The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, MP
University of the West Indies, Mona
May 3, 2017
Introduction of the Prime Minister
Camille Bell-Hutchinson and other members of the UWI, Mona administration, other members of government, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
“Dreams and resolutions 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” – quote from a visionary leader and true inspiration for the youth of Jamaica who I am honoured to introduce to you today.
The Most Honourable Andrew Holness was first elected as Member of Parliament to represent the constituency of West Central St. Andrew in 1997 at the age of twenty-five. Now in his fourth consecutive term as MP, Mr. Holness became Jamaica’s ninth prime minister on February 25, 2016.
Andrew Holness was born to working class parents on July 22, 1972 in Spanish Town, St. Catherine. At age forty-three Mr. Holness is Jamaica’s youngest prime minister to date and the first born after national independence.
He is married to Juliet who is a first term member of parliament for East Rural St. Andrew, a chartered accountant and real estate developer. They have two sons Adam thirteen and Matthew eleven.
Mr. Holness first served as head of government from October 2011 to January 2012 having succeeded former prime minister the Honourable Bruce Golding. Prior to assuming the awesome responsibility of leading the nation Mr. Holness has worked steadily at various levels of the political and governance systems. He has focused on several key portfolios including Social Welfare, Community Development, Housing and Education. He served in the latter field both as the opposition spokesperson on education and in the Cabinet as Minister of Education.
He brought national attention and focus to literacy and has instituted several programmes to place Jamaica on the path to universal literacy at the primary level. Under his watch, Jamaica saw the introduction of the Career Advancement Programme (CAP), a post-secondary technical and vocational training programme for unattached youth.
He also introduced fundamental reforms to the education system including the establishment of institutions such as the Jamaica Teaching Council, the National Education Trust, the National Education Inspectorate, the National College for Educational Leadership, The Centers of Excellence program and the Alternative Secondary Transition Education program, ASTEP, designed to support students falling behind in general education.
Andrew Holness holds a Bachelor of Science degree in management studies and the Master of Science degree in government and public policy from the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.
The university is proud to recognize him among its graduates. Ladies and gentlemen I invite you to stand and help me welcome the Prime Minster of Jamaica, the Most Honourable Andrew Michael Holness.
Prime Minister’s Response
Thank you very much. Thank you for that introduction. Madam master of ceremonies, Dr. Camille Bell-Hutchinson, professor Beckles – I know you have a flight to catch and I’ve asked you to stay because primarily I’m going to be responding to you but I will be quick.
Mr. Principal some thought that this day would never come (laughs) – I wasn’t one of them.
My colleagues in the cabinet, Ministers of state , leader of the opposition who is also an alumni and of course you will permit me for making this exception, the Most Honourable Juliet Holness, member of parliament.
Former Prime Ministers – people say my political father, the most Honourable Edward Phillip George Seaga and then Mr. Golding would be my political uncle. Of course former governor general Sir Kenneth Hall, good people who have all come out to be a part of this moment, friends and family, my alma mater, well-wishers, just people who want to participate in this moment.
I am very humbled by this honour and I want to thank the University of the West Indies, such a very important institution in our society for bestowing this honour on me. Thank you very much.
I have a few comments to make. When I was accepted into the University of the West Indies I didn’t know where the first cent was going to come from. My father said that he would obviously assist – he is also an alumni of the University of the West indies – and my mother who was a civil servant on a civil servant salary, she said well I’ll do my best, so I came to the University of the West Indies on an adventure and what an adventure it has turned out to be.
I start there to say that students who want to pursue higher education should never make the financing an obstacle. There will be a way, there is always a way if you search hard enough you will find a way. But I’m not impractical, tertiary education is very expensive and with the best will some students will not be able to afford it.
The government recently took a decision to assist students who were unable to pay their tuition or had balances remaining on their tuition which would see them being prevented from sitting their examinations.
If you were to look at it from an economic perspective, as an economic decision, it is not a good decision. Effectively we would be setting a principle, a trend, an expectation but professor Beckles you asked for a social czar, how could you miss me?
We took a decision because in the long run it is the right decision but when we’re taking social decisions the responsibilities are on both sides so those who have benefitted from the decision must pay back and pay forward. So yes we have assisted but you must pay back so that others can benefit and you must pay forward, help others who are coming, give back to society and I could use that as a pivot point because when I came to the University of the West indies there was a sense amongst my cohort of entitlement and I believe that it may still exist now; that the society owes us because we are the brightest.
Unfortunately that may have been the case in the sixties when we did not have to consider paying seven percent of our GDP back in debt repayments. When you stepped out of the university gates, jobs were there waiting for you. The cohort in university now does not have that luxury and cannot hold on to a sense of entitlement. The reality is that we have not grown Professor (Beckles), in any significant way in almost forty years.
My duty, my obligation is to break that trend, to return economic growth to Jamaica but more than that, you are right in pointing out the example professor Beckles, that there are countries whose economies will grow geometrically but inequality and poverty will become endemic. The growth of which we speak is a growth of prosperity, not for some but for all. It is inclusive so we say economic growth and job creation. Two things go together because the deal is if the economy grows, how you guarantee that people get benefits from that is through work, through employment, by giving people independence in their hands and that’s what we as a government want to achieve.
