Jamaica’s opposition leader, Andrew Holness, has acknowledged the financial support that nationals in Canada are making to the country’s education system through their alumni groups.
However, he believes their contributions to strengthen literacy and overall schooling development could have a greater impact if it’s spread among a larger network of schools.
“They could achieve more if their efforts are co-ordinated and not just focused on individual schools,” he said at a press conference in Toronto last week. “The schools with a long history and deeper cadre of graduates are able to mobilize a far larger alumni base and therefore the resource flow back to their schools in Jamaica is larger than that of other schools. If those institutions with large alumni groups were to co-operate and try to elevate some of the other schools, you could see an equality of educational standards in Jamaica.”
Holness was Minister of Education in the Bruce Golding-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration. He retained the portfolio during the three months he served as Jamaica’s ninth prime minister. In the last general elections, the JLP secured just 21 of the 63 parliamentary seats.
While admitting that his last stint as prime minister was far too short, Holness said he gained wisdom from the experience.
“I think there has to be a far greater effort in terms of communication for Jamaicans to understand where we want to take the country,” he said. “Jamaican people have been asked to sacrifice forever. I grew up hearing that things are tough and that narrative hasn’t changed. We are however an optimistic people always looking for better. People are likely to be distracted and led astray by the promise of milk and honey. That’s why communication is important. I think a lot of Jamaicans are sorely disappointed by their choice of government.”
Though general elections are not constitutionally scheduled until late 2016, Holness said his party is preparing for the polls.
“We are getting our candidates in order, building our networks, reconnecting with our supporters and reassuring the Diaspora that the JLP has a leader with a vision who is competent, capable, straightforward and will do what is necessary for our country,” said Holness, who has been the Member of Parliament for West Central St. Andrew since 1997. “A team that’s competent and committed to the cause is being assembled. We are not just people of expediency who are looking for power. There’s something deep that drives us which is beyond economics, but more so speaks to the heart of the development of the human being and the Jamaican people.”
Holness arrived in Canada on the same day that Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed while on honorary guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The gunman then stormed the nearby Canadian parliament where he was killed.
Two days earlier, another Canadian soldier died in hospital after being deliberately run down by a car in Montreal. His murderer was fatally shot by security forces.
Both gunmen shared radical Islamist ideology.
Reiterating the deep friendship that exists between Canada and Jamaica, Holness expressed his sympathy to the families of the deceased soldiers and said Jamaica is alert to terrorist threats.
“We don’t have a history of terrorist attacks, but it could happen anywhere,” he said. “As far as our resources allow, I am certain that our security forces are making the necessary preparations.”
Holness also commented on Jamaica’s decision to refuse entry to Trinidad & Tobago’s Jamaat al Muslimeen leader, Yasin Abu Bakr. Earlier this month, he was sent back to the twin-island republic on a private jet that cost nearly Can$37,000.
“I don’t know if the actions of the government had to do with him being a terrorist threat or that they were just taking precautions,” said Holness. “We don’t know the basis on which he was returned home. If he was a radicalizing influence and the government has information on that, then we will have to support the government. But to spend Jam$4 million to put him on a private jet was unnecessary. Given our present economic crisis and the need for fiscal constraint, we maintain the position that it was a waste of public resources.”
In the last year, several Jamaicans have been denied entry to Trinidad & Tobago, leading to speculation that Jamaicans are being deprived access to the T & T labour market.
Holness addressed the concern.
“If you are going to get access to our consumer market, we should get access to your market, particularly the labour market,” he said. “But the truth is that the way in which CARICOM is structured is not beneficial economically to Jamaica as we would want it. We need larger markets and I think we should really be focusing on the northern Caribbean. I am not advocating that we should pull out of CARICOM, but Jamaica needs to use its foreign policy to enhance its economic development and we need to be focusing on Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, Honduras and Belize. That’s where we should really be focusing our foreign and economic policy for trade.”
Holness was accompanied to Toronto by former tourism minister, Ed Bartlett.