KINGSTON –– Prime Minister Andrew Holness says his administration is fully aware that Jamaicans are expecting it to keep the promises it made during the election campaign, and that the government has, in fact, already moved to execute a number of those commitments, such as a new tax structure.
Addressing yesterday’s reopening of Parliament, which saw the chamber packed with government and opposition members and senators, Holness said the government had started the process of fast-tracking investment projects “that were only being held up by decisions”.
Said Holness: “We have started work, with the support of the International Monetary Fund, on our proposed reform to the tax system to ensure that when they are implemented they mutually reinforce the twin targets of growth and fiscal balance.”
At the same time, Holness indicated that he was very aware of the implications of a one-seat majority.
“The composition of this Parliament is historic. I’m sure the realities of the seat distribution of the Parliament are not lost on us. I’m equally sure that we are all mindful of the opportunities that this situation presents. This is a moment that requires co-operation, this moment requires maturity, partnership, consensus building, and patriotism,” he stated, further exhorting MPs to put the country first.
“The focus of my government will be inclusive economic growth, job creation, sustainable debt,” he emphasized as diplomats, sector representatives, and members of the public watched and listened from the gallery.
Holness also cautioned all members of the House to recommit themselves to operating at the highest standard.
“We can be forceful without being offensive, we can be insightful without being insulting . . . in the same way we crossed many bridges, navigated many rocky mountains to get the votes, now that we have the votes we must keep our promises, make ourselves equally accessible to our constituents and uphold the highest standard of public conduct,” he said.
As government and opposition supporters on the outside chanted their allegiance to their political party, Holness pledged to be “an activist prime minister”.
“I pledge to lead by example and to lead from the front. Let us endeavour to be forward-thinking, respectful and mature as elected representatives of the people
of Jamaica. I extend my hand in partnership with the opposition,” he said.
Following the sitting, Prime Minister Holness did not permit interviews to the crush of journalists who were awaiting him outside the doors of Gordon House, as he was whisked away by his security detail. But Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller, whose tenure as prime minister was marked by distance from the Press, used the opportunity to tell her party supporters to remain strong, despite the defeat at the February 25 election. She reiterated the opposition intended to be attentive, and active.
“We have a responsibility to push the progress of Jamaica. Whatever he [Holness] does that is in the interest of the Jamaican people he will certainly get our co-operation, but if he moves away from anything that is not in the interest of Jamaicans, he will certainly hear my voice,” she said.
Commenting on the election loss, Simpson Miller said: “There are times in politics when you lose and when you win. I’m not accustomed to losing; I’ve always been winning. But if there is a change of government, as an opposition we have a responsibility to put the people of Jamaica first.”
She declined to respond to the growing public view that it was time for party veterans such as herself to step aside and allow fresh faces to lead. However, she said: “I know who Portia is, and I know the contribution of Portia to the PNP.”
Sixty-one MPs were sworn in yesterday, as MP for St Andrew Southern Omar Davies is recovering from illness, and the magisterial recount for the St James Southern seat is continuing. Up to early yesterday, the Jamaica Labour Party’s Homer Davis was ahead of the People’s National Party Derrick Kellier. Kellier was absent from the chamber. Nineteen senators were sworn in. Absent were Noel Sloley from the opposition and government senator Don Wehby.