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Time to fix Jamaica: Phillips calls for united approach to conquer the nation’s challenges

Time to fix Jamaica: Phillips calls for united approach to conquer the nation’s challenges

Jamaica has to address the matter of unemployment, crime, poverty and the lack of proper education if the country is to be lifted out of the dire situation in which it finds itself, says Leader of the Opposition Dr. Peter Phillips.

While not ready to call Jamaica a failed state, Dr. Phillips said it is time Jamaica tackles the problems collectively, as each issue is connected to the other.

“It is not meant to indicate or to imply any failure at nationhood, but to suggest that we need to seriously find a pathway to conquer these challenges,” Dr. Phillips said.

The Opposition Leader was speaking at the Leadership Breakfast Discussion series held at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St. James on April 26.

“We have a situation where 20 per cent of the population is estimated to be living below the poverty line. That figure does not address the significant number who are living on the edge, who essentially are finding themselves out of funds before the next pay day, or even to meet any crisis of illness or any educational emergency that their children may face,” he said.

Dr. Phillips said the official statistics suggest that 700,000 Jamaicans live in what is defined as squatter communities, indicators that the challenge of greater equity in social and economic arrangements still remains.

“Without drawing a direct linkage between both things, we cannot ignore the contributing underpinning of all of this to the problem of massive crime and antisocial behaviour that we have, because it is one aspect of this inequality that underlines the difficult fact that we have one of the highest murder rates in the world, and if I dare say, St James is at the top of this national high,” Phillips underscored.

The Opposition Leader indicated that the effort to make education universal began in 1958, which resulted in 2,000 free places being created in high schools. This was a vast improvement over the status quo, under which there was limited access to secondary education for most Jamaicans, and where in the entire island, there were only 12 free places going to children. By contrast, he said, there were now 40,000 free places awarded each year to students entering high school.

He said despite this fact, however, the educational system is two-tiered, which is why so many parents go through so much anguish every time the GSAT results are reported, wondering which school their child will get to attend.

“It is a tragic truth that the life chances of so many of our children are going to be determined on the basis of that fateful selection of whether you go to one of the so-called name brand traditional high schools or whether you go to another,” Dr. Phillips said.

He highlighted that among those traditional high schools, the average success rate of getting five or more subjects in one sitting — including mathematics and English — is upward of 80 per cent, while for the other schools, it is below 50 per cent, and in some cases, in the teens and below.

He said 13 per cent of the population was unemployed, with 20 per cent living below the poverty line and 25 per cent residing in squatter communities. All of this, he noted, was against the background of a murder rate that was highest in the world.

Dr. Phillips was quick to point out, however, that these statistics do not deny the tangible achievements the country had made.

“We have accomplished much, and we have preserved our democracy: not all the countries entering into the 1960s have done that. We have preserved the basic entitlements of workers to organise, and of people to freely assemble to defend their rights; we have one of the freest, one might say overly licensed, press and media environment, and long may it be so. But we need to find pathways to conquer these challenges that remain,” Dr. Phillip noted.