This is the new day that the Lord has made and we who have been spared to see it, rejoice and are glad in it for we stand on the threshold of new possibilities and opportunities.
As a country, we were able to accomplish much in 2018:
- Our economy continued its recovery and entered its growth phase
- We have established a flexible exchange rate and record low inflation
- Business and consumer confidence remain high
- Record high levels of employment including youth employment
- Record low unemployment rate
- Reduction in absolute poverty
- Rapid expansion in industries such as business process outsourcing, mining, tourism and logistics
- Record number of infrastructure projects including the Mandela Highway Improvement Project, Constant Spring Road, Three Miles, Ferris to Mackfield and many more
- Record number of housing starts and developments through the National Housing Trust and the Housing Agency of Jamaica
- Major gains in improving safety and security in the country which resulted in a 22% reduction in murders for 2018.
All these accomplishments were the result of skilful implementation of a strategic plan to transform Jamaica into a modern, peaceful, and prosperous society.
We cannot and will not slow our pace, much remains to be done.
Peace and public safety continue to be an area of priority focus. Last year, we implemented two Zones of Special Operations and made significant strides in crime reduction in the targeted areas. By design; we placed emphasis on community development including infrastructure development and making government services available to the communities.
We invoked emergency powers in some areas of Jamaica where crime was over and above the capacity of normal policing to address. These measures have yielded appreciable results. For the first time, in Jamaica’s history, the Government has deployed force without violence. Citizens have embraced the security forces and seeds of a new trust relationship between both have been planted. More than that, however, for the first time, the whole of government has been mobilized in a strategic framework to address issues of crime and violence. Today, the statistics tell us that murders are down 22% but people tell me that the measures have saved the lives of their brothers, sisters and children; more than 350 people are alive today by virtue of these measures.
The Government will continue its strategic implementation of Plan Secure Jamaica using all resources, ways and means firmly within the boundaries of the law to continue reducing the crime rate. Our objective is to see a massive sustained decrease in murders bringing us closer to the global crime rate of 6 per 100,000. For most Jamaicans, having experienced high murder rates, as much as ten times the global average; for such a long time this may seem incredulous. However, we have proven the strategies that can work. What we have learnt from this last decade of crime fighting is that political unity around the proven measures and a financial commitment are critical for successful and sustained outcomes.
The Government this year will intensify its outreach to the opposition to build political unity around the crime plan. We will also continue to make significant investments in the retooling, training and capacity building of our security forces.
As we progress in our crime fighting and peacebuilding strategy, it is clear that greater attention needs to be paid to the socio-emotional considerations. Violence as a means of resolving conflicts has become far too accepted as the norm. A significant percentage of our murders are random acts of violence and domestic and intimate partner disputes.
This month, I will name and outline the scope of a Violence Commission. The Commission will be tasked with examining our culture of violence and making far-reaching recommendations to stimulate behaviour change. This is a key focus this year as we must seek to get to the heart of this matter which has eaten away at not only families and communities but the wider society.
On the economic front, in the upcoming fiscal year, Jamaica is projected to have a debt to GDP ratio of just below 100%; this is a significant reduction having been as high as over 140%. This will create the fiscal space for Government to undertake greater expenditure on human and social services. Additionally, the Government will be packaging and bringing to market several public assets for sale on the Jamaica Stock Exchange. The first of which will be Wigton Windfarm Limited. This is in keeping with the government’s policy of creating an ownership economy, giving the average Jamaican the opportunity to own shares in some of Jamaica’s profitable enterprises.
Another element of the ownership economy is assisting Jamaicans to acquire decent and affordable housing recognizing that the most important asset for any Jamaican is their own home. In addition to the work of the National Housing Trust (NHT), Housing Agency of Jamaica (HAJ) and private developers, this year the Government will begin its implementation of the social housing component of the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment (HOPE) programme. Through this modality, the Government will seek to improve and regularize the housing stock and living conditions of some of the poorest Jamaicans, assisting them to realize the value in their real estate.
As Jamaica recovers and grows; within the context of climate change and a globalized world; resilience strategies must be mainstreamed in all Government endeavour so that we are better able to recover from crises, shocks and natural disasters. This is particularly the case considering that in November of this year, Jamaica will graduate from its IMF programme. This will require that Government undertakes greater forward planning, deeper analysis of policies and targets, greater assessment of risks and eventualities and a greater commitment to discipline in the implementation of programmes. The citizens of Jamaica can be assured that your Government will act responsibly and wisely to build on the gains made through years of sacrifice.
The Government is putting in place the necessary regulations to strengthen our central bank, establishing a Fiscal Council; and reducing the number of public entities to minimize our exposure to fiscal risks. Equally, we are strengthening ourselves to be able to recover speedily from disasters through creative financial mechanisms such as catastrophe bonds. More so, we are seeking to build resilience in our civil infrastructure in the capital works that are being undertaken throughout the country.
As we place greater emphasis on the preservation of the environment; I believe in the old saying that cleanliness is next to Godliness and this year a key focus of the Government is to make Jamaica clean again. We have committed to increasing the number of compactor trucks for garbage collection. Importantly, some measures of the ban on plastics such as plastic straws, single-use carrier/shopping plastic bags and expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) containers take effect today. This is a crucial step in preserving our environment. Keeping Jamaica clean is not just the responsibility of the Government; it is the responsibility of every citizen, every household and every business to keep their environs clean.
My Jamaican family great things are happening. There is a real sense of buoyancy, of hope, of optimism and Jamaica is pressing ahead in the right direction.
It is often said that the new year is a time for introspection, reflection and change. Let us seize the newness of this year to plant the seeds of peace and love, so that they may flourish as the year progresses. Let us turn away from aggression in our speech and actions. Let us be guided by the principles of care and compassion for one another.
Let’s improve on what we have, to make Jamaica the greatest place on earth. A new Jamaica is emerging. Let us build this new Jamaica that we can all be proud of. Together we can do it! I wish for all my Jamaican people, a happy, peaceful and prosperous 2019.