Speech by the Prime Minister

NHT Windcrest Hill Handing-Over Ceremony

I received two conflicting calls, which I will just give you an insight into both before I begin my presentation and that is a precursor to an apology for being a few minutes after the start of the projected start time of this event, one call was prime minister, how other countries get vaccine, and we don’t get the vaccine yet. And I proceeded to explain that we have vaccines on the way. 

And then another call was prime minister make on an owner doing with this vaccine business room, because there is obviously the fear of vaccines, the ambivalence with vaccines. Again, I spent some time explaining the measures that are in place, and I could only conclude for both in reassuring that the government of Jamaica is doing everything possible to ensure that we have access to vaccines, but that whatever vaccines we decide to use here, that they are safe. Jamaica has had a long and successful history in deploying vaccines.

I remember at primary school, when I had to stand in the line for the vaccine and some of you can relate to this, that when your time came at the front of the line, you went to the back of the line until you were the last one in the line. So, we don’t have anything to fear, but as always, and in how we have conducted ourselves in managing the pandemic, we follow procedures.

We have our own set of laws established here. Our policies are established here, and we have an excellent set of experts in this area who are employed to the government or who were formally employed or who are experts employed to international agencies or who have made their skills available to the government through advice and we go through that process to ensure that when we do get the vaccines here, that we have the best vaccines and that we can distribute them to first of all, the most needy and to strategic groups, for example, our frontline workers. So, I just wanted to use this opportunity to reassure Jamaicans vaccines are underway, but we are ensuring that they go through the proper processes and that we have our laws and policies are followed and that they are actually in place and that when we do go to distribute, the distribution can be done rapidly, but at the same time fairly, so that those who are most needy, they will get, and those that are for the strategic benefit of the country, you don’t want, for example, your healthcare workers to be ill because you need them to be able to deliver the service so they it would go to the front of the line. 

And of course, you want to protect your elderly and other vulnerable groups so you will try to put them to the front of the line as well so, you will hear more from the minister of health, but I just thought I would make that a brief comment seeing that I have cameras in front of me that I assume are from the various media houses.

Again, so that I address any criticisms that may arise because you know, it was with great reluctance that we brought the curfew hours backed  down to 8pm because we understand the devastating impact it can have on the economy but when we looked at the numbers in the hospitals and we weighed both risks, the bigger risk to the country is that we would not want to have people turn up at hospitals, struggling to breathe, needing attention, and we don’t have space for them so that is the trade-off that you have elected this government to administer to make. And it is not easy, but I give you my assurance that we take every decision seriously, and the way in which we have done it, it’s not going to be long-term. We have done it for two weeks and we are watching the numbers.

You play a very important role in how those numbers go down. On my way here driving through Half Way Tree, I deliberately looked out to observe whether or not persons were wearing masks and just for the record I came in here with my mask, I came up here with the mask and I only took off the mask because I’m speaking, but I noticed that whilst persons had on masks, most of whom I saw were wearing masks, they had the masks under their chin, some were only covering their noses. The appropriate way is that you have to have a proper face covering that covers your nose and mouth and properly fitted to your face. I’m encouraging all Jamaicans wear your mask.

I took some time as well to observe how persons were gathered and we have given a new limit for the gathering rule and that is 10. That one, I think needs some explanation. The objective of the gathering rule is that when people gather together in groups for conversation and interaction, as we Jamaicans love to do the first rule is that you must be wearing in your masks. 

The second rule is that you should be six feet apart. At six feet apart, you can be conversational. I can speak and you can speak, and I can hear you, but the risk of transmission is reduced because you are at a distance. You should sanitize, continue to sanitize your hands as much as possible but if you’re going to be conversational and interactive in a group, keep that group to 10.

Because what that does, if there is someone in the group, which is conversational and interactive, and that one person is infected, the risk of infecting is limited only to 10. If the group gathered is 20, then the risk of infecting is increased and that is why we have reduced the gathering rules down to 10.

Don’t expect a policeman to come and police that. That is guidance to you for your own benefit so if you go somewhere, for example, if you go to the bus stop and you see more than 20 persons there, then, you now should just smartly take away yourself from that group. 

Why are we doing this? Because as the infection rate increases, the positivity rate spirals.

It means that in any group of persons gathered, the probability of someone in there being infected is higher and therefore to reduce the spread, we are giving you instructions, guidance under the Disaster Risk Management Act for your own benefit, how you behave to reduce the risk and the spread.

So again, it has nothing to do it with housing, but since we are gathered, I have to commend the NHT. The NHT has made provisions providing separate tents, housing groups of 10 or less, which seems to be what I’m observing here, except of course, some provision and exception is made for the media and of course the media here, they are also properly masked and sufficiently distanced.

Mr. Berbick, I haven’t seen you since last year. Happy New Year sir.

Minister Charles

I am not seeing my friend Councillor Thomas who would normally be here to greet me nor Mr. Fitz Jackson, who is the Member of Parliament for this area but I I’m seeing Mr. Robert Miller, who is the Member of Parliament for the adjoining constituency.

Chairman Channer, good to see you again.

Martin, the Managing Director of the NHT and other executive members of the NHT.

