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Bishop calls on Jamaica to honour people power pledge: The Church of England Newspaper, January 13, 2012 p 6. January 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of the Province of the West Indies, Politics.
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Bishop Robert Thompson

The Bishop of Kingston has called upon the newly elected government of Prime Minister Portia Miller-Simpson to honour its “people power” pledge and not turn its back on the poor now that it has returned to office.

At an invocation delivered at the first meeting of the cabinet on 9 January, Bishop Robert Thompson, the suffragan bishop of Kingston, reminded the government of its pledge not to treat the poor as objects, but to include them in the life of the nation.

Drawing upon middle class fiscal discontent Mrs.  Miller-Simpson’s People’s National Party (PNP) expanded upon its working class base to return to office for the first time since 2007.  Among its campaign pledges, the PNP promised to break its current ties with the UK and establish a republic in time for the 50th anniversary of independence celebration this June, and to repeal Jamaica’s “Buggery Laws”, de-criminalizing homosexual conduct.

The liberal PNP trounced the rule conservative Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) of Prime Minister Andrew Holness at the 29 December 2011 election.  While the swing toward the PNP was only 3.7 per cent, with only 60,000 votes separating the parties out of 800,000 cast, the PNP won the majority of closely contested districts, giving it 42 seats to the JLP’s 21 in parliament.

Unemployment is presently running at 13 per cent in Jamaica, and in the poorer neighborhoods of Kingston it climbs to 60 per cent among the young.  Approximately 43 per cent of the population lives on below the poverty line of $2.50 a day, the IMF reports, while Jamaica’s state debt has ballooned to $18.6 billion – accounting for a third of the country’s GDP.

The JLP was also hurt by its purported links to organized crime.  The former government of had opposed the extradition to the U.S. on narcotic charges of criminal kingpin Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, leader of the Shower Posse gang.  Coke was arrested in May 2010 after a combined police/army raid on his headquarters in Kingston left 70 dead.

In a widely reported sermon preached on 1 Jan 2012 at the Kingston Parish Church, Bishop Thompson noted that successive governments had courted the votes of the poor, but ignored them after taking office.

“It never fails to amaze me, that when successive governments speak about a social contract, the poor are usually excluded from the equation,” said the bishop. “We make a terrible mistake when we assume that the poor have nothing to contribute to the social capital.”

“History teaches us that when the gap grows between the rich and the poor, when the middle gets increasingly squeezed, and those at the bottom are almost completely forgotten, social bonds begin to unravel and resentment sets in,” the bishop said.

“The poor must not be seen as the subject of our benevolence, but as part of the social capital for national development,” he argued.

“When you don’t believe you belong, you are not likely to make sacrifices for the greater good. I hope our new prime minister will be someone who promotes the [common good] by being open and available to others while, at the same time, affirming their self-worth. Nothing short of that will work in the Jamaica of today,” Bishop Thompson said.