Holness keeps word on half-way-tree square bus fare hike demonstration
KINGSTON –– As promised, members of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) team and numerous supporters today congregated in Half-Way-Tree Square as the peaceful demonstration against government’s bus fare increase got under way.
Members from the team headed by party leader Andrew Holness had promised that the protest would begin at 7 a.m., but based on observations they had taken their positions in the commercial hub way before that time.
Party stalwarts Desmond McKenzie and Horace Chang were among members seen leading a growing crowd of supporters in front on the Mandela Park.
Police were also strategically placed monitoring the proceedings as a sound system blared in the early morning.
Holness ignored the government’s compromise in halving the 200 per cent increase on fares for the elderly, stating that the country had now reached a point where the people could not continue to accept increases triggered by the government’s inefficiency. He said that it was time the government learnt that it had to stop compressing the economy, freezing wages and increasing costs to the public, and start growing the economy.
Holness, who was speaking to a meeting of the executive committee of the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) North Central St Andrew constituency at its Red Hills Road head office, said, the planned demonstration was not political.
“We are a political party that is not just for Labourites. We must appeal to every Jamaican; whether you are rich or yuh poor, whether you are uptown or downtown. We provide a political platform for everybody. That’s my policy,” he stated.
He explained that this was the basis on which he had sought the support of other organizations concerned about the increases in bus fares.
“We are not going to block no road . . . . We are demonstrating by going to a place of significance, with our message written, and verbally, to show the government how serious we are in opposition to these increases,” Holness said.
He urged JLP supporters to wear the national colours — black, green and gold — and accommodate all who wished to join the protest, including supporters of the governing People’s National Party.
He said that JLP supporters had had an “awesome duty and responsibility” placed on them by the rest of Jamaica to stand up publicly and protest for those who were afraid to say “enough is enough”, for whatever reason.
However, Holness said that today’s demonstration would not be a one-off activity.
“This protest is not the end. This is the beginning of the change . . . . You will have to make the change for the rest of Jamaica,” he told the cheering supporters, who braved the heavy rains to hear him.
He said that his team would be out in Half-Way-Tree Square from as early as 7 a.m., and urged the audience to bring out their friends and neighbours to join in protest.
Other speakers at the meeting were JLP general secretary and spokesman on transport Dr Horace Chang; deputy general secretary Andrew Wheatley; and Member of Parliament for the constituency Karl Samuda.
The government introduced new fares for travel on the publicly owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses yesterday. The new fares increased by 20 per cent for adults, 50 per cent for students, and 100 per cent for the elderly.
Immediately after the announcement by Minister of Transport and Works Dr Omar Davies, the JLP said that it would vigorously oppose the fares if they were implemented.
Late last night, the councillor caucus of the opposition party said that it was throwing its full support behind the protest.
“The caucus supports the principled stance of the JLP and its leader Andrew Holness in opposing any increase at this time. We also fully support the symbolism behind his invitation to members of civil society organizations to join in taking a stand against this increase,” the body said in a release issued late yesterday.
“Unemployed people and working people employed in low-paying jobs will be seriously affected by this increase. Young people, families headed by single mothers, and even two parents on minimum wage, just cannot bear any more right now,” the release added.