Speech by the Prime Minister

Prime Minister Holness Keynote Address at the Heal the Nation, Heal the Family On January 4, 2023

Prime Minister Holness Keynote Address at the Heal the Nation, Heal the Family On January 4, 2023

It is always good to greet you, to greet the new year with optimism, with hope, with gratitude, with renewed faith.

My grandmother, when I would bid her goodbye, I used to have to stay with her when my mother went to work and then when she came to pick me up, I would say goodbye grandma, see you tomorrow and she would say, “see you tomorrow if life spare”.

How many of your grandparents used to say that to you? I don’t hear it being said that much these days, “if life spare” and as a youngster, I always wondered what did she mean by that because when you are young, life is an eternity. It will never end. It is almost guaranteed that you’ll see tomorrow but it was also an expression of who we were as a people, of how we respected life, that it was a gift from God to us and that we must appreciate it. We must be thankful for it, and that every moment of life is precious.

So, when we say to each other, happy New Year, we could very well say a happy new hour, a happy new day; an expression of our gratitude that God has spared our life to see another year.

But we also have to ask ourselves, why were we spared when others were not? There is nothing wrong in questioning God. In asking, you may not get an answer, but that you have life, and it was such a precious gift that he sent his only begotten son to give his life for your redemption, it should mean something, that we should use this precious gift that is given to us purposeful. We should use it to answer the questions that we are asking. We should use it to make ourselves better than we were, better physically, so we can take care of the temple of our soul, better emotionally, intellectually, socially, economically, and better spiritually. Yes, Spiritually and we should use it every single day, every hour, every minute, every year to continue the journey and the struggle to be better to walk in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ,

to try and perfect our lives, knowing that we are only. We will stumble, we will make mistakes, but we will rise again and we give God thanks for another day to live and fulfil the promise that is life.

So, I say a happy New Year to His Excellency The Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen, our Governor General, who will be joining us today, but then I still say Happy New Year to him as head of the state of Jamaica.

I say happy New Year to Bishop Conrad Pitkin, you’re a moderator for the session.

I say Happy New Year to my friend, the Leader of the Opposition, Mark Golding, a happy new year to you, sir. Happy New Year.

We give God thanks, that’s what we mean when we say Happy New Year. We’re happy for life. We have been spared and we’re going to use it for good. For our good, but for the good of mankind, for our loved ones, for others, we’re going to treat life with respect.

I say a happy New Year to my Cabinet, a happy hardworking new year, a happy year of results. No man. A happy year, a happy New year, another year for us to deliver for the people of Jamaica. Our Cabinet members who are here, Members of the Senate, Members of the Lower House; a happy New year to you.

Our Chief of Defence Staff, I gather is here; Chief of Defence Staff Rear Admiral Wemyss Gorman.

Now, you will permit me to wish a special Happy New Year to Bishop Delford Davis and Petrova. They have been doing this for a long time, you know, and this new iteration, I really appreciate it and it should be commended. I’m sure I’m doing the recommendation on behalf of all your colleagues in the clergy. Amen. I did say to him, however, that he needs to introduce me to his tailors.

Let me say congratulations to the Reverend Dr. Elaine McCarthy for taking up the chairmanship, congratulations Reverend.

Forgive me for recognizing the protocol by saying Happy New Year to all members of the clergy here on the platform. God bless you. And let me truly wish the people of Jamaica a happy New Year.

There’s nothing wrong in seeking happiness, absolutely nothing wrong and sometimes there are persons who have given up on the pursuit of happiness. It’s very sad to read in the papers or to see the reports of persons who no longer have any value for their life or the life of their loved ones. And it’s always very hurtful to me when I see these reports of someone saying, I’m going to end your life and I’m going to end my life. What would’ve happened for them to have lost the fear of God, to respect life? Something went wrong.

Some time ago, I had the opportunity to address you and I pointed out that while we are the government and we make policy and make laws, we also have a duty to develop the heartware of men, you remember? The heartware,  it’s an important part of public policy how our people think, how they behave, what they do, what is our culture; that’s the heartware and sometimes governments fall short because we are looking at the economics, we’re looking at the infrastructure, and we’re looking at the laws and we feel sometimes it is not the domain of government to try and spark a social and cultural revolution in morality but more and more we’re seeing that governments have to pay attention to the mental health of the population. I want to use that term and I’m using it here on the divine pulpit of the church. I am not calling anybody mad because madness has a different connotation in Jamaica, but we all, everyone including me, I’m certain, sometimes the Leader of the Opposition; we all have our challenges with mental health. Yes, stress, pressure, people trouble you, people badmind you in your own life.  Sometimes you wake up and you’re just angry and you cannot tell why you’re vexed. Is it lies I’m telling?

Jamaica, we know as a developing country, things are not always easy, and the old perspective that we had which my grandmother articulated as if life spared, with the change in our society, the access to information, the demands that are placed upon us these days, sometimes those pressures can lead us to devalue life and I want to say to you that we are blessed to have such a strong religious culture in Jamaica. We’re blessed, but it is also very confounding that such a religious society can also be such a violent society and so when I mentioned that we have to now focus on the heartware, it took a little time for us to work out how we will do this heartware intervention.

