Speech by the Prime Minister

Official Opening of the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project (SCHIP) PartB II (Harbour View to Yallahs Bridge)

Official Opening of the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement  Project (SCHIP) PartB II (Harbour View to Yallahs Bridge)

Main Address


The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, PC, MP

Prime Minister of Jamaica

At the

Official Opening of the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement

Project (SCHIP) PartB II (Harbour View to Yallahs Bridge)


February 6, 2024


First, let me thank your Master of Ceremonies for her masterful handling of the ceremony.  She has moved it along quite expeditiously.

Allow me as well to acknowledge your Member of Parliament the Most Honourable Juliet Holness for the constituency of East Rural St Andrew, where we are,  but allow me also to acknowledge the Members of Parliament for St Thomas, James Robertson and Michelle Charles, who are here.

I  breached the protocols because I should have acknowledged the ministers first, but because of the nature of the event, allow me to acknowledge the Honourable Edward Warmington, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, and Minister Matthew Samuda; again, Minister without Portfolio with Responsibility for Water in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. And in case you are wondering who is the Minister with Portfolio for that Ministry, just in case you are wondering, that is yours truly.

I want to acknowledge our Cabinet Secretary, yes, our Cabinet Secretary, who was the permanent secretary in the ministry when this project started, Audrey Sewell, I don’t believe Audrey is here with us, but I know this project is near and dear to her. And allow me to acknowledge my new permanent secretary who is masterfully handling the completion of this project, Permanent Secretary Arlene Williams and the team from the NWA.

Now, that’s a story to be told, E. G. Hunter and Varden Downer; they don’t usually get recognized. They get a lot of cursing but they are the bureaucratic mind behind the delivery of this project and they should be acknowledged and commended because they do get.

In case you’re wondering how it works, I get the calls at midnight at 1 a.m, the complaints, the breakdowns, the potholes, the protests, and after I’m finished with those calls then I call them and they have to get up out of their beds and solve the problem so that in the morning the traffic can flow freely so they deserve the acknowledgement and the recognition.

Allow me to acknowledge His Excellency Chen Daojiang, Ambassador to Jamaica from the People’s Republic of China

And members of the China Harbour team,  our partners and contractors in infrastructure for Jamaica.

Allow me as well to acknowledge our Custos Rotolorum,  Marcia Bennett for the parish of St Thomas and all the lovely people of St Thomas who are here and of East Rural St Andrew who are also here.

Today is a great day for the people of St Thomas as we officially open the Harbour View to Yallahs leg of the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project.  Our forefathers would be proud to see this monumental step in the realization of a dream for the parish of St. Thomas.

Before I delve into the significance of this highway, I want to give you a little bit of history so I’m going to ask you to be patient with me. I’m going to ask you to listen carefully, to hold onto my hands, hold on to every word and follow me down the history lane of this parish, indeed this part of Jamaica.

Without a question, St Thomas is one of the most significant parishes in Jamaica’s history.  The legacy of this great parish surrounds not only its wealth of natural resources, historic architecture or vibrant culture but more so its role in our political and economic independence. When Christopher Columbus arrived in Jamaica in 1494, St Thomas was inhabited by the Taino people. In 1655,  Jamaica was captured by the English and around 1662, the English government reflecting on the influence of the Church of England divided Jamaica into units called parishes to facilitate the effective administration of the colony.

By 1841,  Jamaica had 22 parishes, some of you did know that.  And by 1867,  the Crown Colony Administration introduced a law which reduced and fixed the number of parishes to the present 14.  It was in this year that St Thomas as we know it today was formed. It was an amalgamation of St Thomas in the East and some other parishes and the boundary was established where we now have the parish of St Thomas.

The history of St Thomas is, of course,  most popularly associated with the Morant Bay Rebellion in  1865, which marked a turning point in Jamaica’s history.  After emancipation in 1834, the people of Jamaica faced years of political, economic, and racial tensions.  The rebellion, which took place 159 years ago, was about the plight of peasant farmers in St Thomas.  They endured extreme poverty, high taxes, economic repression, poor administration of their local affairs and the injustices that the people were facing were not being addressed in the courts.

The island was in the grip of an economic decline.  By then, Sugar, which was the mainstay of the island,  Sugar was declining across all the colonies. But you know what else affected us during that period of time?  Jamaica was also in the midst of  a pandemic. In fact, not a pandemic but rather an epidemic, a cholera epidemic, where it is reported by several sources that 10 per cent of the population of Jamaica died in that cholera outbreak.  In the 1850s, forty thousand persons it is reported died because of cholera, which was a result of just the poor state of health of the economy in the country at the time.

