Brian Schmidt, Vice chair of the Jamaica Debates Commission
By Racquel Porter
Jamaica's two major political parties are to face off in two rounds of debates next week ahead of the February 26, local government election.
The Jamaica Debates Commission says the debates are scheduled for February 15 and 17.
Vice chair of the JDC, Brian Schmidt, told journalists during a press conference Friday morning that each debate will run for 90 minutes and will feature selected participants from the Jamaica Labour Party and People's National Party.
The two-day exercise is expected to cost $24 million.
Journalists will pose questions relating to local government policy on night one.
"We have suggested for the first debate that they consider the following as parameters. Is Jamaica's current local government system fit for purpose or does it need significant re-engineering? For example, is there a clear demarcation between the roles and responsibilities of municipal administrations and those of the central government? Are there appropriate accountability mechanisms and do these mechanisms that exist deliver the desired results?"
Mr. Schmidt stressed that these are guidelines, adding that the Debates Commission does not know what questions will be asked ahead of time.
"The questions are formulated by our journalists. We have no idea. We know what the questions are at the same time that everybody sees them or hears them when they're asked," he said.
Mr. Schmidt also outlined plans for debate two, which will focus on local government at work and local government and the citizen.
"This time the parameters are very, very interesting. We're expecting discussion maybe on tourism, inclusive of housing, planning and development that goes with it. There's urban development and town planning. There's the environment, sewage, sanitation, garbage collection, enforcement of NEPA guidelines."
Issues related to disaster risk management, beach access and protection, agriculture and fisheries, roads and other infrastructure and development of economic drivers are also expected to feature in the debate.
The JLP will have the closing statement on night one, scheduled to begin at 9 p.m., while the PNP will have the closing statement on night two.
Television Jamaica News Editor Janella Precius and Nationwide News Deputy Executive Editor/Producer George Davis will moderate the debates.
The moderators will be joined by a panel of journalists.
"We have two journalists who will act as questioners and a social media journalist. For debate one, our moderator is Ms. Janella Precius and the panelists asking questions will be Ms. Janet Silvera, Mr. Giovanni Dennis and our social media editor will be Ms. Neika Lewis. For debate two, our moderator will be Mr. George Davis. Our panelists will be Mr. Arthur Hall, Ms. Natalie Campbell and again doing social media editor duties will be Miss Neika Lewis," Mr. Schmidt outlined.