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JAMAICA | Mark Golding on Vale Royal talks, role of opposition, NIDS

  • Written by Calvin G. Brown
  • Published in Opinion
Opposition Leader and Peoples National Party President,  M.P. Mark Golding, Opposition Leader and Peoples National Party President, M.P. Mark Golding,
HOPEWELL, March 20, 2021 - Opposition Leader Mark Golding, in his contribution to the 2921/22 Budget Debate, outlined his party's position on the role of the opposition, the stalled Vale Royal Talks, the need for consensus in this time of deep national crisis, asd well as the new approach to the NIDS, national identification bill.

The following is an excerpt from the Opposition Leader's presentation to parliament, where he in a clear, succinct, uncomplicated  and unequivocal manner, outlined his party's position on these important matters:

"Madame Speaker, I wish to begin this presentation by saying a few words about the role of the Opposition at this time in Jamaica’s history.

Some people may be of the view that it is the business of an Opposition to oppose for its own sake. We on this side do not hold that view. A developing country such as Jamaica cannot afford that approach, when so much of the success of our young nation depends on harnessing the national will to achieve our national goals. We must support actions which we agree with, and be willing to assist the Government of the day with proposals and suggestions that we believe can help to make Jamaica stronger. We say, Powerful Together.

On the other hand, it is our responsibility on this side of the House, to be constantly alert for infringements of guaranteed freedoms, or other abuses of power. We must be vigilant and strident in responding to mal-administration and corruption, wherever it is identified. We must be rigorous in criticizing policies and actions which do not contribute to national development. And we must do these things with courage, and with our full commitment.

Our democratic system has brought us this far, without losing the freedoms and openness that Jamaicans hold dear. It depends on the Opposition to strike the right balance between the two aspects of our constitutional role. I trust that, with God’s guidance, we will maintain that balance and continue to contribute constructively to Jamaica’s development.

Consensus in a time of deep national crisis

Madame Speaker, this budget debate is happening at a time when our country is deep in crisis. The pandemic has been allowed to get out of control, and the health care system is buckling as a result.

The economy is also in a tailspin, with negative growth of over 11% expected for this fiscal year. That is by far the largest contraction of the economy in a single year in Jamaica’s recorded history. Over 100,000 Jamaicans have lost their jobs.

And the society is in a crisis. Crime is also out of control. People are being murdered this year at an even higher rate than last year. Domestic violence is higher than ever. And there is a general collapse of moral norms, discipline and behavioural standards, which as a nation we must address.

Madame Speaker, this is a time of immense danger for our country. It can also be a time of great opportunity. We should use the lessons presented by the crisis to reset the status quo, rather than just yearning for a return to the ways of the past. We must identify new and better ways of tackling the challenges that impair our national progress. Only we, all of us together and united, can decide whether we learn from the crisis, or we yield to the crisis, as we face the future.

The Government has the responsibility to lead. That is why it has been elected. They have the democratic obligation to marshal the entire society towards building VISION 2030’s mission - a Jamaica which is “The place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.” This means that the elected Opposition must be meaningfully engaged by the Government, if the country is to secure the great future contemplated in VISION 2030.

Vale Royal Talks

We therefore regret that the Vale Royal Talks commenced by our predecessors on both sides, have been laid to rest. Those meetings allowed the Government and Opposition to discuss important matters affecting our country, and develop a consensus where possible.

In a similar vein, the removal of Opposition Members from chairing most of the Parliamentary Oversight Committees after the 2020 general election was also a retrograde step. We do not accept it, and civil society does not support it. It has weakened the system of checks and balances on which an accountable and transparent democracy depends.

Prime Minister, I call on you, once again, to reinstate the convention that was established by PM Bruce Golding in 2007, and was maintained by both sides up to September 2020. It is the right thing to do.

National Identification System (NIDS)

Madame Speaker, the history of the Government’s attempts to implement the National Identification System (NIDS) teaches the importance of working together. Both sides had long recognized the importance of establishing a national identification system for Jamaica. That understanding emerged decades ago, when we first started to work together to build a world-class electoral system to secure our democracy. 

However, the route taken by the Government in pursuing the NIDS legislation was unwise from the very start. With both Houses making over 200 amendments to the NIDS Bill, it was obvious that something was very wrong with that Bill. We strongly advised them to send it to a Joint Select Committee for a comprehensive review. The Government adamantly refused to do so. Instead, they rushed to pass that Bill.

We had a duty to pursue a legal action in the Constitutional Court to protect Jamaica, and the legislation was duly struck down in its totality. That could and should have been avoided. But because the Government chose to proceed unilaterally, much time and effort have been wasted. Three years later, a completely new Bill is now before a Joint Select Committee being reviewed in detail by both sides, as was always the correct approach.

Mr. Prime Minister, the lack of an effective channel of dialogue between both sides is not good for Jamaica. The Government and Opposition have not had even a single meeting since I became the Leader of the Opposition. We should restart the Vale Royal Talks. The Nation needs us to work together to tackle the current crisis. Mr. Prime Minister, I urge you to do the right thing."

Last modified onSunday, 21 March 2021 10:27
  • Countries: Jamaica