Let me also acknowledge all the new lot owners who are going to be very shortly erecting magnificent structures on these lots.

Representatives of the media, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon.

Jamaicans are a resilient people. Despite the setbacks from the pandemic, we will recover stronger to restore and revitalize the economy we must invest in the people of Jamaica and the infrastructure of this country. Housing is fundamental to the social and economic wellbeing of individuals and communities. Adequate housing means more than just a roof over one’s head. It also means having adequate space, privacy security, suitable healthcare facilities, adequate and accessible locations with regard to work basic facilities and secure infrastructure, such as water supply, sanitation and waste management facilities.

Jamaica continues to experience a severe shortage of housing. The supply of new housing has not been able to keep pace with the demand for housing. To compound the problem there is a mismatch between new housing solutions and what our potential homeowners can afford. Housing therefore remains a key priority of the Government of Jamaica.

The National Housing Trust, (NHT), has recorded impressive levels of housing starts and housing completions delivered to markets. It has also improved several communities occupied by contributors while strengthening its approach to addressing the needs of low-income earners. If you compare the NHT expenditure in the four fiscal years preceding the pandemic that is from 2016 to 2020, the NHD spent approximately 130 billion Jamaican dollars on the provision of housing. This was 59% higher than the 82 billion that was spent in the previous four fiscal years to that.  That would be from 2013 to 2016. So, you can see that the NHT through the direction of government policy, we are not only talking about providing houses, we’re spending far greater resources on the provision of housing solutions,

In 2019/2020, the NHT’s expenditure of $40 billion in that year was the highest expenditure it has ever had in its 43-year history in the provision of housing. So you can see beneficiaries and Jamaicans listening, that the Government is serious about providing housing solutions and I want to digress briefly here while I have your attention.

I was not given any instruction by the master of ceremony to be brief, but I am a considerate person, but I want to make this point to you.

In the long struggle for freedom from the start of Jamaica as we know it, over 500 years ago, we as a people have always struggled to express that freedom in ownership because how we got here through enslavement, we didn’t order anything, we couldn’t take anything from Africa here with us. The ultimate (thing) of ownership for most Jamaicans is a piece of land, the ultimate thing and we have coined it in a particular way, we want to own a piece of the rock. 

When you go overseas and you get into the diaspora community, it is their dream even if they’re not coming back to Jamaica to live, they want to own a piece of the rock and that overriding desire for ownership is not a bad thing. Indeed, it is the right thing and governments must support this ambitious drive of Jamaicans to own Jamaica, but ownership cannot happen in chaos. And when we had a different state, which was not our state and we were trying to establish ourselves as a state then you could go and say, I am claiming this land, I am staking my claim there in correcting all the injustices of the past but when this is now our country, this is now our state, our laws, our Jamaica. You can’t stake claim to ownership in chaos. You need an orderly system to protect, establish, and secure your ownership and this Government is not going to come and make you a promise that we’re going to give you land. This Government that I currently lead, cannot continue this destructive history that we have had of tacitly allowing people to settle land improperly because all that we have done by doing that is to enshrine disorder in the society. And those who have settled in properly, we have done them a disservice, we’ve have actually lied to them because tacitly, they were promised that infrastructure would come, roads would come, electricity would come, garbage collection would come, schools would come and 50 years or more have gone and none of those have come. They may own the rock, but they have no value. They can’t sell it. They can’t legitimately pass it on to their children. They can’t borrow against it to do other things so this kind of mentality of illegally and improperly settling land must end in Jamaica.

However, the social equity and justice question still stands. It is not enough for the government to say it must end. In the same breath the Government must say we must provide you with the means by which you can own a piece of the rock legitimately and so what this Government is doing is expanding the process, the system of homeownership, of land ownership, and we are doing it in many ways. We are doing it in titling by going through and regularizing persons who have occupied lands but have no titles. We are doing it through the Housing Agency of Jamaica, regularising communities that were informally settled.

We are doing it again by the housing agency in bringing to market affordable and low-income housing solutions and we are doing it by the NHT in providing support for the financial system for homeownership, because believe me, the support that the NHT gives in mortgages, that has had an impact in driving down mortgage rates as well and making home ownership affordable.

And the support that the NHT gives in developments like these by making resources available to developers. This is why you can see all these developments happening. So, I want you to understand the government’s commitment. We are not fighting you for getting your land. We want you to get the house. We want you to get the piece of land, but we want it to be done legally and properly and we are going to provide the means, which is why we have increased our expenditure year and year, every year to bring more housing solutions to market so that when, you now turn big man, you’re eighteen and living with your mother and your mother said, look, you’re a big man now, you have to go out and find your room. And you look around and don’t find any room and it’s you and your girlfriend and your ‘pickney’ and you say ‘Bwoy’, I see a piece of land over there, I’m just going to put up something.

Instead of doing that, we have to make this system such that you can say, you know what, let me not do that because there would be affordable housing solutions for rent, affordable housing solution to save and make the down payment and pay the mortgage, there’s a secondary housing market there where I can go and find a housing solution that’s suitable for me.

