Public sector groups say debaters failed to address issues

SEVERAL of the country’s public sector groups have collectively scored Tuesday’s national debate on social issues between the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) as underwhelming, pointing to their representatives’ failure to effectively flesh out the issues.

The debate, believed to have been widely watched by locals and Jamaicans in the diaspora, comes ahead of next Thursday’s general election which is expected to be hotly contested amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President Jasford Gabriel expressed concerns yesterday in a Jamaica Observer interview, saying that nothing was outlined by candidates on both sides with regards to the roll-out of broadband Internet access across the island, with teachers and students separated because of the deadly disease.

Gabriel, who recently assumed the position following the end of Owen Speid’s term, said the challenge being faced by the education sector is the lack of engagement between teachers and students because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“I was really expecting that we would hear something definitive in terms of the rolling out of broadband Internet access, with specific timelines and the coverage that we have, so that we’re in a position to know that we’ll be able to reach our students and to properly equip our teachers to participate in the process.

“For me, that was my take away. I was disappointed that even now we’ve not gotten anything definitive as far as that is concerned,” Gabriel said.

For Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) President Carmen Johnson, “nothing new” was presented from both sides.

She told the Observer that as head of the association she was hoping both parties would speak to the primary care renewal and plans for compensation for public sector workers.

“I wanted to hear a fulsome plan for HR (human resource) within the public sector, because the COVID-19 experience alone should have opened both sides’ eyes to say ‘Guess what? With what has been happening we have to move into a different mode. ‘

“We heard a long time that we are going to have the upgrades of the Type B facilities, not only from this Administration but from the previous Administration. We heard that we were going to get equipment for some of the bigger facilities, but how are we really going to be implementing it and what is your time frame so that we can hold you accountable. But if you’re going to just say it, it can be done any time in the four or five years. So for me really I didn’t get anything that was new for the health sector,” she said, declaring that the NAJ is a non-partisan body.

Dr Andrew Manning, head of the Medical Association of Jamaica, wanted to hear more details than what was offered on the fight against COVID-19.

He said little information was presented from the PNP’s Lisa Hanna, Raymond Pryce and Dr Dayton Campbell and the JLP’s Floyd Green, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton and Kamina Johnson Smith on the measures their party would employ to contain the rapid spread of the disease.

“It would have been good to have heard from both political parties any concerns regarding the election campaigning and possibly fuelling a further surge in COVID-19. I was a bit concerned that I didn’t hear any more details in respect to that,” said Manning.

He said, while it is understood that the time allotted for answers was relatively short, none of the two teams gave a clear plan to acquire much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE), though it was mentioned during the 90-minute-long event.

“One of the issues with the PPEs is that other governments, in particular our neighbours to the north, have taken a decision that it is time to restrict the flow of PPEs from their country to other countries or flow of PPEs through their countries to other countries. I would have liked to have heard those in authority talk about diplomatic efforts that could have been taken to try and address that particular issue. The shortage of PPEs is a big issue and it’s going to be with us for some time. It’s a critical issue,” he said.

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