The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, PC, MP
Prime Minister of Jamaica
Handing Over Ceremony for Shrewsbury Phase II
October 25, 2023
I want to thank Pastor Albert Whyte for his prayers. I know that you did not pray for the rain to hold, but you may have had it in your mind and so the rain is holding up. Nevertheless, we are appreciative of the blessings that it brought. We have beengoing through a long period of drought for a few months, so we are very appreciative of the break in the drought, and we are hopeful that this rain that we are having will not cause any damage to infrastructure. So far, it has not been expected that we note that in Kingston, it has caused some traffic snarls which areexpected because when it rains so intensely, so quickly, our drainage system was never built to deal with this excess capacity of water.
Allow me to acknowledge my particularly good friend the Custos of your parish, Canon the Honorable Hartley Perrin. And on my entry, I made sure to ask him to pray for me and I know he will.
Allow me to acknowledge the Deputy Mayor, Mr. Ian Miles, representing the Municipal Corporation and all the other Members of the Municipal Corporation who are here.
Board Chair, Mr. Doran Dixon, is ever dependable whenever other board members cannot make it, Doran is always here with us at these handing over ceremonies. And other members of the board who may be here as well.
Mr. Martin Miller, Managing Director of the NHT and Members of the executive team.
Allow me to make special acknowledgement of your Member of Parliament, Mr. George Wright. Now, it does not really matter which side of the aisle the MPs are from. Whenever they catch the Prime Minister, they are going to make sure that in front of their constituents, they show that they are making representation so every problem that exists, they are going to bring it to my attention. And you must commend George because he has used the opportunity quite well to bring to my attention other areas of land which may be available to be used for housing for its constituents even if those lots were designated before my time and that is the challenge that prime ministers have. Everyone expects them to be able to deliver.
Now this Prime Minister gets a lot of requests, and I must contend and contemplate that the reason for that is that I have delivered and so people are of the view that I am able to deliver even more. So here it is I am delivering on commitments made for housing only to be confronted with other commitments that were made before my time, expecting me to deliver on those as well.
Well, George, it is my job to deliver. It is my job to build. It is my job to get it done. And so, George and all the people who are gathered here, the people who I serve, you have my assurance that I’m going to do everything within my powers for every moment that I have to work in your behalf to get your dreams and aspirations, your desires fulfilled.
So, allow me to acknowledge the beneficiaries of the Shrewsbury Housing Development Phase II and to say how happy I am that you are finally getting the opportunity to own your own home.
I recall when we were doing Phase I of this and we opened that, I gather, we did that about three or four years ago? Martin? Somewhere around that, we did that. It is always a pleasure to participate in these activities, these handing overs, groundbreaking because it is an opportunity for Jamaicans to fulfill their dreams. All the beneficiaries here, I am sure, are extremely delighted today that they are finally, finally going to get the keys to their own house, to their own home and I amparticularly happy that I had a little something to do with it.
The NHT development here comprises fifty-eight residential lots, and the houses on those lots were constructed under the NHT’s Labour and Small Materials Programme, (LSM Programme). Twenty-three units have already been built in 2020 and now we have constructed thirty-two additional housing units, fourteenone bedrooms and eighteen studio units.
Additionally, it is noted that there are three lots which are not yet available and will be partially used for road construction to connect the next phase. However, they are large enough for service lots to be made available thereafter. Of the thirty-twohousing solutions, twenty-five eligible contributors were selected, as sevensolutions have been reserved for public sector workers and persons with disabilities. Of the thirty-two contributors selected, the gender of the selectees is almost equal. We have thirteen females and twelve males.
In addition, the highest number of selectees, 52% earn between minimum wage and $30,000 weekly. People, what this means is that these selectees will access their mortgages at, believe it or not, 0%. So, 52% of the persons who are the selectees, the beneficiaries here will get their mortgage at 0%. This is how the NHT is helping. Of note, 72% of the selectees are within the age group 41 – 60. Now, how do you describe that? Is that middle age? Is that young? Youngish? The youngish age group… Further, 36% of the selectees work in accounting administration, in the clerical field and 24% are in skilled services areas, 20% are working in housekeeping and the services sector as cooks, gardeners, and bartenders, office attendants, stewards, etc. so there is quite a mix of beneficiaries representing all strata of the society.