In response to these harsh conditions and underrepresentation that existed, our forefathers led a movement and fought tirelessly for their economic independence and social justice. For their role in the movement, over 400 Jamaicans, including our national heroes, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, paid the ultimate price. They summarily tried and hanged.  Some were killed as the colonial government tried to put down the rebellion.

It is argued that St Thomas was punished for its uprising against the colonizers.  Unfortunately, while other adjoining parishes saw development in their infrastructure,  St Thomas and its people were left in the wilderness. Interestingly, as far back as 1922, according to the Gleaner Archives,  in a sitting of the then legislative council discussing the provision of funding for a bridge to be built in St Thomas,  one of the councilmen, a Mr Nash,  said the following of St Thomas, and I quote the Gleaner article. “St Thomas was in a peculiar position with respect to the rest of the island,  as they had but one outlet from the parish,  and that was traversed by rivers which were not bridged.  St Thomas was also the parish which has so far lived on promises; promises which were never realised.”  But he hoped in this case,  the honourable members of St Thomas was going to get the bridge that they asked for, the parish that existed on promises.

Also from the Gleaner Archives, from March 20, 1925, is an article entitled, Members for St Thomas Deals with Conditions in Colony,  which described a Mr Phillips, a then member of the Council for St Thomas,  his criticism of the budget speech of the Colonial Secretary, which had not provided for the long-promised bridge over the rivers.  Mr Phillips also stated that the people of St Thomas had asked for one mile of road to get to the new sugar factory, which would cost 400 pounds at the time. Can you imagine 400 pounds could build one mile of roads at that time, but the government was not willing to spend it.  Mr Phillips labelled the parish as the Siberia of Jamaica, a neglected parish.

Then in the year 2012,  almost 90 years later and once more in the Gleaner,  a passionate and frustrated resident of St Thomas wrote a letter to the Editor and stated, and I’m quoting,  “I have been living in the wonderful parish of St Thomas for 12 years.  For years, I have been wondering why the authorities can’t even build a footbridge in Eleven Miles, Bull Bay.  Of the 14 parishes, it seems to be the forgotten one. St Thomas seems poor in so many ways,  yet it is a very rich parish.  Some of the best resources come from St Thomas.”  What do we get from St Thomas he asks,  and she goes on.  “We get the best aggregate gypsum, the sweetest East Indian mango, sweet sap, naseberry, just to name a few. Take a look at the roads on which the trucks laden with resources travel.  The river course is far better than our roads.” That’s what the author wrote of the letter.  “The only road that takes you from Kingston to St Thomas is hardly a choice for commuters.  Over the years, the authorities have sought to comfort us with promises. Is St Thomas not a part of Jamaica?  Should it be in name only?  Will it take another 50 years to fix and maintain our roads, especially the St Thomas roads?”  This was what the author of the letter wrote.

The history of St. Thomas is not only important for us to understand the struggle that our ancestors faced but to move from the past of struggle and to embrace the hope and prospects of prosperity.  Jamaica’s economy over the past decade is at another turning point in the history of our country since independence in 1962.  In fixing the mistakes and neglect of the past that have robbed Jamaica of its true potential, my administration has created a strong economy that is delivering the results.

There are some people in our country  who do not like to hear success. There are some people in our country,  it hurts them deeply to see that this administration is delivering, fulfilling,  realizing, making good on the longstanding dreams and aspirations of the people.  It hurts them. The young lady who delivered the first entertainment piece, she says,  what is success?  And there’s a line in there which caught my attention. She says success is ignoring the negatives because if you follow some of the comments,  you would draw the conclusion that it was better we didn’t build the road.  If you follow the criticisms to the logical conclusion, then you would have to conclude, well, may as well we didn’t build the road.  May as well just leave it as it was.

We saw the criticisms and the complaints about dust, about flooding and one would think that it is since we started to repair the road but you notice that I am now going back into the very archives, into the very newspaper records to show what they documented in 2022, in 2023, but what they have also documented going back to 2013, 2014, and before, the same very complaints. What is different between 2013 and 2014, and 2022, 2023, and 2024, is that this administration is fixing those problems.

So, the problems didn’t start with us.  The problems have been there from emancipation through to the Morant Bay Rebellion,  coming right up now to labour riots; the problems of our country have been there.  So don’t argue as if these things just materialize and a snap of a finger they’re going to be changed. What is different now is that when we were struggling with bad roads, bad healthcare, bad everything, we had a bad economy that could not deliver to fix those problems.  Now you have a government that is fixing the economy and as we fix the economy, the economy gives us capacity and we use that capacity now to spend on the people and that is how we have a caring economy, an economy at which the people are at the centre.

