MARK Golding opened his address to the public session of the Opposition People’s National Party’s (PNP) 85th Annual Conference on Sunday telling cheering Comrades and the wider Jamaica that the time has come “to break every chain” that is holding the country back.
Golding, in a fiery speech focusing on a wide range of issues, also said the party is on a mission “to move from fiscal stability to economic transformation” that will build a better Jamaica.
The opening stanza of the address inside the National Arena in St Andrew was a clear response to criticism he has been receiving since his participation in a slavery skit at his St Andrew Southern constituency conference two Sundays ago.
In that skit Golding unlocked a chain around the neck of a supporter who had declared that he was being held in bondage by Prime Minister Andrew Holness. It resulted in critics accusing Golding and the PNP of making light of the country’s painful experience of slavery.
However, Golding, despite being stung by the criticism, launched a counteroffensive on Sunday, pointing to his family’s history of service to Jamaica and declaring that he was not intimidated by his political opponents.
“I have said it before, and will tell you again, Jamaica cannot move forward without a Government built on integrity that embraces principles of good governance. That is what I believe in. That is how I live my life. I, Mark Jefferson Golding, am a born Jamaican, a son of the soil. I come from a family that has given great service to the people of this country, giving selfless service to ordinary Jamaicans and building lasting institutions of inclusion to empower persons with disabilities. That is my family tradition,” the PNP president said to deafening cheers.
“I am who I am. I am offering myself to the Jamaican people for service in their interests, with the skills, knowledge, and experience I have gained in life. I don’t come to scrape. I come to serve all Jamaicans, and I come with clean hands and a clean heart.
“Whatever depraved and divisive vulgarities my political opponents may stoop to in their desperation to hold onto power, I will not be daunted. I have no fear of them. I stand firm in leading our party in our mission of social and economic transformation to a better Jamaica for all our people,” he said.
That transformation, he argued, requires a clean break from our traumatic colonial history.
“We are still living with vestiges of the past that are holding us back, that’s why a British king is still our head of state; that’s why we are not fully on board with the Caribbean Court of Justice; that’s why we are so violent in how we deal with each other; that’s why we don’t respect our own Jamaican language; that’s why we still deny communities access to their beaches; and that’s why we see the Government bulldozing of the homes of vulnerable Jamaicans — people who the State ought to be protecting, not oppressing,” Golding said.
“It is time to free the Jamaican people from the deep sense of frustration and oppression that comes from a system that is not working for the majority of our people,” he said, adding that the country must not squander the chance of constitutional reform now being undertaken by a committee which has, among its members, Government and Opposition legislators.
“The constitution is the overarching guide to the way the whole system operates; the rules we make for ourselves and the processes that govern our lives as a people. It is not a meal deal, it is a big deal,” he declared.
“As a first step, we must reform our constitution to complete the decolonisation process. We in the PNP have no interest in moving to a republic while retaining the King’s Privy Council in London as Jamaica’s final court. Time come for full decolonisation,” Golding said.
“Jamaicans need a final court where they don’t need a visa to go there, and where the costs are not way out of their reach. Time come for a Jamaican head of State and the Caribbean Court of Justice as our final court. We will support both moving forward together. We have no interest in one without the other,” he added.
After his address Golding, in an interview with journalists, expanded on his statement regarding Jamaica’s final court. Asked if the Opposition would not support the reform process if the issues of the Caribbean Court of Justice and Jamaican head of State were not twinned, he said, “I don’t really want to put that on the table at this time, but we really have little interest with proceeding with one and not the other. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.
“The Privy Council came out of slavery and, as part of moving forward, we need to adopt the Caribbean Court of Justice which Jamaica helped to design, helped to finance, and we have a judge on the court. It is an excellent court, it has been well received internationally for the quality of its judgments, and we’re depriving our people of access to justice, so we have no interest in moving forward without it. What that ultimately means for voting in Parliament, I don’t want to get into that today.”
Asked if that position meant that the party will withdraw its participation in the reform process, Golding said “No.”
He reminded that the PNP sat out two meetings of the committee after the Government, in July, tabled in Parliament and used its majority to pass the Constitution (Amendment of Sections 96 and 121) Act, 2023, which moves the retirement age of the director of public prosecutions and the auditor general from 60 to 65 without any prior consultation with the Opposition or the Constitutional Reform Committee.
Describing the move as another display of “arrogance and bad governance” by the Government, he said, “But once we decided to take that matter to court….we’ve resumed our role on the committee and we will continue to participate on it unless something else happens which causes us concern.”