Since its inception, the NHT has contributed to over 3, 000 housing solutions in Westmoreland through its various programmes and the NHT’s current housing programme includes eight developments. These developments will bring to market a further 4,600 housing solutions in Westmoreland over the next few years and then you may be able to identify with a few of these projects.
Savannah Park, this is going to be done under our Guaranteed Purchase Programme. We will be building fourteen solutions there and we expect to be completed in 2024.
Shrewsbury Phase II, we will be doing twenty-seven units there and that will be completed next year, 2024.
Negril Spot, an exceptionally large project; this is under our Developers Programme. We will be doing 1,040 units there and that will be completed in 2026.
Sheffield Palms, this is under our Guaranteed Purchase Programme. Sixty units will be built there; that will be completed in 2024.
Paradise, this will be done under our Guaranteed Purchase Programme, and we will be building 2,453 units there and that we expect to be completed in 2029 and I expect to be handing over those homes at that time.
Fontabell, this will be done under our Developers Programme, 355 housing solutions. In 2027, we expect that this will be done, and I will be handing that over as well.
In Orolands, this will be a joint venture, 520 units in 2027 and Chantilly Gardens under the Guaranteed Purchase Programmes, 135 housing solutions and this will be in October 2026 making up a total of 4,604 housing solutions.
Now, I want you to reflect on what I have just said. I am giving targets that are quite sometimes off, 2029, 2027, but that is how long it takes sometimes from the conception of the housing project to securing the approvals, securing the financing,and then moving into the construction phase. In fact, the proprietary phases, securing the land, developing the concept, getting the approvals, putting in place the infrastructure, is sometimes- well most times longer than the construction phase and it becomes even more complex in today’s world because we mustcontend with procurement regulations. We must contend with all kinds of other reporting requirements and therefore the time is extended.
So, what it means is that the NHT must be planning today for housing that will not get to market till six years so the NHT’s planning horizon is an extraordinarily long-planning horizon. And they have on their books they are now housing solutions which are in advanced stages of planning but will not get onto the market for another three to six years. So, when we say that we are targeting, that is the NHT is targeting to build 43,000 new housing solutions. Effectively, they have identified 43,000 housing solutions. They have the land where it is going to go. They have designs for many of them, so they are now going through the approvals. They are trying to identify infrastructure and one of the things that elongates even further the delivery time for these houses is the availability of sewage.
So, there are many projects that are in the books, but we have not identified the water supply source yet. We have not identified the sewage yet. And those issues elongate the development process. So, I just wanted to bring you into this process,but the houses are there, the plans are there, and they are working through them. Financing previously was another delaying factor. It is still a factor of concern. The NHT is a very well-resourced organization but the demands on its resources are many and therefore it must manage its cash flow very carefully so that when projects are ready, the financing is there. And so, we have gone through an internal process in the NHT to leverage the resources that we have to match the cash flow with the project timelines. And that, you would have heard some advertising, and I spoke about this at my last NHT handing over, were we have made some changes to how loans are issued, and that is to enable the NHT to be able to use its own cash flow to finance projects which are ready for delivery. Highly creative in the way in which we have gone about it, but it has no impact whatsoever on the customer. So, even though we have made changes internally, the public is not affected by those changes. In fact, the public continues to get all the benefits that they previously got under the old financing arrangement.
So, I wanted to bring the Jamaican public into the conversation. There is a great deal of impatience, and rightfully so, a great deal of frustration, and rightfully so. Why does it take so long to deliver on the amenities that people need, the infrastructure that people need, the services that people need?
So, Martin, I can only say to you, and your executive staff that is here, I know you are doing as much as you can. The executive staff, every time I speak, I know they are cringing because they know that I might be asking them to do something more on what we have already asked them to do. I am not going to do that today. I know that the NHT staff is basically stretched now based upon what we have given them in terms of delivering that 43,000 housing solutions but I do ask you to move with greater speed and alacrity, certainly in terms of the administration and the bureaucracy over which you have control to bring these projects more quickly to market.