It is not something that the government can do by itself. It is something that has to be done in conjunction with the Church and civil society. It’s a whole of nation approach to ensuring our mental health, the moral standards of the society as well, the cultural practices of the society, to make them in keeping with what we would consider to be pro-growth, pro-social, meaning we respect everyone in the society.

Now, a part of the intervention that I am looking for, and I’m pointing this out now to the church, is that a lot of the members of the church and indeed in the society are suffering quietly with all kinds of problems. They may not make the connection that their religious and worship routines and rituals should be a part of their coping mechanism, so some people compartmentalize and say, all right, I’m dealing with my spiritual fulfilment, but not necessarily treating with my economic problems. And what we need to be able to do as a church, as a society is to have you, whatever problems you have, feel that you have someone else to talk to not just about your spiritual well-being, your spirit, but anything at all and the pastor is well trained. This is part of what they call the pastoral duty to help you with any kind of problem. They may not be able to give you money, but believe me, just this process of finding someone to talk to.

Now, I know a lot of that is being done in the church, but we Jamaicans, we have a cultural thing about us where we believe we are little, but we tallawah, we can take on problems that are bigger than us, we don’t need anybody to help us with anything. We’re little but we’re tallawah, we can take on the problems and it is particularly the case for our men. They keep the problems inside, they don’t talk about it, and it boils up and then one little thing happens, a man step on your toe, somebody says something wrong to you and you explode and as a result of that a life is taken.

So, a part of the heartware strategy that I will be sitting down with the church to discuss is how can we have greater interventions. How can we use the church nationally for these kinds of interventions? And we need to start a public education campaign, not just from the Government, not just from the Ministry of Health, but also from our churches and other organizations, and entities to get our Jamaicans to change this culture of not trying to seek help when they are in crisis.

And there are many, many of you here experiencing all kinds of crisis in your lives, but you’re not recognizing them as such, and you’re not recognizing that an intervention, somebody to sit and talk with you, somebody to give you advice, even for the point of just offloading, break down and cry, helps you to get over it and get past it, and to develop the inner strength and the renewed hope and faith that you will overcome the crisis.

So, the government will be pursuing a direct and deliberate programme with the churches to have a more robust intervention to support mental health in the country. As part of the heartware strategy because, you know, the more I look at it and I don’t want to call any case in particular but as you see the cases emerging of people taking life and then taking their own lives, you wonder, was there ever any intervention? Did they have anyone to talk to? Was there any early intervention? Were there signs of this violence to come that we could have intervened early and stopped it? So it’s not something that the government should leave up to chance. It is something that we have to be instrumental, deliberate, and proactive in ensuring that we intervene before the crises in people’s private lives become a public health matter.

The second part of the heartware strategy is that I’m going to need the support of the church in doing a national campaign to change the gun culture in Jamaica. I spoke to you, and I told you last year that we are going to come with a new Firearms Act. Last year I was very emotional about the killings that were taking place, and we managed to pass the Firearms Act in November of last year.

Already there are over 80 persons who have been arrested for the possession of firearms; that’s almost two per day, and they are going to be facing a minimum 15 years in prison up to life.

Now, one of the first persons arrested under this new law was a 15-year-old. As Prime Minister, and I’m sure I can say for the Leader of the Opposition as well, when we make laws, yes, we want to deter, yes, we want to punish, but we also want to be fair, and we understand the social dynamics in our country. And the truth of the dynamics is that, that 15-year-old with a gun could kill, and we have many cases with 15 and 14 year olds who have killed and are not only charged with possession but murder so the society has to draw the line and send a strong signal but the responsibility of the government doesn’t only stop there.

The Government also has a responsibility to reach to those 15-year-olds, those 14-year-olds who have unlimited access to all kinds of shows on TV that glorify guns, who are misled by gang leaders who hand them the guns; we also have a duty to ensure that they are properly informed not to take up guns.

So, it is the intention of the government to launch within our schools, starting within our schools, because that is where we can get them all congregated to get to every classroom in Jamaica, I will be a part of it to go and visit the schools and explain to the youngsters the consequences of getting involved in gangs and crimes and having guns. No youngster should say, I did not know the consequence.

I have tried to use every medium, including the new developing vernaculars to communicate the danger of possessing an illegal weapon. Now, we will be going face to face directly as much as possible to reach all our youngsters in Jamaica so that they understand throw away the gun, don’t throw away your life.

So, it may be that your pastor, your bishop, may be calling up on you to say join me in going to this primary school or this high school to have a discussion with this group of youngsters, particularly our men, our boys, to talk to them about the dangers of having illegal guns, and at the same time, to bring them to the understanding about true respect for all which starts with the respect for life.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t see any boys and girls inside here, but brothers and sisters in Christ, it is always such a great pleasure to have audience with you, my family. It is rejuvenating and inspiring, when I leave here, I feel energized. I say thank you for your prayers and your support.

God bless you, and again, thank you.