Jamaica Observer / The newest round of the Vale Royal talks is slated to begin next month, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said yesterday. “There is an agenda already set. The two general secretaries [of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party and Opposition People’s National Party] have been talking; they have basically finalised the schedule for meetings, which will be publicised later on,” Holness told the Jamaica Observer in an interview at Jamaica House.
The talks, introduced 16 years ago by former Prime Minister P J Patterson to achieve consensus between the Government and Opposition on issues of national concern, have since been convened by former prime ministers Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson Miller.
Last month Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips called on the Government to immediately resume the talks to find practical solutions to some of the critical issues facing the country.
“We, the People’s National Party, are calling for the Vale Royal talks to take place quickly and urgently, and to begin with the discussion on crime and the fixing of the criminal justice system,” Dr Phillips told PNP supporters at a meeting in Clarendon.
“We want to talk with them directly and earnestly. We are not doing this for an ego trip. We are doing this because we love and want to protect the people of Jamaica every step of the way,” Dr Phillips said.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Holness said the talks were being organised based on the principle of partnership being pursued by his Administration. He was responding to the Observer ‘s query about the Government’s stated commitment to a referendum on a number of burning issues, among them the buggery law and whether Jamaica should remove The Queen as head of state.
“The Government is still of the view that there are some constitutional matters that need to be settled,” said Holness. “We had raised some of them which we think should be put to a grand referendum for the people to have a say. As we get into our Government, we recognise that there are other issues as well that need political decisions to settle them first before we have a grand referendum so we can go to the people with positions, and I am also hearing the Opposition saying there are some constitutional matters that need attention. So, as it is evolving, we now have a process of trying to build political consensus around some national issues, and that is the resuscitation of the Vale Royal Talks.”
He said the Government is focused on extending the partnership approach to the political parties, using the mechanism of the Vale Royal talks, as the partnership process already includes the private sector, the church, civil society, and other stakeholders.
“Now we are going to try and develop the partnership process between the Government and the Opposition so that the political parties can sit down and come to consensus on the critical issues that face us,” Holness said, pointing out that among the issues are the constitutional matters, developing a national policy on crime and violence, and other matters put on the table by the Opposition.
“So, yes, the Government is still committed to a grand referendum, but as we get into the Government and we see we have to incorporate other issues, I believe there has to be a process of consensus building before we get to that stage of using a grand referendum,” the prime minister said.