid-December, Mr. Golding hailed the conclusion of the first ever EPA between Caribbean countries and the EU as satisfactory. In a statement to Parliament following the signing of the agreement in Barbados on December 16, Mr. Golding said that notwithstanding the fact that the region had not received all that it had requested, the region could take pride in the results of the more than three years of negotiations. As of January 1, CARIFORUM countries will have quota-free, duty free access to European markets for export, excluding sugar and rice.
Meanwhile, Mr. Golding at the plenary dinner of a three-day conference on the Caribbean, held in Miami, reaffirmed his commitment to advocating for better economic conditions. He called on the United States to join with other developed countries to explore mechanisms that could ease the burden of heavily indebted middle income countries, such as Jamaica.
He stressed that measures had to be taken to address the indebtedness of middle income countries, and proposed that international financial institutions and governments of developed countries explore ways of addressing this critical concern.
In November, Mr. Golding attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala, Uganda, where he urged the Commonwealth to take a fresh approach to the challenges facing heavily indebted middle income countries like Jamaica.
Addressing a special meeting of Caribbean Heads with the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, Mr. Golding pointed out that a number of countries in the Caribbean were in need of new responses to their debt problems to enable them to accelerate economic growth and social development.
While paying tribute to the UK Government for initiating the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief programme, which had benefited a number of countries, Mr. Golding said he wanted the multilateral financial institutions and the Group of Eight (G8) developed countries, to examine the issues facing developing countries which were adjudged to be not poor enough to qualify for concessionary loans, but which nevertheless had to reduce their spending on important social services because of the high debt burden and debt service costs.
These factors, he said, were reducing the prospects of countries like those in the Caribbean achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In this context, the Prime Minister said that, “access to financing and refinancing would be of enormous assistance to the Caribbean.”
Mr. Golding also headed Jamaica’s delegation to the 12th special meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Guyana in December, where decisions were taken to improve the region’s market access offer.
REVISION OF LIBEL LAWS
In November, the Prime Minister directed an eleven-member committee to undertake a comprehensive review of the Libel and Slander Act, reiterating that the legislation should be updated to better allow the press greater freedom to present information that was important to the public.
He said that too often, the law has been used, “as a firewall” to protect persons, and told the committee to be mindful of the fact that public officials do have rights and reputations that have to be protected.
“Therefore, I am asking you to do what is a really difficult task, which is, how do you ensure that you open that window to the public, to know what is happening, to have the benefit of the information, without at the same time exposing individuals or corporate persons to unjust, unfair and malicious publication,” he said.
Mr. Golding urged the committee to draw from the experiences from other countries, to see how the rights of the individual can be harmonized with the greater public right to information in the modern age, and in particular access to information. He also asked the committee to examine the issue of whether there should be a higher level of scrutiny for public officials, than there is for the ordinary citizen.
As Mr. Golding continued the drive to improve the administration of justice in the country, he asked Public Defender, Earl Witter, to draft a set of proposals outlining what actions need to be taken to expand the powers of that office.
During a meeting at Jamaica House on November 5 with Mr. Witter and Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, the Prime Minister said both parties should collaborate to work out any legislative amendments that are necessary, and to discuss the capacity of the office, and outline the current needs or shortfalls.
The Prime Minister stressed that it is critical for the average citizen to feel a sense of trust and protection by the Public Defender, and therefore the strengthening of the functions of that office was important.

JIS Social