Responses from National Integrity Action, Press Association of Jamaica and Private Sector Groups to PNP Withdrawal from Television Debates

There have been strong reactions to yesterday’s statement from the incumbent People’s National Party (PNP) outlining its stance on televised political debates prior to the February 25 general elections. The PNP’s statement was issued a short time after both parties signed a Political Code of Conduct. Its letter to the Jamaica Debates Commission is also posted on the PNP website here: http://pnp.news/2016/02/11/letter-to-debates-commission/ 

Influential private sector groups issued a statement last night – via the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA). A past head of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Christopher Zacca tweeted: “I fully support the PSOJ JMA JCC JEA statement expressing deep concern about the @JamaicaPNP pull out from the debates. Sad.” PSOJ Executive Director William Mahfood tweeted that the PNP’s decision was “completely unacceptable – flies in the face of our democratic process.” The anti-corruption NGO National Integrity Action and the Press Association of Jamaica also responded with strong statements. Please see below

jma

February 11, 2016

Private Sector (JMA) Calls for Decision on Political Debates

With an impending General Election underway, the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA), the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), the Jamaica Exporters’ Association (JEA) and the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) are now deeply concerned about the lack of confirmation regarding the staging of the political debates, despite the persistent efforts by the Jamaica Debates Commission. The existing delays are quite perplexing, particularly as both political parties had signed off on the terms of a memorandum of understanding to cover the three debates, on November 11, 2015. As a coalition of private sector entities, it is our utmost belief that all political aspirants have a responsibility and a duty to share their vision for the sustainable development of Jamaica, and to make themselves available to participate in such a forum.

The cornerstone of any participatory democracy is the informed voter. We fervently advance that the political debates provide an opportunity for the electorate to adequately evaluate the policies proposed by the candidates and ultimately make an informed decision. We ardently assert that the political aspirants would be derelict in their duties to the people of Jamaica, if they were to forgo the highly anticipated political debates.

It is also disquieting that with merely fourteen days before the national polls, the two major political parties have yet to make available to the public their Manifestos. We continue to appeal for their release, so that the people of Jamaica are able to substantially analyze the content proposed to drive the country forward. All Jamaicans deserve such an opportunity to further grow and strengthen the democratic process.

Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe. (Photo: Gleaner)
Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe. (Photo: Gleaner)

 

February 11, 2016

For Immediate Release

NIA calls on the PNP to Reverse Debate Decision in the National Interest

National Integrity Action, in upholding its principles of transparency and accountability, regards the decision of the Peoples’ National Party not to participate in any debates with the Jamaica Labour Party as a backwards step for Jamaica’s democracy, notwithstanding the reasons offered. It should be recalled that:

  • Pre-election National Debates in 2007 and 2011 served the Jamaica people well in allowing them a better understanding of the issues;
  • “The right to seek [and]receive … information…through any media” is enshrined in Jamaica’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms;
  • The Access to Information Act identifies “transparency” as one of the “fundamental principles underlying the system of Constitutional Democracy”;
  • Successive Prime Ministers, including Prime Minister Simpson-Miller have pledged “greater openness in government” (Inaugural Address, January 6, 2012).
  • The decision not to participate in any debates with the Jamaica Labour Party runs in the opposite direction from both best practice and good democracy.

    The concerns raised by the Peoples’ National Party regarding statements and utterances by the Leader of the Opposition are real and must be dealt with in the appropriate forum, namely, by reports to the Office of the Political Ombudsman and by action through the Courts of Law. These concerns should not be used as a reason to deprive the Jamaican people of the opportunity to hear question and answers regarding plans to “Step Up the Progress” and concerning “The Path from Poverty to Prosperity”. The NIA therefore calls on the People’s National Party to reconsider its decision in the national interest and on the Debate Commission to do all in its power to ensure that the debate does take place and that Jamaica does not retrogress on this important aspect of its electoral democracy.

 Professor Trevor Munroe

Executive Director
1 (876) 383-2447

Dionne Jackson Miller heads the Press Association of Jamaica.
Dionne Jackson Miller heads the Press Association of Jamaica.

Meanwhile, the Press Association of Jamaica (PAJ) today issued a statement via social media (@djmillerJA) and a hashtag #HoldTheDebates has started. Please see below…

The Press Association of Jamaica is alarmed at news that the National Political Debates may not be held.

The PAJ wishes to put on record its belief that it is of national importance that the Debates be held, with the participation of both major political parties.

“The election campaign is very short, which already limits the amount of time the public and media have to probe the positions of the individual candidates and their parties. To eliminate what has become an important source of information for the public would be a huge step backwards, and one we would condemn strongly,” says PAJ President Dionne Jackson Miller.
The Association believes it would be unacceptable in a modern Jamaican democracy for either of the parties to refuse the public the opportunity to see and hear its representatives questioned about issues of national importance. The PAJ is therefore urging the two parties to find other avenues to work out their differences, and not use the political debates for that purpose. The Association strongly urges the People’s National Party, as the party which has not yet agreed to the debates, to do so in the national interest.
The PAJ commends the Debates Commission for its tremendous work over the years in staging the national political debates, and calls for all well-thinking Jamaicans and civil society organisations to speak out, and join the call to ensure that the National Political Debates are again held, as the public expects.

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