The beneficiaries here, when you look on their faces, they are happy, but they are still upset because they might have been waiting for so long and that is the case with many Jamaicans. They hear us talk about the great things that are happening in the country, but they are still upset because it has taken so long not necessarily putting into context that the changes that we have had to go through to make it possible to get to this point, there’s very limited appreciation.
If I were making this presentation 10 years ago, I would not be able to read out to you 4,604 plans for housing because you would not have the money to do it: that isthe reality. Because we have made improvements in the economy, which has taken us a decade to get to that point, we are now focusing on trying to deliver services, amenities, and infrastructure to the people. So, I am not here asking for your patience, I am asking for you to understand the context within which you live and exist.
So, I wanted to also bring to your attention, aside from just building houses and making them available, that the NHT also has a civic and social mandate to develop capacity, human capabilities within the housing sector and as I had mentioned before, the NHT has a special programme called the Labour and Small Materials Programme. It was established by the NHT to maintain the affordability of the NHT housing developments while facilitating the employment for small contractors. The objectives of the programme are to construct NHT standard housing units at costs based on the NHTs established rates and the bulk procurement of construction materials.
Now all of you here who participate in anything to do with housing, you would understand that construction rates are unwieldy. Meaning that you could get a contractor to do the same scope of work for one price here, and just down the road you get another contractor, and it is a different price so there is a great deal of variability. And the NHT in trying to do small developments like these, which may be too small for large contractors, would face these kinds of variability if it were to just arbitrarily put these out to tender, which it does. But what it tries to do is to develop a cohort of contractors that understand the NHT’s rates and therefore when these works are let, their participation is more in line so that you, the householder,get the benefit of reasonable prices.
But the NHT goes one step further in procuring the materials. So, again, if the procurement were left up to the individual contractor, again, the variability and the small size meaning higher prices would also affect the final price of the house. So,the NHT in this programme collaborates with the contractors, establishes a pool, let them understand what the cost structures are, and procures in bulk the materials and all that helps to control the cost of the unit which you the beneficiaries get the ultimate benefit.
But the programme also helps to generate economic activity in the local, in the area where the development is taking place. So, the small contractors here benefit but the real benefit in my mind is that the contractors get on to a programme where they are properly monitored and supervised and therefore they get to build to standards because one of the challenges we are facing, the NHT and everyone else who is in construction, is the quality of the contracting work. It is exceedingly rarethese days that you can find someone who can say with confidence that they are an expert craftsman, an expert mason, an expert carpenter; exceedingly rare. And not all of them are exposed to the new techniques and technology in construction, things that can make the work move more quickly, integrate better practices in their construction methodologies and so the NHT in putting together these contractors is better able to see to the elevation of the standard of these contractors.
So, I wanted to also bring to your attention that the NHT is not just building the house. The NHT is also trying to develop a core of contractors that can work on small housing developments like these to build them to quality, build them to time and efficiency, and get them to you at a price that is affordable.
So, I want to commend the NHT for this initiative and encourage you to expand it even further and I indeed recommend it to other entities of government who mustdepend on contractors to do construction work for them. To be eligible for this programme, the people who are eventually selected must be registered with the Procurement Commission, formally the (NCC), the National Contracts Commission as grade three or four building contractors. If they are a company and usually, we would want to deal with a company, the company must be in good standing and must possess a valid tax compliance certificate.
Currently, under this programme, the NHT is constructing approximately 2,000 houses so you can see it is a significant programme right across the island. The public, I fear Martin, is not aware of all the great things that the NHT is doing, and this is one of the good programmes which need to be highlighted.
And just for the record, some of the homes that are under construction under this programme right here in Westmoreland:
So, you can see that this programme where we are taking small contractors, missioning them, tasking them, providing them with access to materials, it is right across the island and it is giving economic opportunity to these contractors, but at the same time delivering housing for beneficiaries like yourselves.