So, when we talk about the economy, there are persons who don’t like it but it is the most curious thing, it’s as if the government must not talk about its success. There are those who are wedded to a diet of negative and we must accentuate the positive. We must give people hope and lift their expectations.

Under my administration, Jamaica has experienced ten consecutive quarters of economic growth since the pandemic. We now have a new record of unemployment, 4.2 per cent.  I want you to appreciate the importance of this point, especially for this corridor.  This parish had one of the highest rates of unemployment,  St Thomas, even though it was in proximity to Kingston. You know why?  You know why the rebellion happened in St Thomas?

After emancipation, our forefathers decided we are not going to work on the plantation.  It was pretty much a plantation economy where the only source of wealth creation came from the plantation so you had to sell your labour to the plantation.  Our people decided that we are going to go and find land all over and we are going to try and farm the land. We are going to use our labour in agriculture subsistence farming  to sustain ourselves.  The people who owned land and who owned plantations said our sugar plant, meaning their sugar plantation and their sugar factories can’t succeed unless we get those people who are former enslaved to come and work for us now as labourers but we can’t make any profit if your wages are high.  And by the way, if your wages are high, they are going to create a surplus and then they don’t need to work for us so they keep the wages artificially low, even though they need it for the labour but what else did they do?  They made it very difficult for the former slaves to have land to plant for their own subsistence livelihood.  They evicted, they disputed leases, they used the courts to throw people off the land. When we talk about the sensitivity of land settlement in Jamaica, this is where it all comes from.

And so at that period of time, there was a high level of unemployment.  Just think about it.  No work, and if you do decide to work, the wage is low. How do you survive?  You can’t get any land. If you have land, the landowner is trying to kick you off it.  If you have a dispute with the landowner and you go to court, there is no justice there.  It must have boiled up to that point and it did and it sparked a massive rebellion. And it is out of that,  that the colonial government at the time realized even though they knew for a very long time, the churches here were sending back letters to the colonial government, telling them what a difficult situation, that as a result of that,  they took back control of the colony, made it a crown colony once more and decided to administer it directly and started to structure Jamaica, both in terms of its administrative departments, the formation of local government,  and the development of an economy; that’s where it really started.

I’m trying to explain to you that this road that we are building here is an important closing of the circle. This is not just building a road, this is about Jamaica achieving its economic and political independence. This is about liberating the people. This is about providing them with an opportunity.  And as was said by some wise man somewhere, the road to development begins with a road.  The road to development begins with a road.

So,  there are those who would want to underplay the significance of this, but I’m sure that the people in this side of the island realizes the importance of this road. The forgotten parish is now front and centre in the administration of the government. So,  there is no question that more people in St Thomas are now employed. No question.  The amount of construction work that is going on along this corridor.  The complaint I get is that we can’t find enough people to work, that’s the complaint I get. We have record international reserves, almost 5 billion dollars of reserves now. Never had that before in Jamaica.  Good government, good management of the economy has done that.

The first time since  1966, some of you weren’t born then, but the first time since 1966, Jamaica has a balance of payment surplus. Our debt-to-GDP ratio, meaning if you were to take everything that Jamaica produced and put it beside Jamaica’s total debt, the debt at one point in time was 50 per cent greater than everything that we had produced.  Now, our debt-to-GDP ratio has declined. We are going to be about 74%, meaning that we could pay off our debt and still have 26 per cent left.

Now, in a very rough way, just to explain that, is that we are able to do these things because we have that 26 per cent left. It’s a very rough way of looking at it. So can you imagine if we bring down the debt more each time we bring it down, we have more space and that is what this government is committed to. And once we bring it down more and we bring it down more, the people who are quarrelling going about road over there and that road wasn’t fixed, that’s how we get to fix them. The problem we have is that we have an intellectual class in Jamaica and I know they’re going to say we’re attacking, that’s not what I’m doing, I think the intellectual class needs to step up to the conversation and bring all Jamaica along to say that the problems that we have can only be solved if we get the economy in a right place so that we can create what is called more fiscal space and then we can fix the road.

I don’t want this to be misinterpreted, but I listened to a former minister of education on a radio programme recently,  and it was refreshing to hear someone who was in the political field, who knows how the thing works to say, listen up, don’t over promise and tell the people all kinds of foolishness,  be realistic; it was very refreshing. I don’t want to bring her into this space because she has retired, but she made a profound comment and as someone who I consider to be a serious intellectual and academic, it is the first time really that I have heard that from someone like herself and it is a statement that I believe would have advanced Jamaica’s understanding of the challenges that we have because we argue as if, in one budget year, we’re going to fix all the problems that have been created since the Morant Bay Rebellion. That’s how we argue like we expect everything to happen overnight.  Even for this road, it has taken us almost three years to reach to this point.  Jamaica is not going to be built in a day but day by day, this administration is building Jamaica road by road, house by house, factory by factory; we are building Jamaica.