We made a commitment in the last election that we’re going to build 70,000 houses. Let me be frank with you.

You see the staff from the NHT, they are laughing, but behind their glasses, they are crying because it is a tall order. They know 70,000 houses is not an easy target to meet, but we are not setting our hats where we can reach it. We are going to stretch. We’re going to tip; we are going to extend ourselves because the situation with housing is important. 

You talk about crime, you talk about socialization, all of the other issues that you’re facing in a society, a root of all those problems traces back to our housing and land settlement situation so we’re trying to correct some of those problems by dealing with this fundamental issue.

The 70,000 housing solutions will not be easy to achieve but we are going to go as close as possible as we can. Two weeks ago, I called up several of our major contractors, major housing developers, and we have started the conversation. The role of the Government in this is to identify the lands and make them available at reasonable costs, to dedicate resources for the development of common infrastructure, as much as possible, and to deal with the impediments in the permitting and regulatory environment to reduce those costs to ensure that the housing solution that comes to the market is timely and affordable.

So, the work has started, and you will hear more when we go to budget regarding how we are going to seek to achieve those 70,000 new housing solutions in the next five years.

Already, we have stretched the NHT and when we started, they may not have thought it was possible because they were doing something like two or three thousand houses per year, if that many. Now, they are doing more than five to six thousand houses per year, so they have doubled their output. 

Now, we are looking at doubling that output per year or more and I know they can do it. We have the creativity within us, and we have the drive and the belief within us. If we are able to put 70,000 new housing solutions that are affordable on the market, we would have made a significant dent in the squatting problem, but we would have also made a significant dent in creating communities that would give you the basis of seeing the emergence of a strong middle class in the country.

And I dropped that term in because I know people are going to jump on it. There is a conversation to be had. We need to create a growing flourishing middle-class in the country. Over the last four decades, we have seen the decimation of that, and that has resulted in all kinds of other social problems. There is nothing wrong with putting the ambition in the minds of our people that we must seek to progress from generation to generation. 

Unfortunately, the thought has entered in our minds where we have a kind of class warfare where we reject the progress.

Every Jamaican I know, bar none, want to own a house, drive a big car and live good; that is what you call middle-class values. And this Government is committed to providing the mechanisms, the solutions, the pathway for every single Jamaican, whether you’re born poor or rich to fulfil your dreams and housing is a part of it. So, that’s the lecture. 

Just a point of note, within St. Catherine during the current financial year, we have projects coming on stream at Colbeck Castle, Twickenham Park, Silver Sun, Bernard Lodge, which we call Catherine Estate- that’s the new term for it and Roseneath Park. The NHT has delivered or contributed to approximately 37,583 housing solution in St. Catherine through collaboration with joint venture partners or through the Interim Financing Programme and schemes developed by the NHT.

The NHT current housing plan for St. Catherine includes five additional schemes to compliment previous housing developments. These five developments will bring to market a further 4,094 housing solutions by 2023 so persons who are still looking for your houses in St. Catherine, keep faith.

I noticed that the NHT made a Twitter post the other day and under that post where some very stinging commentary, one of which was that the NHT is not catering for young people because none of the houses they can afford. I am very sympathetic, and I wish to say that of the 70,000 houses that we’re going to build, we have committed that 10,000 of them will be for persons under thirty. 

So, young people, I know the frustration. We are going to make some special provisions. Already, I must confess that at the housing handing-overs that I have seen, I have seen as young as 22- and 24-year-olds being successful but again, that’s just a small number of those who would wish to be able to be qualified for housing.

I want to assure you that we are working on it and there are 4,094 solutions. These are not solutions that are all on the drafting board. These are solutions many of them that have started already, they are on the ground and will be delivered so there is a very high level of guarantee that these 4,094 houses will come to market.

In brief, as I drove through the town center and other areas of Portmore to come here, I reflected on the fact that this Government placed it as an Agenda Item to convert the municipality of Portmore into a parish and the more I interact with persons from Portmore and as I moved through the area, I come to Portmore quite a bit for various things and I’m noticing so many developments are happening, that Portmore has moved from being just a dormitory community. That means people just live here but work in Kingston. Portmore is developing its own economy and that economy is a thriving economy. The idea therefore is to create Portmore as its own economic base, its own civic and social base, and that will in turn, give greater energy for investment and opportunities within the area.

So, you know, Portmore has a population estimated to be about 200,000 to 250,000 people; that is probably the size of a Barbados or St. Lucia. This area has its own energy and what we’re trying to do for Portmore is to direct those energies into the new economy. We see Portmore as having great opportunities for business process outsourcing, knowledge processing for logistics and other forms of development and indeed construction. We are confident that we are doing the right thing in directing Portmore towards becoming the 15th parish of Jamaica.

Ladies and gentlemen, homeowners or rather lot owners- well, I would say homeowners because within the next three or four months when I drive pass here, I will be looking at some magnificent structures. I tell you something, you know, I would live here; this is beautiful. When you see the Vista that you have looking at the sea and feeling that cool breeze, this is a beautiful part of Jamaica. When you build your house, remember you’re also building your community. Keep it safe, keep it clean, keep it secure and healthy.

God bless you.