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There was a time in Jamaican politics that Parties never really issued manifestoes.  When they began, they were not that carefully developed.  In today’s world of public relations and internet marketing, Party manifestoes are skillfully prepared and include marvelous photographs of inspired-looking Jamaicans.

The election on Thursday, February 25, 2016, will take place with a relatively insignificant amount of violence but the growing tradition of leadership debates has been derailed this cycle.  There is a lot of pageantry surrounding the electoral process in Jamaica and the focus on substance has not become an essential aspect of our politics.

How many voters read carefully the detailed manifesto produced by either Party?  Holness has spoken of his 10 point plan of Partnership and Prosperity.  The initial sections of the JLP manifesto focused on what they list as their accomplishments while in office from 2007 to 2011.

The introduction of the Constituency Development Fund provided the Member of Parliament to constructively use government funds to spur development in his or her constituency.  This was an initiative that Bruce Golding articulated before he became Prime Minister in 2007.  The JLP also restructured the parliamentary committee process and allowed for Opposition Representatives to chair some of the important committees.  Under their watch, INDECOM was established to serve as an independent investigative agency to prosecute police misconduct.  What is tantamount to the United States’ Bill of Rights was also institutionalized giving Jamaican citizens inalienable rights.

Obviously in a propaganda document of this kind, a Party highlights accomplishments and not its failures.  But what is fascinating at this juncture is that the ideological distinctions of the 1970s have essentially evaporated and both Parties articulate policies that are congruent with mass appeal.

Both Party Manifestoes place great emphasis on economic growth and job creation.  The JLP has promised an increase in the minimum weekly wage from J$6,200 to J$8,200.  People earning J$1.5 million per year would be exempted from paying income taxes.  The response of Dr. Peter Phillips, the PNP Minister of Finance, is that the proposed reduction in tax revenues and suggested expenditures on the part of the JLP would shatter the agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

The JLP Manifesto argues that a decentralized approach to water catchment, reducing the cost of housing construction and the use of solar energy would make housing more affordable and concomitantly alleviate water shortages.  This would create thousands of jobs.  The JLP also imbeds in their Manifesto the initiative of making the south coast the Sun Coast and the Fun Coast.  The expansion of tourism would generate an economic multiplier effect on the south coast.

As the governing Party, the PNP manifesto dramatizes the failure of the Jamaica Labour Party from 2007 to 2011 when they abandoned their relationship with the International Monetary Fund and lost credibility with the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the European Union.

The PNP negotiated arduously with the IMF for a new loan agreement.  The new loan agreement was signed for four years with every quarter entailing a test to determine if Jamaica was adhering to the terms of the agreement.  The Portia Simpson Miller government has successfully passed the quarterly tests from 2013.  The PNP manifesto touts how the government brought Jamaica back from the brink of bankruptcy.

The deteriorating debt situation has been brought under control.  When the JLP took office in 2007, the debt owed was J$970 billion and when they demitted office the accumulated debt was J$1.7 trillion.  The debt ratio to Gross Domestic Product was 145 percent. During the PNP term of 2012-2016, the debt has been reduced to 125 percent to GDP and is poised to be further reduced by another 2 percentage point of GDP.

The PNP boasts that the inflation rate is the lowest in 48 years, interest rates have come down and the International Reserves that were at US$800 million when they took office has now climbed to US$2.1 billion.

The PNP Manifesto specifies that in their four years of government, they have created 46,000 jobs.  As they look to the future, they rest much of their growth agenda on the expansion of tourism, growing more food for the domestic market and the logistical hub in Kingston Harbour.  In addition, the positive macro indicators will attract more foreign investors.

Much emphasis has been placed on public-private partnership.  The North-South Highway should be completed in March, 2016 and the South Highway running from Harbour View to Port Antonio will begin construction in March, 2016.  There will be another phase and that is the highway that will link Mandeville to Negril.

The PNP’s economic trump card is the expansion of Kingston Harbour into a logistical hub that can accommodate the larger vessels on their way to the augmented Panama Canal.  There are anticipated spin-offs from the Kingston Harbour Project with the possibility of value-added goods. Other benefits that could accrue from the packaging and unpackaging of containers on their way to the Panama Canal

All the revelry and mass rallies are now behind the electorate.  Manifestoes are important but on election day, who wins or loses elections is the Party and the candidate who can mobilize the base and get Party supporters to the polls.  The participation rate in Jamaican elections have been coming down as increasing numbers of citizens, particularly young people, are indifferent to the world of politics and manifestoes.

Nonetheless, government has a profound impact on people’s lives. It seems what will be decisive to the electorate in 2016 is the comparison of the JLP’s performance 2007-2011 and that of the PNP from 2012 to 2016.

Dr. Basil Wilson