You now have an economy that has given you, and no matter what you want to say about this hard, or you can’t find this, and in your community you don’t have this; for eight years you have not been asked to pay any new taxes, for eight years. But more than that we have reduced taxes.  We are the government that has reduced GCTs for you. I have to make these points because as I said,  if you follow the conversation, then you would think it’s better to never do anything but as the lady says, the little lady who gave us the entertainment, and I hope you have captured it, she said, when you’re pursuing success, you ignore the negatives.

No more will St Thomas be the forgotten parish or treated as the long-lost cousin. The focus of my administration is correcting a fundamental wrong that was committed against the people of St Thomas for centuries and developing a parish that faced a dark period of neglect during which many generations suffered. This government, your government, has declared St Thomas and the whole Eastern Corridor of Jamaica as the new frontier of development.

St Thomas is witnessing a remarkable change in its infrastructure, particularly its roadways and public facilities. The Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project is a key catalyst for this transformation connecting Harbour View in St Andrew to Port Antonio in Portland. The highway is set to enhance the economic foundations of St Thomas, offering numerous opportunities for its residents.  My administration laid the work for this project in November 2019. It involves rehabilitating approximately 110 kilometres of roadways from Harbour View to Port Antonio and  26 kilometers from Morant Bay to Cedar Valley in St Thomas. That is already completed.

My administration puts the people of Jamaica at the centre of development. This flagship project of my administration is much more than a new road. It will significantly enhance critical infrastructure that is important for your well-being. It involves widening and realigning the existing road to make it safer and more efficient. It involves the upgrading of drains, and I want to spend two minutes on that.

When we complete the asphalting of this road, even when we put in the culverts,  the road is still not yet complete.  The road will be watched and studied carefully over its lifetime, but intensely in the first two years of its operation because that is when you begin to understand water flows.  That is when you begin to develop models of patterns so you can know where to put in a drain, which drain needs to be expanded, if an embankment needs to be built; all of those things will have to be adjusted.

And the reason is that even though we have designed and built the road, around the road people are doing things. So once the road is developed, somebody who had two bedrooms, they put on one more bedroom. Once that roof go on, that’s more water. They start to pave the yard, they start to pave the sidewalk, once they do that, that’s more water running off. Where does that water go? On the road. So you may have sized the drain a particular size, but other things are happening, and that size may have to change so there is a period of time that even after opening, even after you’re driving on the road, the road is still effectively under supervision for construction, and that needs to be understood.

So those persons who still have existing challenges,  we are not finished with the road.  We still are there. We’re going to have to monitor them. If you have challenges, please let us know. And by the way, in our country, you can go to the media and put your problems on the media. We monitor almost on a daily basis, but please feel free to call the NWA, your parish council, your member of parliament because that is how your democracy really should work.The people who you have elected, those are the persons that you should speak to. This business of everything becoming a protest, consider that in the old version of Jamaica. In the new version of Jamaica, let us make our democracy work. All our councillors, all our MPs, all our technocrats are available to the public. So it doesn’t have to be a confrontation between citizens and the people you elect and the people who administer your affairs through the civil service.

Let’s call that the old Jamaica. Let’s move to a new vision of Jamaica, where when we do the SPARK Programme, (Shared Prosperity through Accelerated Improvement to our Road Network) and we have to determine our road priorities, it won’t be the MP sitting down in a corner with a few people determining which road. You will now have the opportunity. It’s a whole new model now of democracy at work that you can come into these consultations which will be held right across your communities and you can speak about your roads, raise your issues. Let’s move to the modern Jamaica.

Now, we’ve built several new bridges on this roadway, impressive bridges. So you remember in 1922, the letter was, we don’t even have a bridge, look at how it has changed but that’s almost 90 years to get to this point; that’s because we had a poor economy.  Now we are building the economy. We will be able to build more bridges and more roads. As that debt goes down, and we have more space created, we will use it on the people and the benefit of the people.

Importantly, we have installed along this road, which people don’t see but we have to tell the people what is here, we’ve have put in fibre optic cable so everywhere in St Thomas potentially now has access to high-speed internet but it means the businesses that use these digital services can come and locate here because the internet is here. We have put in high-capacity water mains, ductile pipes that will last for a very long time, that can carry high volume and high pressure of water, and in some areas, we have also put in sewer mains so this is not just a road, this is bringing a corridor of development; very important.

