Speech by the Prime Minister

Address By The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, MP Prime Minister At the Hand-Over Ceremony of over 5000 Solar Lamps

Minister Wheatley

Minister Williams

Mr Phillip Paulwell representing the leader of the opposition and representing himself in his own right as member of parliament for Eats Kingston and Port royal

Mrs Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn, Member of Parliament for West Rural St Andrew

And of course the Most Honourable Mrs Juliet Holness, Member of Parliament in her own right for East Rural St Andrew

Mr Winston Watson, well before…

Mr Russell Hadid, Chairman of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica

Mr Winston Watson Group General Manager

And Dr Peter Ruddock, Manager of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

Members of the constituencies that are benefiting

Members of the media

Of course, Lieutenant Colonel Rickman of the HOPE Programme who is also here

Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

This year I’ll be a Member of Parliament for 21 years. The reason why I start at that point is that almost every year as a representative, I’ve had to deal with ‘burnouts’ and MPs would understand what I’m talking about when I say ‘burnout’.

Someone’s home will be destroyed by fire and it’s not arson. It’s that you have an aging housing stock that is primarily sometimes of wood, some people make their homes out of cardboard bagasse, find all kinds of materials to build homes which are not  necessarily fire resistant or can stand up to hard use but that’s one part of the problem. So of the houses destroyed by fire, a significant number would be caused by open flame usage. People would be using open flames to cook, people would be using open flames for lighting particularly at nights and then another significant number of that would be homes destroyed by open flames in which children were victims.

Earlier this year, we had a situation where four youngsters in my constituency perished in a fire due to the use of open flame lighting. Now, I’ve had since my time as Member of Parliament maybe, I can recall over ten such instances. The challenge that we have is that whilst there is access to electricity a pole with wires, runs pass their home but they simply cannot afford a connection. In fact, in the last incident that occurred, the yard in which they live had access to electricity, homes in that yard had electricity but that particular home did not. You could describe that household as being energy-poor. They live in an area where there is electricity but their income does not allow them to afford electricity and when we dig deeper, we find that the mother had to work and so she left her daughter to take care of herself and her siblings and relatives. The daughter left went out to a party and left her younger sibling in charge.

The younger sibling was outside playing I gather and this is all what I’m told, I have no proof that this is what actually happened but this is what was said, and the children who were inside who had lit candles. We don’t know what happened whether or not the candle burnt out or fell but the end result is that four children perished and I thought to myself that having been a representative for so long there must be something that is within my powers to change this. It’s a simple problem obviously but it is nevertheless a very difficult problem to address.

The Government could consider energy grants as some countries do. The Government could consider that should be a minimum right to electricity but what would be the cost of that and can the Government afford that. Can the Government put energy as a welfare grant such as a cash coupon through the PATH Programme maybe as other countries do? That could be one solution. My view is that we’re not at that stage just yet, but certainly at some point in the future as we seek to refine our social safety net then we would have to restructure our public expenditure in such a way that we give some minimum safety net to our citizens and that I believe would probably adequately address the problem.

You would still find negligent persons using open flames but it would not be as a result of them being energy-poor. But is there another way in the interim? Is there another way whilst we build our economy to be able to support such a forward and progressive thinking in dealing with our social safety net and social welfare?

With the advance of technology I’m sure there is and I ask the Minister of Energy to investigate whether or not we are at a stage where the Government could give a subsidy through solar technology because effectively that’s what it amounts to, the Government giving a subsidy in solar technology for households that are deemed to be energy-poor.

The Minister came back and there are many solutions and I just want to put that on the table. This is only one of hundreds of solutions. This programme is not the entirety of the Government’s response. This is the start, this is going to be a pilot and so we’ve selected seven constituencies within the urban area where we would be better able to quickly identify households that are in need and provide the necessary support services not just the solar lamps but the ecosystem to make the solar lamps usable.

I’m going to go back a little in history. The Cuban Government in the early 2000’s gave a gift of energy efficient fluorescent bulbs to Jamaica to replace incandescent bulbs and I thought it was an excellent gesture and an excellent programme. My constituency was selected to be one of the beneficiaries for the pilot of the programme and not only did Cuba send the bulbs but they sent a delegation of what would be the equivalent of their youth service.

My recollection was about thirty young Cubans came along with those bulbs and as a young MP at the time or a younger MP at the time, I went with the Cuban delegation down to where the light bulbs were at New Port West and I offloaded a container of light bulbs with them and they went with me to my constituency. We gave them an area where the bulbs were stored. Their job was to ensure accountability, they had to go back and report that the bulbs were distributed and you know one thing I admire about the Cuban system is clearly the discipline and the engagement of their youth to solve social problems. These youngsters came and I paired them with persons from my constituency and they would go into every household on the roads that were selected, they would knock on gates, introduce themselves, they would explain what the programme is about, they went in and they themselves screwed out the incandescent bulbs, put them in a bag, reached into the box, took out the fluorescent bulbs and replaced it. They didn’t just give the bulbs, they literally did it and accounted for it, they went back to my community centre where a supervisor was, who counted off every single incandescent bulb that they changed, matched it back with the box of fluorescent bulbs to ensure that there was no theft and then afterwards they destroyed the incandescent bulbs. This was against people saying “no, gimme these bulbs, I could sell them. That was not the objective of the programme.

It is to prevent the use of these energy-guzzling bulbs and so they destroyed those bulbs that they changed. We need to have that kind of discipline. WE need to give that kind of mission to our young people, to have them use their energy and their time to go out there and help to solve some the burning social issues that are holding us back.

It is not just the gift of these solar lamps. The idea is that we need to create an end to end solution. This is just a small part of the solution so we have to build an ecosystem now that involves training our young people to have these bulbs delivered to ensure that the mother who might see this as outside of our culture to actually have her understand that this bulb gives a brighter light than an open-flame source, that it last longer than an open flame source, that it is safer and cheaper but of course we must now setup an ecosystem because there is an ecosystem around open-flame light. You can go to the supermarket; you can go to the corner shop and buy candles. You can go to your corner shop and buy kerosene. This has to be available all over so that should something go wrong there is an option for repair or replacement so that it is not just giving the solar lamp, it is about educating people how to use it and then build a parallel system to support its use and that to me is a very good task to give to a youth energy core which we’re about to form under the HOPE Programme and I’m hoping that Lieutenant Colonel Rickman has actually started that process.

So he will be in touch with the seven MPs who have been selected for the pilot for them to identify within their constituencies persons who could be trained in both the support and in terms of maybe the social enterprise that could come as a result of trying to get this to replace open flame lighting sources and the social enterprise aspect of this is critical. You could actually now start a booming industry in supply and repair and use of solar lamps.

I want also to just point out that this solution cost to us just for the lamps somewhere about four thousand US dollars and we’re getting five thousand of these, so it’s not an expensive solution. I’m going to be imposing on the MPs to work with Colonel Rickman to see how we can find a partnership to support the parallel services that comes with this. How do we support the youth programme, the training and the development of the social enterprise? Again, we’re not expecting it to be an exorbitant cost. We will be studying this as a pilot to see how we could improve it and how we could rapidly scale it up to be an island-wide solution. I think at the end of the day by simple action we would have saved lives but certainly if there are no more houses being destroyed because of the need for open flame sources of lighting then we would have made a significant step in improving the quality of life that Jamaicans live.

This is a small project but it is a start for bigger things and I want to thank the Minister, the PCJ and the members of parliament who will be participating in this; I know it will be a successful programme. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.