PRIME Minister Andrew Holness yesterday said that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will be using the Clarendon South Eastern by-election, scheduled for March 2, to test the organisation of the ruling party and the pulse of the people, as the country prepares for the general election constitutionally due in 2021.
Holness was speaking to journalists at Vere Technical High School in Clarendon, following the nomination of JLP candidate Pearnel Charles Jr.
“This by-election will be a test, obviously, for the Jamaica Labour Party’s organisation in this seat; it will be a test as to the pulse of the people. So it’s one thing to have a poll to say what people think but the real poll is the poll of the ballots so you will get a good sense from this as to what people are thinking,” the prime minister said.
“Clearly, the Jamaica Labour Party [is] ahead in the polls but as I’ve always said, we accept polls for what they are – a snapshot in time and a very limited window into the minds and thinking of people. It is really the ballot that will give you a good sense, so I’m looking forward to this as a good preview as to what may come, and to give the country and the people of South East as well a chance to send their message to the Government and to know, as well, that the Government is listening keenly. So, for me, it’s an opportunity to get on the ground, to talk to people, hear what it is [that] is bothering them, what are their concerns and to go back and refine policy,” he added.
Acknowledging that one of the major issues affecting residents in the area is the lack of water, Holness said $800 million was allocated in the last budget to address the countrywide problem, with an additional $500 million allocated to combat the dry period which persisted last year.
“There is a long-term plan to address these gaps in our water system, because really what it is, is that communities have sprung up over time. They have developed and the water has not followed behind them as quickly as possible, but the water policy sets the strategy as to how that will be addressed,” said Holness.
That aside, he noted that the other major challenge for constituents is the decline in sugar production and the contraction of the industry which has, for decades, provided an avenue for income for hundreds of families.
He said the Government’s test now is to move quickly to replace sugar as an industry with possibly general agriculture, business process outsourcing or Vernamfield with the maintenance and repair of aircraft.
“So we’re looking at all of those things and it is interesting now, I think, to start the conversation about how we replace sugar as the leading industry to absorb the employment that it will release,” he announced.
Charles Jr, at the same time, said while he will be focusing on the primary issues affecting residents — which include water, roads and housing — during his campaign, his long-term plan is to create opportunities for young people and a sustainable water plan for farmers.
“In the long term it is about diversification and creating a dynamic set of opportunities for the range of persons in south-east and along this Clarendon belt,” he said.
Independent candidate Derrick Lambert, meanwhile, is intent on keeping the JLP candidate at bay, arguing that no outsider should be allowed into the constituency he once contested on a People’s National Party (PNP) ticket in 2011.
Lambert — who said he was asked to contest the seat by scores of supporters after the Opposition party said its candidate Patricia Duncan Sutherland would not participate in the by-election — told journalists that he had been awaiting the moment to fulfil his destiny.
The former PNP caretaker, whose nomination was delayed by 30 minutes when he turned up at the centre at 10:30 am without a witness, said that he will create history on March 2.
“This campaign will start as a little pebble. It will mushroom and envelope Jamaica. This is not about South East Clarendon…This is about South East Clarendon saying to PNP, JLP [and] independents that South East Clarendon is at stake. The barbarians are at the gate. They’re about to take us over and we will never allow any man to come into our house, destroy our house, take our wives and kids. We will never do that, we will have to defend them at the gate,” Lambert told the media, clarifying that his reference of barbarians is figurative for “outsiders”.
Meanwhile, the prime minister cautioned that the by-election not be overhyped, but instead be looked at as an important legacy for the party to secure and more importantly about ensuring the party has a good candidate to serve constituents.
“I’ve had the discussion with Pearnel – this is about service. It’s not about Pearnel; it’s not about Ruddy [Rudyard Spencer]; it’s not about me. It’s about serving the people.