Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, admits he was caught off guard by Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s decision to step down as head of government.
The ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) announced last week that Golding will step aside as the party leader as soon as a replacement is found. The head of the party automatically becomes the prime minister. Elections in Jamaica are constitutionally due to be held before the end of December 2012.
“The PM had been intimating that for a while, but most of us had not taken it seriously,” said Bartlett who was on a brief visit to Toronto last week. “It was a bit of a surprise to many of us. He, however, continues to enjoy the respect and full support of the members of the cabinet and the party.”
Bartlett said Golding has been under intense pressure in the past few months.
The Prime Minister was heavily criticized for his handling of the Christopher “Dudus” Coke extradition case.
“The PM selflessly agreed to move forward so as not to cause any of the issues of the last few months to interfere with the chances of the party retaining government and the continuation of the economic growth and development activities that we have been engaged in and are succeeding with,” Bartlett said.
“Tourism has been one of those areas that has experienced outstanding growth both in terms of arrivals, revenues and the creation and retention of jobs. Not only have we increased our room count during the Golding administration, but we have also expanded the number of employees within the tourism industry and we broke the US$2-billion earning mark which is tremendous.
“For us to have weathered the economic recession, as we did, without any major fallout in our financial system, is a tribute to our Prime Minister’s stewardship.”
A senior JLP member and former deputy leader, who first won a House of Representative seat in the 1980 general elections, Bartlett dismissed suggestions that he might consider running for the party’s leadership.
“I think the party is due to make that transition to the next generation of leaders and we who are of the other generation should find our place to give support and to ensure that the legacy that we leave behind for the next generation to come will be one which will enable them to take off and grow and do better for the country,” he said. “So, I see my role essentially as being a key support mechanism within the new structure of the future.”
Deputy leaders Audley Shaw and Dr. Chris Tufton and 39-year-old education minister Andrew Holness are the frontrunners to replace Golding at the party’s convention on November 19 and 20.
Golding is bowing out at a time when Jamaica is preparing to celebrate its golden anniversary as an independent nation. The country turns 50 on August 6, 2012.
Bartlett’s does not believe Golding’s exit will dampen plans for the historic celebration.
“That’s a period when the Jamaica brand will be on show with great hope and much expectation,” he said. “It’s a brand that has already captured the imagination of the world and is destined to furnish itself with greater lustre…Whoever becomes party leader and prime minister will have a solid base to take off from.”
In an address to the nation last Sunday night, 63-year-old Golding said it’s time for his generation to make way for younger people whose time has come, who are in sync with 21st century realities, whose vision can have a longer scope and who can bring new energy to the enormous tasks ahead.
Golding became Jamaica’s eighth prime minister in September 2007.