Speech by the Prime Minister

Official Opening of the New Headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade on January 19, 2022

I can report, but all protocols have been observed.

There is an argument circulating, which I thought was complete, that there are no measures in place to address the current wave but when I entered this place, I sanitized my hands which is required and which most businesses do, and I encourage them to continue to do so. I noticed the physical distance maintained in gatherings and that is still required under the DRMA. I noticed that great effort was made to ensure that no more than 50 persons are gathered here. I did not ask the permanent secretary as to whether or not they were all vaccinated, but the rule for government events are that everyone who is present must certify their vaccination status, meaning present your vaccination card beforehand, and I see the permanent secretary nodding that the rule was followed. And I noticed that everyone is wearing their mask but in a specific way, I noticed that even at the microphone, which it is permitted that if you were singing or speaking, we could allow the removal of the mask. We had a lovely song presented and the singer kept her mask on and did an excellent job and I congratulate her, lovely song earlier on, and all the speakers so far kept their masks on being responsible and understanding the dangers that lurk in this pandemic.

So, to be clear, there are rules and regulations and requirements under the DRMA, which have been set many months ago, which the nation was advised of and it is these rules that we will continue to observe. Now, there are those who would want to see tighter rules, but we have to reach a reasonable balance. Tighter rules could mean less work. It could mean less economic activity, less income, and that could also mean more social problems, but nevertheless, I believe we all understand that it is now down to us in this our 60th year of independence.

What does independence mean? It doesn’t mean freedom to do as you wish. It means freedom to act responsibly and I reinforce the point that yes, government has a duty to protect the citizen even against themselves, but in a democracy, which we claim where people have freedom, that freedom comes with an inescapable responsibility. This nation must develop and learn to use their freedom responsibly and as the leader of the nation at this time, regardless of push-back- objections, I must stand firm to borrow a term from my friend, Mark, that we must act responsibly. Each citizen must do their part. The government can only do so much. Government has limits. So, having broken the protocol, let me re-establish it.

Thank you, Madam master of ceremonies, Ms. Delona Flemming and thank you, Archbishop Kenneth Richards, president of the Jamaica Council of Churches and chairman of the Umbrella Group of Churches for offering special prayers; and I do express gratitude Archbishop, when you whisper a special word of prayer for me because as you would know, this is a very difficult time.

My friend, Mark Golding, leader of the opposition.

Now, when we were watching the video a while ago and they were displaying the former Ministers of Foreign Affairs, it was quite obvious I was saying all the ministers previously were men. Finally, we have broken that trend. So let me acknowledge Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson-Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, my post-independence sister.

The Honourable Olivia Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports.

Senator the Honourable Tom Tavares-Finson, President of the Senate.

The Most Honourable Denise Shearer.

His excellency, Tian Qi, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Jamaica and other resident members of the diplomatic community.

Senator the Honourable Leslie Campbell, Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign trades.

Senators and other government officials.

I see His Worship the Mayor, the Member of Parliament for the area, Donovan Williams.

Specially invited guests.

It is my pleasure to be here to formally open the new headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade.

Though long in making, it is of significance that this day has come in the 60th year of our country’s independence and the 50th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations with our friends, the People’s Republic of China.

I congratulate everyone involved for their shared vision and commitment to bringing this project to fruition. It was a partnership that brought together ministries, departments, and agencies across administrations and government. It confirms the utility of embracing a whole of government approach to implement an enduring legacy. The People’s Republic of China was very supportive of our goal of having a fit for purpose Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and provided grant funding. Let me therefore on behalf of the government and people of Jamaica, convey through His Excellency Tian Qi, our heartfelt, really deeply heartfelt gratitude to the government and people of the People’s Republic of China. Thank you, sir. The Jamaican people are indeed grateful as we see the tangible benefits of our relationship.

It is the government’s stated policy to create purpose-built facilities to permanently house the ministries of government which are indeed important symbols of the state. I just went through an exercise, and in that exercise, the Cabinet Secretary knows what I’m about to say; we have to be scouting for space for our ministries. In 60 years of independence, we have not fully and truly established government. There is a sense that government doesn’t need to be properly established and set, that the facilities and the buildings should not be made priority. It is an upside-down way of looking at things.

The State must be properly established and when the founding fathers of the State were setting the plans for Jamaica, they had Heroes Circle as the place where the government campus would be established, and you would have seen the signs of it. The Ministry of Trade was there where the Ministry of Education now is. You would see the Ministry of Finance building, a Ministry of Labour and Social Security, but it was never completed so there is a sense in the country regarding the sense of ineffectiveness and inefficiency of the state and its authority. And we are only going to combat that, if all of us, government and Opposition, Senators and MPs, Permanent Secretaries lead the public narrative that we must establish with proper facilities in order for us to properly, effectively and efficiently serve the people.

