Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Jamaican PM targets corruption

GARRISON POLITICS:The newly elected prime minister’s predecessor stepped down amid the fallout of a violent US-requested arrest of a gang leader on drugs charges

Reuters, KINGSTON

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness delivers his inaugural address after being sworn in as the country’s ninth prime minister in Kingston on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Jamaica’s ninth and youngest prime minister pledged in his inaugural address on Sunday to reduce the Caribbean nation’s debt, fight corruption and dismantle its gang-allied garrison politics.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, 39, told a large gathering of well-wishers at King’s House, official residence of the governor-general, that focus had to be placed on the national debt, which has been a strain on Jamaicans for decades.

The governor-general holds the largely ceremonial post as the queen’s representative in Jamaica, a former British colony that remains a commonwealth nation.

Jamaica’s national debt is now more than US$11 billion, more than twice the nation’s annual budget.

“Social and economic irresponsibility has followed us through the decades,” Holness said. “We cannot continue to borrow more than we produce. This is the surest way to continue poverty. The lack of fiscal discipline is the greatest injustice visited on the working class masses of Jamaica.”

Holness said Jamaica had lived for 40 years on borrowed money.

“We now borrow in order to repay previous borrowing. For more than a decade, the size of our debt is larger than what we produce,” he said. “We must exercise fiscal discipline. Once we reduce our debt, then we would have more to spend on sustainable programs to eliminate poverty from our society. We need to manage our expenditure.”

Holness said Jamaica had suffered too long from waste and corruption.

“Where there is corruption, there is inefficiency,” Holness said. “We are making efforts to fight corruption, but we must do more.”

At no time in the hour-long address did he mention the IMF, with which Jamaica has a delicate standby arrangement that shapes the short-term financial future of the nation.

Political analysts believe that within days of his naming his new Cabinet, the existing IMF agreement will be the main item on its agenda.

Holness, the former education minister, ran unopposed to succeed former Jamaican prime minister Bruce Golding as head of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Analysts said the party clearly hoped his appointment would boost the JLP’s fortunes in the run-up to elections next year.

Golding, 63, stepped down because of fallout from his handling of a US request for the extradition of notorious Jamaican gang leader Christopher “Dudus” Coke last year.

After fighting Coke’s extradition to New York on --drug-trafficking charges, Golding’s administration bowed to US pressure in May last year and sent police and the military in to arrest him. Seventy-six people died in the ensuing gunbattles between government forces and Coke’s supporters.

Holness said his priorities included ending garrison politics, the system in which politicians have forged populist alliances with gang leaders and drug lords who deliver votes in exchange for impunity.

“We have carried with us from the 1970s a polarized, mean--spirited, uncooperative and -violent politics,” he said. “Jamaica is yearning, crying out for a new politics to emerge. It is time to end garrison politics. This will not happen overnight and it should not happen by force. Both political parties have it within them to end garrison politics.”

“It is important that people in all areas can move about without having to fear enforcers. Criminals must never be seen by the community as protectors. The time has come to erase the lines of demarcation that have created garrisons,” he said.

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