Now,  I want to acknowledge the plight that all of you as citizens and residents along this road had to endure and we do apologize for the disruptions. We thank you for your patience as we improve your conditions but ultimately, you are going to be the significant beneficiary of this road. This is the largest investment in St Thomas since the Morant Bay Rebellion.

People here forget when we say that you have a poor economy and that poor economy creates the bad conditions. Sugar factories closed.  How many of your sugar factories you have operating now? The Goodyear factory, which was supposed to be the most modern investment for a long time in Jamaica, what happened to it?  For how many years? There was an attempt to reopen it to say they’re going to do call center, what happened to it? So when I hear people coming to talk, it galls me because it is because the people don’t go back and read their history why they can be easily misled with falsehoods and propaganda.

Look at the Goodyear factory now.  Just drive past there and look over there and you’ll see what is happening there. A new urban center is being built for the parish of St Thomas, The Morant Bay Urban Center so what you’re going to see now is a whole heap of employment taking place there. St Thomas will have the most modern urban centre in Jamaica.

As a result of this road, we have 4,000 hotel rooms projected to be built. When I leave here, I’m going to open a development that is taking place called the Suncoast Housing Development made possible because of this highway.  You know what is going to happen in this area?  You’re going to see an explosion of housing development, housing estates in St. Thomas and in the Bull Bay area. You’re going to find this area being created as a new suburb of Kingston and St. Andrew because of the proximity and the ease and convenience of the highway. So when all the development pressures were heading west,  southwest heading towards St. Catherine and Clarendon where we’re really having a challenge in finding lands, you’re going to see now housing move into this part of Jamaica, further developing this area.

But I want to mention the botanical gardens, at the time one of the best in the world.  I want to mention the history of artefacts and heritage that is in Morant Bay and I want to spend a little bit of time on Morant Bay because when we complete the Morant Bay Urban Center, the road now leads through Morant Bay but there is a bypass that goes around Morant Bay. We’re going to develop that bypass around Morant Bay and we’re going to develop Morant Bay into a historic town. I have already given directions for the development of a museum.

Now, I don’t want a small museum.  I want a big museum which will be the museum of the modern history of Jamaica.  It will properly document and preserve the artefacts starting from the Morant Bay Rebellion to now.  We will develop the courthouse.  We will create a park on that seafront of the town. We will seek to develop and preserve the old architecture and we will make it a model town.

But remember now,  this road connects at Harbour View Roundabout.  We have Port Royal,  Airport and we have built  a port facility there for cruise ships.  What you now have is a corridor for tourism from Port Royal going right to Morant Bay. Our tourism has largely been about sun, sea and sand but people travel for a wide range of experiences. People want to see a little bit of history. They want to be able to sit with the people. They want to eat the local food, go to the local club, mix with the local people in safety and security and what better place to start to develop that corridor. From Port Royal, you can get to anywhere in Kingston. You can go to Bob Marleyhouse, the museum. You can go to our art galleries. We have various museums and the Institute of Jamaica. You can go up to get some coffee up in up in East Rural. You can come down here and end your tour. Yes, you can go to Trenchtown and live a little of the Bob Marley experience but as I talk about that, today is Bob Marley’s birthday. One love,  one heart.  Let’s get together and feel alright.

Today is Bob Marley’s birthday and I had an opportunity to see the film at its premiere and St Thomas was featured. Bull Bay was featured. What we should be doing is looking to develop along this course for movies and scenes. In fact,  what we want to do now is to start the development of film about the history of the Morant Bay Rebellion.

So,  my friends,  you are a part of history and I want you to appreciate the bigger picture. I want you to be a part of the brighter vision. Jamaica is at an inflection point. An inflection point is where the rate of change increases rapidly.  So we were going like this,  and then we’re going like this, an inflection. It is for us now,  not to change the rate of change. It is for us to maintain the trajectory. It is for us to keep on the pathway.  It is for us to continue our journey to prosperity.

Our mantra is we are looking to build peace and productivity. There is no question that this road will build productivity.  And if we build productivity, people become more peaceful.  And once you build productivity and peace, you’re on your way to prosperity.  And once you build prosperity, and people have a prosperity outlook, people become more productive and more peaceful. And more peace and productivity gives you more prosperity. Jamaica is on its way to a virtuous cycle of development and fulfilment. It warms my heart today to officially open this road and mark the closing of the circle from the brutal history of our forefathers that erupted in the Morant Bay Rebellion.

God rest the soul in peace of our ancestors.  God bless you and thank you.