Jamaica debate disappointed

(Jamaica Gleaner) The explosive issue of homosexuality surfaced on Tuesday night in a debate that fizzled into what analysts for the most part labelled a disappointing exchange on policy issues, with little detail being presented on the way forward by the leaders of the two major political parties.

People’s National Party (PNP) President Portia Simpson Miller served notice that she had no qualms in selecting any qualified person with the requisite capabilities to sit in her Cabinet.

Declaring that the PNP was committed to protecting the human rights of people, Simpson Miller said her administration would revisit the buggery laws and would initiate a conscience vote on the matter.

“I don’t support the position of Mr (Bruce) Golding,” she said in reference to the former prime minister’s declaration during a BBC interview that he would not accept homosexuals in his Cabinet.

In contrast Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Golding’s successor as leader of the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), was more cautious on the issue, saying he would have to take some factors into consideration if he were to consider appointing a homosexual to his Cabinet.

“My sentiment must be the sentiment of the country,” Holness said. “The prime minister has discretion but it can’t be exercised in a vacuum.”

The perfunctory greetings out of the way, it was a business-like Simpson Miller who walked briskly, if coolly, through the throng of prominent Jamaicans at the entrance to Lecture Theatre Three in the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies (UWI), before summoning PNP Deputy Chairman Anthony Hylton to her side.

Together, the two Comrades, Simpson Miller clad in predictable orange, walked inside the Norman Manley Faculty in preparation for the national leadership debate which was to follow.

The dark-suited Holness took the same path as his political rival into the building. His face lit up with a bright smile, but he too said nothing as he entered.

Later, at 8:56 p.m., it was Simpson Miller who first took the stage as she was presented by Gary Allen, the chairman of the Jamaica Debates Commission which hosted the debate.

Holness, still smiling, approached the more sedate Simpson Miller with a handshake, moments after he was presented by Allen.

Dismal economy

In her opening statement Simpson Miller echoed the sentiments of Opposition Spokesman on Finance Dr Peter Phillips, during last week’s debate on the economy, in painting a dismal picture of the economic condition of the nation.

She argued that the country was in a crisis with the economy shrinking, high levels of unemployment, and the doubling of poverty levels.

Simpson Miller promised that an administration that she leads would move briskly to improve education, focus on small and micro-business enterprises but gave few, if any, details.

She reiterated that a PNP administration would renegotiate the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) extended fund facility within two weeks of her taking office and promised to focus on agricultural opportunities.

The PNP president also sought to highlight the PNP’s past performance, although much of the period to which she referred was under the leadership of P.J. Patterson. She cited major infrastructural development, the passing of 12 consecutive IMF tests, record levels of divestment, employment remaining at single digit, and noted that the national debt had moved from J$950 billion to J$1.6 trillion under the JLP.

For his part, Holness presented his résumé.

“I believe that I was called to serve the people of my country. I have dedicated my life to this for youth.”

He described himself as “humbled and privileged” to be afforded the opportunity to serve the people of Jamaica.

Holness also sold himself as “the new generation of leaders” who guarantee continuing change and improvement in society.

“Jamaica should produce a post-Independence leader of opportunities and chances,” he declared.

Holness had to wrestle with his involvement in the Coke extradition debacle that sent Golding packing, repeating that the matter was handled poorly but he had no direct hand in the matter.

However, Simpson Miller contended that no member of the Golding Cabinet can disclaim their involvement.

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