We must establish purpose-built facilities which is why in our 60th year, we will start our Parliament – we will begin the government circle project to properly house. These are not edifices to ourselves to burnish our egos. This is to ensure that we can have efficiency in the administration of public affairs. So, we view this in the 60th year as a part of that strategy. You will see that it is a lovely building, lovely facility, properly appointed for the purpose and I’m sure your staff will feel at home here, their work will be much more easily accomplished, and the country will benefit and grow as a result of that. Again, I express thanks to our friends, the People’s Republic of China.

I also place on record on behalf of the government and people of Jamaica, deepest gratitude to successive ministers, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries, permanent secretaries, and members of staff for the dedicated service that has led to significant achievements by Jamaica on the international stage under the aegis of this ministry.

There is no doubt that for a small developing country, we have made significant strides in the 60 years of our independence as a nation. We have a democracy that is stable and strong, and which has at its core a commitment to the promotion and the protection of the fundamental rights of every Jamaican. Our political independence has been strengthened over the past 60 years with the institutions, systems and processes that have been put in place and over which we maintain strict vigilance. To do justice to the celebration of 60 years of nationhood, our efforts must be focused primarily on furthering our economic independence ensuring that further steps towards full independence will be substantive and meaningful.

Our current mandate is clear. We must grow our economy and to create meaningful jobs, encourage opportunities for our young people and improve the wellbeing of all Jamaicans. Economic prosperity for the people of Jamaica must be at the core of our collective endeavour to achieve inclusive and sustainable development as we work towards republic status.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has a crucial role to play in this regard. As the first point of contact for our bilateral, regional and multilateral partners, you are ideally placed to ensure that our partnerships give practical meaning to our national objectives through your foreign policy engagements. A proactive and agile foreign policy is necessary in a dynamic global environment that has grown increasingly complex especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Our focus on recovery will require an even greater attention to how we identify opportunities to leverage existing relationships and build new ones that will enable us to meet our diverse needs and requirements.

I applaud the Foreign Ministry for the initiative to deepen its response to national imperatives through the Economic Diplomacy Programme, (EDP). I’m pleased to note that this joint venture with JAMPRO is already reaping success with new business opportunities registered with interests in India, Japan, China, Germany, United States of America, South Africa, and the Caribbean and Latin America covering areas such as business process outsourcing, distribution of Jamaican film and other creative content, logistics operations, and others.

I also commend the Ministry’s work towards expanding market opportunities for coffee in the European Union. I encourage you to use all resources at your disposal, including our diplomatic and consular representatives to expand the network of business and investment contacts and to reassure the global community that Jamaica remains an attractive investment destination. Jamaica is more open for business than any time in its 60 years of independence.

Financing for development has assumed an even greater urgency in the context of COVID-19 which has exacerbated the fiscal constraints of highly indebted countries like ours. However, middle-income designation such as where Jamaica falls, restricts access to countries like ourselves to the type and quantities of concessional funding and grant support that could expedite more even recovery. Jamaica has therefore been a consistent advocate to address the issue within the global financial architecture. The Ministry’s work in this regard will continue to be crucial. The same level of attention will be required for climate financing which has globally remained woefully inadequate despite longstanding commitments. We must continue to press and deepen engagement for further progress in this regard; this is an area again, which Jamaica has led and championed.

Jamaica’s role in the development of the law of the sea is well-known and well respected. In fact, when we go to international meetings and we meet up in diplomatic circles, one of the things that the older diplomats usually point out is Jamaica’s championing of the law of the sea. It is well-known; indeed, my script here says it is legendary and it is for a smaller country like Jamaica to have brought to the international arena this very important global issue and have it enshrined in international law.

In the current context, we are challenged to find new and innovative ways of tapping into the resources of the ocean to pursue the opportunities of the blue and green economy in a manner that allows us to sustainably conserve, utilize and manage these resources. You will note that though most of the commentary focused on other less important issues, that there is now a subject matter for the blue and green economy. Don’t worry Mark, the orange economy is going to be… and though I’ve meant it in a fun way, we are seriously looking at how to create the creative economy, how to support it, how to put institutions around it and so when we use the term the orange economy now, we are looking at entertainment, arts, the creatives. So that is being considered, how do we do this so you will see further changes in that regard, but we have already established how we’re going to move forward in trying to develop and sustainably use the oceans which we call the blue economy and how we’re going to make greater use of our renewables, recycling and the natural assets of our land environment in what we call the green economy. So, we’re trying to create new economic frontiers, establish them, purposely drive them with institutions and government support in our 60th year.

We must leverage our leadership in this area in keeping with the role that we played in negotiating the United Nations convention on the law of the sea and as the headquarters for the International Seabed Authority. Our relationship with the diaspora will remain critical as we look to promote our transformative development agenda through continued engagement in the areas of health, education, philanthropy and investment, innovation and the digital society and its transformation.

