Addressing parliament in his maiden speech as Opposition leader as he made his contribution to the 2021/22 budget presentation, Mr. Golding outlines what would be the priorities of a PNP government.
Madame Speaker, Madame Speaker, some of the priorities of the next PNP administration in pursuing this social and economic transformation, will be as follows:
Land, Housing & Community Reinvestment
The PNP has always been committed to providing land and housing for the majority who were excluded from ownership and access.
It was Norman Manley’s administration in the 1950’s which offered the first National Land Reform Policy to provide land for shelter and farming to the broad masses of our people. This saw the construction of Harbour View and Mona Heights at very concessional prices in response to the demand for affordable housing units.
In the 1970’s, housing minister Anthony Spaulding led an unprecedented assault on landlessness and undignified shelter, evidenced by the delivery of over 60,000 houses and parcels of land to the working class and the poor. Prime Minister Michael Manley then created the National Housing Trust to provide low-income mortgages, and it became the most transformational institution in the housing sector.
After 1989, we oversaw the construction of thousands of housing units with the creation of Greater Portmore, financed under the San Jose Accord with Mexico and Venezuela.
Between1995-2002 PJ Patterson’s administration advanced the process of land tenure to first-time land owners, with the provision of 30,010 titles and 28,000 letters of possession.
Nevertheless, some 700,000 parcels of land in Jamaica still have no registered title, and this undermines the financing of agriculture and rural development. It has contributed to persistent poverty over generations. The impediments are complex, structural and rooted in our history.
Our response will have to be innovative, involving profound legislative and administrative changes. Under Dr. Peter Phillips, we developed a far-reaching set of legislative proposals that will, for the first time, comprehensively tackle the intractable issues of land titling for our people.
In addition to reforms to facilitate easier land titling, we are also committed to programmes for a major thrust in building affordable housing, and for empowering occupants of dilapidated housing stock in inner city and rural communities to upgrade their homes.
As a matter of policy, Jamaica cannot only provide housing for upper income earners. Naturally that is where the greater profit lies, and no one can blame a developer for seeking out that segment of the market. The Government must therefore be the architect of creative and proactive policies that encourage developers to serve the chronically underserved segment of the market.
The Shadow Minister of Finance has outlined what we have in mind for incentivizing developers to invest in building affordable housing for low-income earners. It will take a strategic approach by Government, in collaboration with the private sector.
We will also commence a programme for persons living in deplorable housing conditions. We will empower them to fix their leaking roofs, to restore walls that are crumbling or floors that are rotten, and to build their own bathrooms if they don’t have one. We will do this by assisting them with the purchase of materials, while they make their own arrangements for the tradesmen and labour from within their communities.
This programme will facilitate the upgrading of the dilapidated housing stock in which too many Jamaicans now live. It will create a sense of achievement and progress in their lives, and the comfort of better and more secure living conditions. It will also provide an economic stimulus in these communities, with local tradesmen, labourers and hardware merchants benefiting from the investment that the people will make in upgrading their homes.
Madame Speaker, it really does Jamaica little credit that many depressed areas were once stable communities which ennobled our nation in sports, culture and scholarship. My constituency of South St. Andrew has produced boxing champions such as Bunny Grant and Percy Hayles, the brilliant West Indian batsman Collie Smith, the immortal Wailers comprising international musical icons Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, and the last two Poet Laureates of Jamaica, Professor Mervyn Morris and Lorna Goodison.
We must rediscover that sense of excellence and discipline. It will take vision and commitment to rebuild communities like these, allowing their awesome human talent to flourish.
We are also committed to ensuring that these communities are no longer relegated to second class status when it comes basic amenities like street lighting, garbage disposal and water/sewage infrastructure.
These public investments will be complemented by a Community Reinvestment Act, offering incentives to encourage businesses to set up in marginalized communities, to provide goods and services to these large, underserved markets.
Community renewal must be pursued in a structured and deliberate way. It is by achieving community renewal that we will achieve national renewal.
Early Childhood Development
Madame Speaker, we will prioritize Early Childhood Development, supported by a comprehensive policy to address the broader needs of children from birth onwards.
Jamaica needs a system of early childhood development that gets all our children off to the right start. We know they are bright, and the nation will reap rich dividends from investing in them. We need to fill the gaps left by teenage pregnancy, single parent homes, violence and poverty. As we speak, basic schools are struggling to survive, with many closing under the weight of high operating costs.
Jamaica must achieve the outcome that all our children are able to read, write and do basic arithmetic by grade four. Teaching must be supported by proper nutrition, and enhanced by exposure to the social skills and wholesome values that are fundamental to citizenship.
A National Programme for Vulnerable Youths
Madame Speaker, Jamaica has reached a point where there must be a comprehensive national programme to engage and reorient the lives of so-called unattached youths, and set them on the pathway of hope for a better life.
Our youths need mentorship, life skills, the building of self-esteem, and a sense of citizenship. This must involve vocational training, a chance at remedial education, and an opportunity to know what it is like to work in a job.
This programme must be holistic in its approach, and realistic in addressing the needs of the youths so that they stay the course and benefit from full participation.
Financing of Tertiary Education
Madame Speaker, the financing of tertiary education needs to be transformed, especially for young people whose parents just don’t have it.
The State, and not the student, must bear the risk of employment creation. The next PNP Government will reconfigure the loan structure used by the Student Loan Bureau (SLB) so as to cap monthly payments at a reasonable percentage of their actual income, to ensure that it is manageable for young graduates. We will ensure that borrowing a student loan to invest in their education is something that students no longer fear.
The Minister of Finance announced last week that only one guarantor will be required by the SLB, going forward. That is a welcome step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough.
When the Public Accounts Committee recently looked at the SLB, we found that the amounts recovered from guarantors are quite small in the scheme of things, which suggests that the retention of this requirement is not necessary for the sustainability of the institution.
We know that many potential student loan applicants from low-income homes cannot find an acceptable guarantor. The requirement of finding a guarantor works against children from low-income households. The next PNP government will abolish altogether the requirement of finding a guarantor to access student loans.
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