We happily welcome 2017. As we embrace the New Year for all the potential and promise it holds, we give God thanks for sparing our lives to see yet another year.
We thank God for sparing us from what appeared to be imminent natural disasters. We spare a thought for our loved ones, heroes and benefactors who left us last year. And we collectively give God thanks for all our achievements and successes last year and particularly, note with great pride the incredible accomplishments of our athletes and highlight the superhuman feats of Usain Bolt.
We reflect as well on our experiences last year and the lessons we take forward to manage the challenges and opportunities this New Year will bring.
Personally, my own experiences have reaffirmed that with goals, a smart plan, faith in God and the willingness and commitment to hard work, you can achieve your dreams, even when there is doubt and the odds are stacked against you.
The New Year is a time of setting new dreams and making resolutions to achieve them. I encourage all Jamaicans not to be afraid to dream big and set ambitious goals.
In particular, I urge parents not to limit the imagination of our children, by reinforcing negative stereotypes on their minds or constrain them within the boundaries of what you believe your resources can afford. Our Children are never worthless. Their dreams today will become the value in our reality tomorrow. Let them have dreams, ambitions and aspirations.
Dreams and resolution are meaningless until we open our eyes and convert them to a vision through strategic planning, and into the reality we want by disciplined effort, diligent work and faith in God.
In as much as we set new resolutions this year, take the time to plan the pathway to your dreams, write down your goals, it helps you to vision them, stick to your plan, put in the work, be resolute in your resolutions.
I know one of your resolutions this year may be to achieve some measure of economic independence, whether it is through:
Advancing your education and skills to gain employment and earn your own income,
To pay a mortgage towards owning your own home instead of paying rent
Or start investing in your own business enterprise
Our government shares these resolution. That is why we have reinstated the Tuition Free Access to Education Policy.
Every Jamaican child must have access to education to open their minds to possibilities and big thinking; empowered with the tools to convert dreams to reality. That is why we have maintained a laser-like focus on Economic Growth, through which we will create jobs. Already we see our efforts starting to bud.
The latest growth figures for the 3rd quarter of last year show 2% growth in GDP, the highest growth since 2007.
Employment also grew in the last quarter; both total employment and, of particular note, youth employment.
Growth in tourism has been record breaking. From January to October last year, the island recorded 5.2% growth, with total visitor arrivals reaching over 3.1 million.
Cruise ship arrivals increased by 9.1% and, for this winter season, Jamaica has secured in excess of 4,000 new seats from the United States, compared to last winter.
Gross foreign exchange earnings from tourism between January and October last year were in excess of US$2 billion, a 5.7% increase over the corresponding period.
Investments in the sector have been phenomenal, with over 1,000 new rooms expected to be added to our room stock during winter tourist season of 2017, apart from those which will become available through renovation and upgrading.
The Business Process Outsourcing sector is growing rapidly and will see major expansions in jobs, benefiting more Jamaicans in 2017 with Development Bank of Jamaica, the Factories Corporation of Jamaica and the Port Authority of Jamaica continue to make and support major investments in the sector.
We have also increased NHT support for persons seeking to acquire housing solutions and based on the many thank-yous I have been getting many Jamaicans have been putting the 1.5 income tax relief to good use.
Generally there is a sense of optimism, the rating agencies have revised upward their outlook on Jamaica, and business confidence is at an all-time high.
As your government we have managed to achieve a seamless and uninterrupted transition to a new IMF programme and maintain fiscal discipline while stimulating some measure of economic growth at the same time.
Our dream is to see every Jamaican economically independent, thriving and fulfilled and not just surviving.
To bring this dream to reality we have developed and placed into action a national plan to transform Jamaica.
In 2017 the government will continue its focus on the transformation of the economy.
We cannot do it alone, we need all hands on deck. This is why we have emphasized partnerships with civil society and various interest groups.
The Economic Growth Council and the Economic Programme Oversight Committee will continue to play critical roles in ensuring the nation is informed, buys in, and stays committed to the economic transformation programme.
This year great focus will be placed on the transformation of the public sector.
There are some fundamental truths which the country must come to grips with if we are to achieve our economic independence.
We need a large and active private sector to invest and create enterprise.
The private sector is not just a grouping of very rich people who own all the wealth to the exclusion of everyone else.