This area has shown itself to be absolutely critical in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. It is unfortunate that it took a pandemic to push us forward in this regard and the pandemic would’ve probably moved us about three years ahead of where we would have been because of the forced adoption of technology in our business and daily processes.

Nevertheless, this must continue to hold a high rank in the list of priorities. We must explore and deepen the potential to further build out and modernize our IT infrastructure creating world-class education and training for Jamaicans will also be central in this digital transformation. It is important because in the new dispensation and the new divisions of labour, it is important that our people are technology natives, that they use technology in their daily activities and that they use it not just for play, but for work, creativity and production as well. So, as we engage in our foreign affairs, this will be one area that we will be emphasizing, Jamaica must become a technology producing country.

As a society, we must support efforts to ensure inclusiveness and opportunity and mutual respect and tolerance, and these days people don’t like me to be emotional; nothing is wrong with being emotional. We don’t use the word love anymore. I hear Mark trying to use it, the word is love but we must express love for each other. There’s nothing wrong in trying to build a gentler, kinder nation.

We cannot truly give meaning to our economic independence if personal security and freedoms are threatened by persistent crime and violence. Our technical and economic corporation programmes, as well as participation in various regional and multilateral fora, must reinforce this and indeed, I can say that in our partnerships with several of our bilateral partners we have gotten significant support. Pardon me to mention the support from the European Union and the United Kingdom in the work that we’re doing in the ZOSOs, and I see the minister of foreign affairs saying when you do that, but I beg your pardon.

To make the fundamental point that our foreign affairs is working diligently to get international support for our efforts in addressing crime and violence in Jamaica. Minister, I raised it because whilst you have gotten personal accolades for your conduct as a Minister, it is not always evident to the people of Jamaica what is the purpose of having the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; what do we get from it.  

There’s not much help given in public discourse by opinion leaders to explain why these things are important and indeed fundamental to the state. With this lack of understanding, it leads to an erosion and indeed an undermining of the State and its functions because the citizens say here’s another waste of public funds without truly understanding that the work that is done, though it may not be forward facing and in your community, but the creation first of the international respect, having that voice in international fora, which is amplified, properly lobbying and placing Jamaica’s issues in the global and international fora, making friendships and connections; those are the things that turn the dial in our favour which results in support for programmes that you benefit from. The ministry of foreign affairs is an absolutely important and critical arm of government and symbol of the state.

The ZOSOs would not be possible. I hear the leader of the opposition yesterday asking for more and that the lack of resources is not an excuse for doing it. How we got more is by effective foreign affairs relations and we will continue to leverage our good foreign affairs apparatus to support the economic and social agenda locally. Jamaica has established an admirable brand in global affairs that has been principally fostered and sustained through the work of this Ministry. Jamaica has earned the respect and admiration of its peers for its leadership on the world stage in bringing to the fore issues of major concern that require concerted global action.

One of the most acclaimed and enduring initiatives presented in the very first policy statement to the United Nations General Assembly in 1962 was the proposal for the declaration of an international year of human rights which was ultimately observed in 1968. It was Hugh Lawson Shearer who delivered the policy statement and under whose initiative the proposal was developed. It was a demonstration of boldness and foresight that only a person of his sensitivity and awareness of the importance of the subject could convey. 

Hugh Shearer went on to deliver Jamaica’s policy statement as a newly independent country annually until 1967 thus pioneering the development of the Jamaican foreign ministry. His exploits at the United Nations in New York are matched only by his outstanding representation of the interests of Jamaica and developing countries in relation to global trade issues. His presence at meetings of the group of African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries and the then European community in the context of the low main negotiations facilitated the significant role which Jamaica played then and continues to play in advocating for a level playing field for more equitable trading arrangements for more vulnerable and less developed countries.

At home, Hugh Shearer’s management of his portfolio at the foreign ministry was imbued with his conviction of the inextricable link between domestic and foreign policy. He led his staff to operate at their best and earned their admiration for his care, not only for Jamaica’s foreign policy and relations but also towards staff development and their personal interests. The Most Honourable Hugh Lawson Shearer, Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1967 to 1972, a favourable year, served simultaneously as Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs.

In 1980, he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and again, the Minister of Foreign Affairs; the longest serving Foreign Minister laying the foundation from the inception of independence for a principle and forthright foreign policy posture which has served Jamaica well. 

The outstanding service and contributions of the Most Honourable Hugh Lawson Shearer ON, OJ at the highest levels in Jamaica underpinned by the admirable personal and professional attributes of this distinguished son of Jamaica commend him as an exemplar in the conduct of Jamaica’s foreign policy and relations. Accordingly, it is my great pleasure to announce that Cabinet has approved the naming of this the new headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in his honour.

It is now my distinct honour to declare and open the new Headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and to declare that henceforth the building will be called the Hugh Lawson Shearer Building.