KINGSTON –– As he prepares to take over the helm of Jamaica’s government for a second time tomorrow, Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader Andrew Holness has been meeting with foreign diplomats and heads of government ministries, departments and agencies.
Since Monday, Holness has met with China’s Ambassador to Jamaica Niu Qingbao, United States Ambassador Luis Moreno, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Finance and Planning and various government agencies, including the National Water Commission (NWC) and the National Irrigation Commission.
Holness told the Jamaica Observer last night that today he would be focusing on discussions with Jamaica’s private sector bodies to ensure a mutual understanding on their ideas for improving the economy.
His meeting early yesterday with Qingbao led to discussions on Jamaica’s economic interest, as well as ways to strengthen diplomatic relations between the two countries.
China has been pursuing a number of very important investments in Jamaica, including completion of the north-south leg of Highway 2000, the proposed construction of a similar highway heading towards the eastern end of the island, as well as a controversial logistics hub on the Goat Islands off Jamaica’s south coast.
With Ambassador Moreno, Holness discussed economic assistance expected to extend into bilateral cooperation on crime and energy, as well as American investments in the Jamaican economy.
However, the most significant of these meetings so far has been with senior staff of the Ministry of Finance, including Financial Secretary Devon Rowe on Monday. They discussed the budget process and reviewed an update on the International Monetary Fund agreement.
The parties also discussed the quickest route to presenting the budget for the 2016/2017 financial year.
Holness said that those discussions were in terms of informing the incoming government on critical issues which have to be addressed upon his taking office later this week. He added that the meeting was part of critical steps towards taking charge of the government and ensuring a smooth transition.
Yesterday, Holness, and JLP general secretary Dr Horace Chang, who is expected to take charge of the water and housing portfolios in the new government, met with the NWC and NIC managers, as well as representatives of the Water Resources Authority (WRA).
He said that these meetings were needed to identify various “shovel-ready” projects to be immediately implemented, as part of the incoming government’s commitment to ensuring sustainable and reliable water supply for all Jamaicans.
During his election campaign, Holness promoted the need for increased investment in water, especially in rural communities, and a revamped approach to Jamaica’s water infrastructure and distribution under his administration.
Late last year, he met with WRA Managing Director Basil Fernandez, and chief executive officer of the NIC Dr Mark Richards to discuss solutions to the recurring water crisis gripping Jamaica.
“A water supply plan needs to be developed to identify future water demands and supply for up to 20 years, as well as indicate projects and programmes that would determine its sustainability,” Holness said.
According to the JLP, there are sufficient volumes of developed and undeveloped sources of water to meet the island’s demand up to 2025.
During the meeting, the strategic direction given was to: make all urban centres drought-resilient; develop water to support housing and agriculture; and ensure access to potable water in rural communities.
Yesterday, Holness also met with the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr Kevin Harvey and Chief Medical Officer Dr Winston De La Haye to get an update on the swine flu virus in Jamaica and discuss management of the problem.
Requests have been made for vaccines from overseas while current stocks are now being positioned for frontline workers.
Holness said he was keeping a close watch on the daily happenings in the health sector, especially as it relates to the swine flu virus.
Holness will be sworn in at King’s House, where he first took the oath in October, 2011, after taking over from Bruce Golding, who had resigned as JLP leader and head of the government.
But Holness’s tenure as prime minister was very short as his party was voted out of office in December 2011.