Now, as I have said repeatedly, your government wants to see all our citizens living in safe, clean, affordable housing so, providing adequate housing for our citizens is a priority for this administration, which is why I make the time to come to all these handing over ceremonies. I am certain, Martin, that by now I would be close to a hundred such ceremonies because housing is the foundation asset for every family. I honestly believe that, and I put great effort into ensuring that the NHT and the other entities of government that are responsible for housing is delivering on the mandate.
But I want to say, however, because whenever there is a discussion on housing, what usually happens is that what makes the news is someone complaining that they cannot get a house and that the NHT is not doing enough to build houses. The NHT and the HAJ will not be able to build all the houses required in Jamaica. Our estimate is that we have a shortfall between the demand for housing solutions and what can be delivered; about 150,000 housing solutions.
My recollection and Martin helped me to give the right figure, I do not believe that in the 42 years of existence of the NHT, the NHT has built 150,000 houses. So again, let us put the housing situation into context. If we are to rapidly build houses and not just any kind of house, we must build a house that you can afford so if we are to rapidly build the houses that you can afford, we need to have the private sector building houses as well. And it needs to be done at such a pace and affordability that it is not worth your while to go and illegally settle somewhere. It is better, that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to have government-sponsored housing through NHT and HAJ and private housing being built at a pace, affordability and availability so that you don’t have to squat so that you don’t have to go and capture land, that there is a housing market that all of you can participate in. That there is a house there at a price point that you can afford; that is what we are trying to do.
Now, the private housing market is doing very well. The challenge, however, is that- and this is usual with markets, private investors are going to place their money where they get the most profit.
So, you are finding that the private housing developers are focusing on the middle, upper-middle, and upper and they are delivering quite well. We have changed policy to attract private developers into the lower-middle and lower-income housing categories, and we are seeing solutions coming to market in that regard. The problem, of course, is that as we set a target price to say this is the affordable price, there is a thing called inflation.
Martin will recall that just before the pandemic, we were setting eight million dollars as the affordable target price for housing and after the pandemic, that just went through the window. The price of steel doubled. The price of lumber almost doubled. The price of ply almost doubled so that through construction costs out the window. So that leads me now to speak about the significance of government policy.
Now I have had your attention on housing for 15 minutes so, you are going to be particularly good students or rather congregants and listen to my sermon, Pastor, for another 10 minutes because I want to deliver to you an important message.
Now, this business of inflation is insidious. It is destructive. It has an impact on you psychologically of which you are not even aware. It makes consumers angry when you go with an expectation that this is the price of the commodity that I amgoing to purchase and then when you go to purchase it, the price is higher than what you expect. And then when you turn around and look at your income, your income has not moved so it means that either you must forego it or consume less. Either case, your welfare and well-being are reduced and that is the danger of inflation.
If as consumers you are faced with this reducing basket and a reduction in your welfare, you are going to get angry. You are going to get frustrated. And who do you take that out on? You take that out on government.
I was in Canada recently, and I must tell you, and I had the opportunity to converse with several other Prime Ministers, including Prime Minister Trudeau and every one of them is facing the same challenge because of this business of the global inflation affecting cost of living in their country. If you follow the news in the United Kingdom, that is the main complaint. If you follow the news in Canada when you talk to the people who are sending you remittances and your relatives and family members who are there, they will tell you. The cost-of-livingcomplaints in the United States, it is the same thing.
It is the reality of our situation but if you were to compare how Jamaica has fared with other countries you will see that your government, that you may be a little bit upset with, a little bit frustrated but your government has performed creditably. You may have a resistance in your mind to the fact, but if you were to remove biases and colored perspectives, you would have to come to that conclusion. When have you ever heard of a government of Jamaica going through a crisis like what we went through between 2020 and 2022? And immediately coming out of that crisis, our unemployment rate is the lowest it has ever been. When? Whenever we have been in a crisis whether it is a hurricane or oil price crisis, whatever it is, and your government was able to find forty billion dollars; the entire package of care that we gave out through that time is a hundred and odd billion dollars.
