Speech by the Prime Minister

Handing Over of Indigent Housing in Port Maria, St Mary on January 13, 2023

Thank you very much, master of ceremonies for your kind words of introduction.

Let me acknowledge the Minister of Local Government, your minister, Desmond McKenzie, who has served you well for a very, very long time.

Let me acknowledge your Member of Parliament who has also served you very well for a very, very long time.

Bobby Montague and your mayor, who has served you particularly well for also a very long time, and I’ve used the term long time not to say that by any means they are coming to the end, no. What I am saying is that they have garnered so much experience, so much understanding that they have developed such broad and deep skill sets that they are able to serve you for even longer to come.

There are two programmes of the government to treat with issues of social housing. One programme, it’s the new Social Housing Programme, which you see me almost every week presenting to beneficiaries new housing solutions constructed for them. And then there is the Indigent Housing Programme which is part of the responsibility of the Ministry of Local Government to assist persons who have been established as poor and who have had some form of disaster or have been impacted by some event in their life, such as, for example, flooding, or a fire or a landslide or the collapse of their house, and they are not in a position to recover or respond positively to these kinds of disaster events.

So, the Ministry of Local Government has a small budget, and I use that descriptor for your attention, that it is a small budget, it’s not a large budget and we are expecting that they should be able to respond to just under a hundred such cases if they were to happen in any year. What you have described Minister, is on your tour of the flooding incident that took place here and you saw the dislocation that the beneficiary, just remind me of your name, Peaches- how could I forget Peaches, that you would’ve seen the conditions under which Peaches would’ve had to live as a result of the impact of the flooding, and I suspect based upon your own visit and the recommendation of the Member of Parliament and Councillor Smiley.

I must extend, I must say that MP Morais Guy did apologize to me that he was not able to attend so we understand and acknowledge him in his absence. So, Councillor Smiley, you made a recommendation, supported by MP Guy which you know, it’s a lovely reinforcement of how the government works, that it doesn’t really matter which side of the fence; we’re still on the same island suffering the same maladies that affect all of us.

This housing programme that you’re seeing here now, this lovely facility which we will hand over shortly is under the auspices of the Ministry of Local Government under the Indigent Housing Programme and these are from funds specifically designated for the government to respond to persons who are in distress as a result of disasters.

Now, you can imagine that in any one year, particularly during the rainy season and during the hurricane season, there are many Jamaicans who are dislocated in this fashion and we are not able, and I want to make that clear, we are not able to respond to all that come but certainly as much as we can and we try to spread the resources spacially meaning that we try to ensure that every parish where there are persons affected, that we are able to respond and we try to ensure that the persons who respond genuinely qualify as being poor and there are means tests that are applied to ensure that this is the case.

The unit here is a two-bedroom unit, and it has come in at approximately 9 million dollars. It’s a little bit more than what we do under the social housing programme, we have managed to bring down our costs significantly but I can see why this unit is 9 million dollars because of where it is and how you would have to build. I noticed you have a cellar under the unit so you have raised it and so all of those things contribute to the cost so you would’ve had to use more steel in the decking of the floor and so forth so it is quite justified the expenditure.

The house is quite dignified and I hold the view and continue to hold the view that not because someone is poor, that they should get poor housing. No, I believe that shelter along with education would be the two critical elements of a poverty response and if you really want to lift someone out of poverty, you have to focus on their shelter and you focus on their knowledge. There’s another element, of course, which is their income, their employment, that might be a little tricky because an indigent person may not be able to work. An indigent person would not be in a state where they’re able to leave their household and work so there is this need therefore, for the social response that acknowledges that there are persons in our society who would not be able to afford shelter and therefore the state has a duty to respond.

There is, however, an element of social conscience involved. Why should Peaches get the house and they are a whole heap of other people who may not be in as bad a situation as Peaches, but who would also feel a sense of entitlement for a government-subsidized unit and my response to that is that the government acknowledges your claim, acknowledges, I wouldn’t say entitlement but acknowledges the duty of the state to provide these opportunities, and what we are doing is each year to expand our capabilities and our capacity to provide social housing. So, it is Peaches turn this year, but next year it’ll be somebody else’s turn and somebody else’s turn.

What we give you is a structure and a mechanism to deliver. It is when there is no structure and mechanism and when people feel that boy it’s only one going to build so mek we fight over it, that you have chaos in the society. But when people feel that these units are built and there is no suggestion of corruption, that half of the money gone somewhere and only half the house that should be built is there, when people feel that the government isn’t putting a long-term strategy in place then people will feel that they shouldn’t wait, that they shouldn’t have patience, that they shouldn’t believe in the programme but what we have managed to demonstrate to the Jamaican people is that we are making the consistent budgetary allocations and we are building the houses, and we are delivering them so keep the faith, keep hope alive. And indeed, that’s the name of the programme, it’s called the Hope Programme.

So I’m very pleased to be here to show to the country another element, another dimension of the Hope programme, that is the government responding to providing housing solutions for persons affected by disaster, persons who are indigent meaning they’re not in a position to assist themselves, and those funds are available through the Ministry of Local Government.

I am being very clear, it is not a large pool and it can’t help everyone, but it is certainly making a difference in the lives of many Jamaicans so it gives me great pleasure to be able to hand over the keys to your new unit Peaches, and I hope that it does improve your life and that of your family.

God bless you, thank you and Happy New Year to you all!