The private sector includes the small and microenterprise owners as well. 1,000 small farmers across Jamaica employing 1 addition person, and 200 small contractors hiring 5 more workers because 100 new small bed and breakfast hotels are catering to tourist all over the island, has the same or greater investment and employment effect as opening one large hotel or one factory.
We must see and treat our small entrepreneurs and business people equally as the “Private Sector”.
The Public Sector exist to support the growth and development of the Private Sector regardless of the size and status of the business or enterprise.
The slow pace of approvals and permits, and over bureaucratic processes and regulation is a constraint and concern to all who do business, whether big business or small business.
Everyone who works in the Public Sector should realize that we only have jobs because we serve private citizens and businesses. Everyone who works in the Public Sector, should realize that our condition and terms of service can only improve when the private sector is growing.
2017 will be the year when the transformation of our Public Sector begins.
In this model of a supportive public sector and an energized private sector, every Jamaica can play their part in going for economic growth and job creation whether you are a clerk or the permanent secretary, or a waiter or a hotel manager if we all make it our duty to do our duty more efficiently and effectively, this will be the ultimate partnership for our prosperity.
As we look back at last year we heard, saw and felt the pain of our people, dealing with the impacts crime.
We know that sections of Jamaica continue to be plagued by serious crimes, particularly murders.
The brazen and gruesome nature of the criminal acts sent shockwaves of fear far beyond the locality of the crime. The disturbing trend of increasing incidents of violence against women and children is of grave concern to the government.
At this point, when all economic indicators are pointing in the right direction, crime is the greatest threat to Jamaica achieving economic growth.
Crime is the greatest threat to our economic independence.
I believe the Jamaican people are now prepared and expects firm and decisive action in breaking the neck of the crime monster once and for all.
I have been around the country and everywhere I go the cry is the same, deal with the criminals.
I no longer detect an ambivalence, while there is still some sympathy for the complex social justice issues that explain crimes, the Jamaican people do not view poverty and lack of opportunity as an excuse for crime.
There are thousands of Jamaican young men and women who are poor and without opportunity, but who continue the good struggle.
The young man from St. Ann who I met recently during a trip to Ocho Rios, is learning to carve. And he and others in his community are selling craft items to nearby attractions; earning his family and the country well needed foreign exchange.
Or the group of young men in my constituency, who pool together to promote round robin parties. They made a decision NOT to pursue a life of crime regardless of how difficult their circumstances. But every time a shot is fired, someone gets robbed or a murder is committed, the dance is locked off and permits are refused, or the tour to attraction gets cancelled. The economic independence that young man from St Ann and the young dance promoters from Olympic Gardens is denied. Criminals chose crime. Criminals are not Robin Hood, they rob us of our livelihood.
We have a plan to secure Jamaica and in the coming weeks, aspects of the plan that can be made public will be disclosed.
We will be creating the legislative environment to support the establishment of the rule of law in communities where it is absent and to separate criminals from communities they have captured.
Under this framework, zones where the security forces and other government agencies will be able to conduct special long term operations in high crime areas, including extensive searches for guns, contraband and criminals will be created.
We have already made significant investments in increasing our ability to control our maritime borders to intercept illegal shipments of guns and contraband.
There will be restructuring of the security forces to increase operation and administrative focus on the Western parishes, which will see the western operational area for the police split in two and the JDF presence increased to a batalion stationed in Montego Bay along with other infrastructure improvements to accommodate these changes.
We have already started to seek international support in technical and strategic areas from friendly countries, however, every Jamaican must recognize that no foreign country can solve our crime problem or sponsor a solution.
We must solve our crime problem as a nation.
We are confident that this year will be the break-through year in bring the crime monster under control while respecting the human rights of every citizen.
As a government we are prepared to use the full force of the law to address the crime problem, as it is the greatest threat to Jamaica’s prospects, progress and prosperity at this time. I call on all Jamaicans to join the national effort against crime. Information is the best weapon against the criminal. Share it wisely.
We are very optimistic about the coming year. I know things have already started to improve.
I know as well that after many years of false starts and broken promise, disbelief and pessimism is still widespread. One of my commitments is to keep the government committed to the current path. Another of my commitment to you is to ensure that poorest and disposed benefit in an accelerated way from the progress and prosperity that will come.
My goal is to ensure that you fulfill your dreams. I wish for all Jamaica health, happy, prospect-filled, progressive and prosperous New Year.