People who lost income because they had to stay home during the pandemic, they got a check to supplement their income. Almost 400,000 Jamaicans got a grant, all they had to do is sign up for it. When electricity prices went up, we gave a small subsidy. We increased the Path Programme continuously. When has that ever happened?
The inflation went up to almost 12%, but because of the government’s steady management of the economy, it is now at 5.8%. When has that ever happened? When there was a global financial crisis of 2009, it took us 10 years to recover the loss in economic output. We have recovered in two years. We are back to our post pandemic output and exceeding that. The National Debt in the pandemic went up to 110%. You know what it is now? It is 78% and at the end of this financial year it will be 74% debt to GDP ratio. It has never happened!
So, I do listen very carefully to the expressions of frustration, and I understand it because inflation has that impact on the psyche and outlook of the electorate, but I urge you, be rational. Always seek context. Do not be led by what you see in front of you. Look behind it. Look at the broader picture because you hold in your hands an especially important power and that determines your future. And if you determine your future on falsehoods, if you determine your future on misinformation, if you consume some of the nonsense that I see people listening to, people who should know better, you will destroy your future.
In today’s world, every government is wrestling with the explosion of misinformation and the impact on their society. Just this morning, I was reviewing a programme by the Government of the Philippines. They are facing the same challenge. They are very concerned that the level of misinformation in their society, I mean, aside from the impact politically on governments, but just how it is impacting on how their citizens behave, that they have launched a programme of media literacy just to ensure that their citizens when they get the nonsense on their phones, that they are able to say, no, this is not true. Let me go to a verified source. But a lot of people are now getting information that is fake and even when it says fake news, people believe it because it is in print.
A few weeks ago, I had to dispel a rumor that the government was planning to change some pension policy. Now, this is an easy thing to find out. You could go on the JIS website, you could go on the Ministry of Finance website but no. People who should know better were circulating a rumor like wildfire when the information is there, media literacy.
Now, can you imagine that with this false information that people got about their pensions, a lot of people were making decisions to say, do you know what, I am going to retire early so that this does not catch me. Can you imagine if we did notcatch that rumour and try to stop it, the human resource loss that the government would face because of a falsehood?
It is a sad reality of the times in which we live, but I urge you to be incredibly careful about the information that you consume. Times are hard, without question. There is inflation. When we say that 4.5% unemployment, clearly more people are working but it does not mean that everybody has a high paying job. That is the next phase now, how we are going to improve on upskilling our people so that they can get better pay. But it should not be the case that you consume this falsehood that the information is untrue that people are not employed. And that there are many people who believe that.
The verified information is that Standards and Poor’s, a rating agency and Moody’s Investor Service, another rating agency, has rated Jamaica very well. They have given us our highest rating. Our economy has gotten the highest rating it has ever gotten in the history of rating our economy.
So, people outside our economy just looking at the objective facts, the figures have concluded that Jamaica economically is doing well. What you feel may not necessarily square up with this because you still have to contend with all the issues that are around you whether it is bad roads, can’t get proper public transportation, issues to do with water, issues to do with housing but because our economy is doing well, you should maintain a hopeful and optimistic posture that your government, with your involvement as citizens holding the government to account, will increase the pace at which it delivers The services to you.
Which is why I go back to my point. We have the resources now. We have plans. We want the NHT to increase the pace of delivery to work faster and be more productive so that you, the citizens, can have the benefit from that to see the change in your well-being and your welfare. Your well-being and welfare now arenot so much about the economy, it is how fast the government can convert the dividends of good economic performance into benefits for you. How fast can we procure the new buses? How fast can we fix your roads? How fast can we build the houses that you want? How fast can we repair the hospital? Good case in point, the repair of the Cornwall Regional Hospital.
That is where we are now, that is where your society is. Give God thanks. We have essentially reached a new equilibrium in our economy and now we’re going to transition to ensure that the benefits from that new equilibrium in our economy can be converted very quickly into providing you with the services and amenities that will improve the quality and well-being that you want to enjoy and that is where your government is now focused. Do not lose faith. Do not lose focus. Do not be distracted. We have never been in this good spot for our future development before. Let us not squander it because we have been distracted. Remain focused.
God bless you and thank you.