But history has shown that for us to achieve all the social transformation, the educational transformation, to reduce crime, to reduce inequality and I still believe that we can end poverty in Jamaica. We must grow our economy. We must get the engine of economic growth cranked up, revved up and speeding off. University of the West Indies has a critical role to play in that. You are the builders of the social human capital that is necessary to drive economic growth.
I do come to the campus from time to time and I must say that it is not the same campus that I attended over twenty years ago. The leadership of the university has made significant investment in improving the infrastructure and we are very proud of this.
My wife was looking across and commented “what’s happening over there”, my wife lived on Irving Hall – you were from Irving too minister Bartlett- and I am seeing some wonderful high-rise structures going up and I mention to the principal saying what’s happening over there and he said well you know we are refurbing, we’re rebuilding, we’re renovating, we’re moving on up so I asked him if he had any plans for Chancellor Hall. And there are some sentimental attachments there which if you’re going to change it principal, don’t change it too much, but you are doing what is necessary to lay the foundation for growth and we’re pleased with that.
I want to just make another brief comment on the financing of tertiary education. Professor Beckles you mentioned inequality, when we look at the total spend on education in the budget on a per student basis, the university student would have several times the budget of a primary school student and certainly of a high school student or even a student at the early childhood level. It means therefore that if we don’t grow the budget and we took a decision to expand tertiary then it would mean a decision to contract elsewhere and that’s the reality so the conversation that we have to have amongst the leadership of the country and I am happy to see the leader of the opposition here today. I am very grateful for your presence Dr. Phillips.
If we are going to expand tertiary education then the subsidy may have to shift from the fees to a subsidy for financing meaning that you have to make it easier and more accessible for students to finance the education rather than to give a subsidy for fees
It might be not the best model but it is the model that I believe could see an expansion in the number of students entering tertiary education. It is the ability to access the financing of tertiary education, making it affordable over the lifetime of the student treating it more like a mortgage on a house because effectively your tertiary education is your greatest capital acquisition.
It probably would mean an increase in the total cost borne by each person wanting to access but when I started university and I took my student loan I said will I ever pay this back? This is expensive. This is a huge debt but twenty years on the value that you would have created from your tertiary education easily repays your student loan.
So in this context of a very fixed education budget the solution has to be how do we engage, encourage financial institutions plus the government to increase the pool of the student loan, make the interest rates affordable, give programmes where the skills that the country needs are given preferential or preferred treatment, greater programmes of bonding and at the same time expanding the offering of the universities and I think it is a conversation that we need to have.
We can’t implement such a measure right away but we must at least start the discussion otherwise we will continue every year to have students who start their courses, can’t pay for it and the government in some way has to respond because the university guild of students are very active and very influential so the political pressure will always be there for the government to respond. What will eventually happen is that the government will have to make decisions, maybe not even consciously, moving funds from one area into tertiary; instead let us consciously look at the problem and come up with the solution. What I’ve suggested is just one, there may be others and so the debate- I’m using this platform to start the public debate and I will be engaging the opposition outside of parliament and within parliament for us to have this conversation about how do we have a new model for financing tertiary education the objective being to expand its axis.
I know you have to catch your flight professor Beckles but one last thing on the social side I have not yet said it publicly but professor Beckles in his intuitive style has picked it up that the government does have a social transformation agenda and it is indeed in my view a very deep and powerful transformation agenda. It centers on several areas of focus, one of them being transforming Jamaica from a violent society, a society that uses violence as the first resort in resolving conflict that uses violence as a tool in social transactions and we have to change that.
Violence is one of the five leading cause of death and I’m committed to changing that in Jamaica and we’ve started several programmes in that regard. The other transformation that I would like to see happen in Jamaica is for Jamaicans to take responsibility for their destiny, their future, and their outcomes.
We do too many things and then turn around and blame others. We’re not as conscious as we should be in the society about the number of children we have and we have said that social responsibility means that you should have the children you can afford to give the best quality life. Social responsibility, don’t tell me anything else about trying to curb race and this and all the other things that come with it. You are doing more damage to your race by having children that are not going to be supported by you as the father and it is time that we stand up and face that kind of culture squarely.
On the matter of reparations I believe in reparations but it must start in our country first. Our state has done damage to our people and we must repair that first so that we have the moral authority to look others in the face and so I have started that process. It is a genuine process.Now I can’t tell you that we will have the money but reparations don’t always come down to money. People I believe want to hear an acknowledgement of the wrong “I am sorry and will endeavor not to do it again”. It is a challenge that we face in the fight against crime. I mean there are those who would want to see old style policing unleashed but we’re not going to fight crime with illegality.
We’ve asked for more powers to fight crime and we are putting in place the measures to make sure that the powers are not easily used for abuse. We’re putting in place the measures to ensure that the people who will have those legal powers are people who understand that their role is to protect human life, to protect and preserve the innocent.
I am very optimistic about the future of my country. I am confident that we will end poverty and bring prosperity to our people. It is time for Jamaica to rise and take its true place in history.
God bless you