Honourable Dr Horace Chang, Minister of National Security
Mrs Marlene Malahoo-Forte, Attorney-General of Jamaica
Mrs Dian McIntosh, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security
Mrs Audrey Sewell, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation and in the Office of the Prime Minister
I am extending apologies for Mr Fitz Jackson who has indicated that he is unable to attend but reminded me that I will see him parliament later today.
Major General Retired Anthony Anderson, Commissioner of Police
Mr Stewart Beckford, representing Mr Raymond Spencer, Commissioner of Jamaica Fire Brigade
Ms Charmaine Gray, representing Commissioner of Corrections
Members of the Jamaica National Service Corps Intake 1701
Other Distinguished guests
Men and women of the Jamaica Defence Force
Members of the media
It fills me with a tremendous sense of pride to be here today, to witness the certification ceremony of the first batch of the Jamaica National Service Corps members. In June last year, I welcomed you as Jamaica National Service Enlistment Corps Recruits and congratulated you on taking this important step towards charting your future, then in September, I was the Reviewing Officer for your passing out. It was therefore very fitting that I’m here today with you again to- I can’t say it’s to celebrate, but to acknowledge and to participate in this very proud moment. I got clearance from the Chief of Defence staff to say what I’m about to say.
At your Passing Out Ceremony I was asked to inspect your ranks and I had three questions:
- How have you found the training?
- What would you be being doing today if you were not in this programme?
- What do you intend to do with the training and the opportunity you’ve received?
And you can imagine all the answers. The second question elicited an answer that were it not a regimented event, I would have erupted in laughter. I met up on one young man and I hope it is not private Beckford? I asked him “so what would you be doing if you were not in this programme today” and the recruit said “sir, I would be sleeping” and I’m just surveying the ranks to see if I can recall which recruit it was.
I want to thank the Jamaica Defence Force for this successful collaboration with the Government of Jamaica ultimately resulting in these talented young men who now have the opportunity and the wherewithal to go into their communities, into their parishes, into the world to make a difference.
Today is a celebration of all that is right with Jamaica. It is a celebration of endurance and achievement. It is a celebration of hope and indeed a celebration of faith. Government, families and the wider Jamaica has in your ability to exceed expectation and live a life of which we all can be abundantly proud. I am particularly delighted at the fact that each of you graduates has exhibited all the attitudes and attributes that would have brought you to this milestone. Getting to this point would not have been easy. You would have had to submit yourselves to rigors of a kind of training that would test your mental and physical strength. You would have had to unlearn old habits and old ways of thinking and doing and relearn and adapt to a new, more enlightened, more meticulous, more regimented approach. One of the most critical aspects of your training is discipline and you have demonstrated the necessary ability to commit yourselves to the highest level of discipline and comportment.
As I loom at you today very smartly dressed, composed, putting your training into action, I’m deeply gratified. The Jamaica National Service Corps was designed with the young men and women of Jamaica in mind. It was designed to equip them with important life and work skills to ensure their own success as well as that of their families. It was designed to help our young people achieve their highest potential and more importantly it was designed to empower youth. It was designed to instill a deeper sense of ownership and pride in Jamaica land we love.
To be here today the graduates would have had to complete four phases of training : basic recruitment training covering areas such as drill execution, basic first aid, basic map reading and small unit tactics; intermediate training cover areas such as conflict resolution, language and mathematics skills, time management ,data entry and retrieval; infantry qualification courses covering areas such as participating in military and internal security operations, land navigation and operating service weapons and use of radio and voice procedures to communicate and the fourth and final phase infantry on the job training which saw today’s graduates executing drills and ceremonial activities and the aspect of the training of which I’m most proud deploying on operational duties which involve supporting the national security operations in the Zones of Special Operations and the states of emergency as well as participation in our recent labour day activities.
As part of the giving back aspect of their training the Jamaica National Service core assisted in a number of charity events to include: the Law Enforcement Torch Run, Sigma 5K, in which I out ran them, Jamaica Reach to Recovery Breast Cancer 5K and the Meet a Father Change a Life Initiative on Father’s Day. Additionally, the JNSC constituted numerous JDF parades including the opening of parliament, Remembrance Day, National Honours and awards and official visits of Heads of States and other dignitaries. The JNSC graduates you see here have benefited from a wholesome experience and we’re confident that they will continue to make an impact wherever they go.
