Monday 20 May, 2019

JLP Conference 2018: Holness at ease, except for scandals

Prime Minister Andrew Holness at last year's JLP annual conference.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness at last year's JLP annual conference.

Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) supporters from all 14 parishes are expected to descend on the National Arena in Kingston on Sunday for the public session of the party’s 75th annual conference.

It has been a relatively low-keyed build-up to the conference, despite what one senior party figure who did not wish to be identified, described as a raft of successes for the party that has been at the reins of Government for the past two years and eight months.

The ‘successes’, which JLP Leader, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, is expected to highlight during his address on Sunday afternoon, include record low unemployment, the best quarterly growth recorded in the country in 10 years, record visitor arrivals, a falling murder rate, and the ongoing implementation of the Administration’s ‘legacy projects’ of major roadworks across the Corporate Area.

“When Prime Minister Holness gets up to speak, he could not have asked for more fertile ground in terms of the state of the economy and the direction in which the country is headed,” a high-level party insider said.

A section of the floor at the 2017 JLP conference.

In relation to the number of Jamaicans who are employed, the unemployment rate now stands at a record low 8.4 per cent, according to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN). The agency said job growth has been strongest among the ‘service workers and shop and market sales workers’ occupation group, as well as construction workers.

Holness is also expected to point to the rapid growth in the business processing outsourcing (BPO) sector, which has created thousands of jobs over the past three years.

The prime minister has in recent times said there are several requests from entities desirous of constructing high-rise buildings in the Corporate Area, with much of that trend already evidenced, as the construction sector continues to experience growth. He has also said the infrastructure, in terms of roads, water, sewage and telecommunications, is also being improved, making Jamaica more attractive to investors.

A technical artistic outline of the Three Miles intersection in St Andrew when the project is completed.

But with the commuting public frustrated with the inconvenience caused by the ongoing roadworks along several major thoroughfares, Holness is again expected to appeal to Jamaicans to continue to exercise patience.

The Mandela Highway expansion work is now reportedly 89 per cent complete, but the Constant Spring Road and Three Miles/Hagley Park Road projects are expected to last into the second half of 2019.

The question of the continued challenges in commuting across sections of the Corporate Area will need to be addressed.

The prime minister is also expected to speak to the continued positive reviews from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilaterals on the state of the economy and the news that the 2.2 per cent growth recorded in the April to June quarter was the largest quarterly growth rate since 2009.

Holness is also expected to highlight that crime is trending down, with well over 200 fewer murders recorded this year in comparison to 2017. He is expected to tell his detractors that the Government’s crime measures, including three states of emergency and two zones of special operations (ZOSO) are working and need more time.

These developments may make it difficult for the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) to benefit much from criticising the Government on the crime front and on the economy.

However, Holness will be mindful of what transpired over the summer, when a raft of scandals involving agencies that were the responsibility of the former Science, Energy and Technology Minister, Andrew Wheatley, almost hobbled the Government.

Charges of corruption, nepotism and cronyism led to the resignations of Wheatley and a slew of senior managers and board members at the state-owned oil refinery, Petrojam; Universal Service Fund (USF) and National Energy Solutions Limited (NESOL). Several entities and agencies are still conducting investigations into the allegations and revelations.

Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, has notably, described the Petrojam scandal as ‘the mother of all scandals’.

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