Election debate round one: social issues

Written by Ross Sheil

Dr. Peter Phillips representing the governing People’s National Party (PNP) and Dr. Ken Baugh of the opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) began the first of three debates convened by the Jamaica Debates Commission and being held this week.

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Unsuprisingly both candidates offered very different versions of the state of the country, ahead of Election Day on August 27.

“For the first time we can in our generation see a First World standard of living being available to the Jamaican people,” said an optimistic Dr. Phillips in his summation of the debate. Meanwhile a pessimistic Dr. Baugh rebutted: “Jamaica continues to languish in poverty and disadvantage.”

Crime dominated early questioning from the panel of journalists with Dr. Phillips contending that whilst more needed to be done, his government had been successful in attacking the narcotics trafficking, removing dons and aiding stability in several troubled communities.

Dr. Baugh responded, that despite a reduction in the murder rate from a peak of 1,674 - almost quadrupling from 1989, the last year the JLP was in Government - it remained too high with the roots causes of poverty not being properly addressed. But Dr. Phillips said that reduced social spending under the JLP had contributed to a higher rate of poverty and therefore crime.

He also touted the record of the PNP in housebuilding and in job creation in the tourism sector while Dr. Baugh contended that more needed to be done to regulate and regularise squatter communities.

Both criticised health spending under each other’s administrations while also stressing the need for continued reform of the sector, which Dr. Phillips said was well underway with $2 billion in spending on equipment in the last year and the PNP having recognised the need to make regional health authorities smaller and more flexible.

They agreed that repeal of the buggery laws was not an issue in Jamaica and reiterated their Parties’ support for the death penalty.

Dr. Baugh said Parliament and not national referendums would suffice in debating the issues buggery, decriminalisation of ganja and abortion. Dr. Phillips said referendums would be a possibility under the PNP.

On education Dr. Phillips said the PNP had increased enrollment in tertiary education and also reduced unemployment but Dr. Baugh contended that graduates were continuing to leave Jamaica due to a lack of opportunities. Dr. Baugh said the JLP would seek to better integrate education with industry and repeated his Party’s manifesto pledge to eliminate school fees and raise the school leaving age to 18.

Dr. Phillips said that the PNP expected to reach its 2002 manifesto pledge to achieve 100 per cent literacy, two years late, in 2009.

With the debate returning to crime Dr. Baugh criticised the PNP’s record on corruption. He said the JLP would tackle corruption as a priority while Dr. Phillip’s defended anti-corruption and open government legislation under his Party. They also differed on whether the Government had done enough to secure Jamaica’s borders.

Citing extra-judicial killings and their impact on the poor and young, Dr. Baugh said that justice reform would be a priority should the JLP form the next Government. In rebuttal Dr. Phillips said the level of extra-judicial killings was greater under the JLP during the 1980’s and that the PNP was committed to further reform of the judicial system.

Dr. Phillips repeated the PNP’s scepticism that the JLP could finance its $60 billion in new spending plans but Dr. Baugh reiterated his Party’s position that this could be funded by increasing efficiency in Government spending and reducing corruption.

Audley Shaw of the JLP and Dr. Omar Davies of the PNP will debate economic and financial issues on Friday. Opposition Leader Bruce Golding and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller will square off on Saturday.

All debates will be held between 9-10:30 p.m.

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