In the time in which we live, it is all too easy for our young people to become distracted. It is all too easy for them to be the perpetrators and victims of crime and violence. It is all too easy for them to lose hope and lose sight of what they can be, it is for this reason the Government of Jamaica set out to give our youth an alternative. An alternative that builds their confidence, builds their aptitude and helps them to realize their aspirations because we recognize that the future of our country is in the hands of our youth, it is they who will make the decisions that matter. Today, therefore marks a historic moment as the Government and the Jamaica Defence Force through the work to learn, work to earn, work to give and work to save initiative has given our young people legs. We have given them hope, we have helped our people to excel. Through this programme, we’re increasing our compliment of the JDF and also creating a pool of qualified persons who will excel in careers and areas outside of the JDF. The Jamaica Constabulary Force possibly, the Department of Correction possibly, the Jamaica Fire Brigade possibly, the Jamaica Customs Agency, the Passport Immigration and Citizens Agency and private sector awaits.
Before us are two hundred and eight courageous, loyal and committed Jamaicans who have distinguished themselves throughout their programme of training. They are young Jamaicans who now have hope, young Jamaicans who are trained and qualified, young Jamaicans who have what it takes to self-actualize. I want to associate with a quote that the Chief of Defence staff used in his presentation. I’m going to paraphrase the quote and I believe you said that if you have a dream you must put action to it to make it a reality, that’s my interpretation of what you have said.
When I entered parliament, this was twenty years ago and it just seemed like yesterday, one of my first resolution to the house was for compulsory military training of all unattached Jamaicans. It was not an idea that was widely accepted but there were persons in the parliament at the time who believed that there was necessity for such an approach because we simply did not have the institutions purpose built to deal with the high levels of unattached young people. By then we had a perspective which many of you would have heard, out school. By age fourteen, a significant percentage of our youngsters were out of school. Not because they dropped out of school but at that time, we had the all age school which ended at somewhere about age fourteen. So many of our students were not able to transition from the all age system into the full five-year cycle high school and they simply just dropped out and for decades we had that problem building a mass of untrained, unattached young people without prospect without hope and we puzzled why the crime rate was so high.
Just a cursory examination of the statistics would show that 99% of the crimes were committed by young males who were in that cohort of young people who dropped out and 90% of the victims of crime were young males who were in that cohort. The strategy of the government could not be to ignore this. The JDF is an elite organization, it thrives on its reputation because the people who wear the uniform value that reputation, it means a lot to wear the uniform.
So, ten years ago I got the opportunity to be the Minister of Education. I still pursued it but obviously, I was not in a position to add great action to the dream to make it a reality but I had the opportunity to ensure that the flow into the stock of unattached young people was diminished if not removed and so, we made some strategic changes including phasing out All Age schools which at the time was a puzzle to many Jamaicans because they couldn’t understand why we were phasing out the most accessible forms of education, but it was precisely to end this business of aging out. We also improved the high school system creating more spaces and you could have seen that within the short period of time that I was the minister of education we moved the universal access to secondary education from somewhere in the region of sixty, sixty five percent to close to eighty percent and I think now we should be close to about ninety percent universal access to secondary education meaning full five years and our current policy is compulsory education between your third birthday and your eighteenth birthday. So eventually, in the next twenty years we should be able to cauterize, end the flow of unattached young people especially unattached and untrained.
This program, the Jamaica National Service Corps is an attempt, well its more than now an attempt this programme is now institutionalized. It will leverage the excellent reputation of the Jamaica Defence Force in training, in giving discipline and purpose to the men and women who it recruits. It will help to create a sense of loyalty and service to country. Now you have gone through a process of training and you have now had the opportunity to benefit from the incredible reputation of the Jamaica Defence Force. You have a duty an obligation to ensure that you live up to the standards of the Jamaica Defence Force and that you work harder to prove yourselves and that wherever you may end up in the society, that you show the training and the discipline that you have received because you now become an ambassador of the JDF and the same way in which you are going to benefit from the reputation of the JDF by preserving and maintaining that reputation you give an opportunity to the next generation of youngsters to benefit from that institution; so, you have a duty.
We have made a significant investment in you and I want that to be appreciated, the three meals a day is not cheap. Some of you will go on to become regular soldiers in the JDF indeed as Chief of Defence Staff mentioned some of you will even be commissioned by virtue of how well you have performed and the aptitude that you have shown. Others of you will go on as I said earlier, to represent the training that you have received in other agencies of government and I’m thinking that some of you may apply to the police force some of you may apply to customs, to the Fire Brigade, the emergency services, to the private sector but the training that you have received, even if you have not gotten a job, must empower to first of all stay out of trouble not to join the ranks of gangs, the training that you have received and the exposure that you have received should now be internalized so that you hold your head up high wherever you go, that you become a leader and a role model in your community. Because the country has invested in you.
So, I believe that this program is assisting in creating the society that we want, in creating the young men that we need who will be better parents, better fathers, better citizens, better workers. I will be keeping a track on the performance of the JNSC 1701 because this is an investment in the future of Jamaica and we want to see the dividends that the country will get. You have your mission now, you have been trained and you are now in possession of all the skills necessary to navigate and make your lives a success and contribute to the development of your family, your community and your country.
Congratulations and God bless you.