Speech by the Prime Minister

PM Holness Remarks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Conference of Executive Management and Heads of Mission

The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, MP

Prime Minister of Jamaica

 Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Conference of Executive Management and Heads of Mission


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Jamaica Pegasus Hotel



  • Senator the Honourable Kamina Johnson Smith, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade
  • Senator the Honourable Pearnel Charles, Jnr, Minister of State
  • Ambassador Marcia Gilbert-Roberts, Permanent Secretary
  • Heads of Diplomatic Mission and Consular Post
  • Under-Secretaries
  • Directors and Staff of the Foreign Ministry
  • Members of the Media


Good morning.  First, let me apologize for my raspy voice. I had to attend a water conference yesterday and I got wet. It is indeed a pleasure for me to join you today to start your Conference and I thank you, Minister, for your warm words of welcome.

I wasn’t able to join you yesterday because I had to attend this Water Conference which was in Montego Bay which I got wet  but I managed to get back very late last night because I thought I was absolutely important that I get a chance to eyeball the people who are representing Jamaica overseas and more than that foreign policy is a very important tool of this administration. In fact, Minister Johnson-Smith will agree with me that I’ve made it too much of a priority because she has to travel so much but it is an absolute priority for this government and I want that point to be appreciated because the public sometimes does not necessarily see the work that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does on their behalf and sometimes I know within the grand scheme of things within government sometimes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can seem as if it is an adjunct to the efforts of the government but I want you to note that for this administration for me, in particular, Foreign Affairs is central and in fact I see our foreign policy as critical in supporting our economic policy.

I know that the Minister has prepared a text for me and she doesn’t like when I depart from it but because I’m so happy to see you all and I want to get that point across which was not in the speech. The critical point is that for this administration foreign policy must support the economic policy and I want to stress that point. For us Foreign Affairs is not just an academic exercise, it is an important economic imperative. Having said that I will now return to my speech.

This Conference is most timely, not only because you have not met over an extended period – and in fact, my recollection is that the last time you met like this we would have been the government at that time which was not so long ago.

Minister Johnson Smith would have spoken to you about specific mandates within the context of the national agenda and I know that you have been following the various national updates and would be very much aware of the domestic national policy priorities:

  1. Rule of Law and Timely Justice Outcome; I think everybody would be aware of that
  2. Inclusive Sustainable Economic Growth and Job Creation; everybody would be aware of that and indeed we’re making significant progress in that regard
  • Debt Reduction, Macro-Economic Stability and Fiscal Prudence; and again, from a national perspective the government is making significant progress in that regard.
  1. Human Capital Development; is an area that we need to return to. Indeed we are doing programs and we have policies in place but there needs to greater emphasis on the development of human capital and indeed it is going to become even more important as our multilateral partners specifically the World Bank where they’re launching a new Human Capital Development Index and Jamaica is considering becoming a part of the first cohort to be measured so it’s absolutely important that the government redoubles its efforts from a policy perspective and from an implementation perspective to ensure that we’re doing well in terms of measuring our human capital development and in that regard an important piece of information that I believe you should know, and Minister, it’s not in the text but you’ll agree with it while I mention it. The Ministry of Education is now going be a part of the World Cohort being measured under the study which is an international body that measures educational performance in critical subject areas in particular Math so Jamaica will now be benchmarked internationally so that is another step towards our human capital development.
  2. Social Protection
  3. In all of what we’ve said justice, inclusive economic growth and job creation, debt reduction, macroeconomic stability and fiscal prudence and human capital development, the conversation can sometimes ignore poverty.

Poverty is still a critical part of the Jamaican landscape. This administration does not ignore that. This administration accepts that the poverty levels are still too high granted we take some comfort that the poverty rates have declined but our job is to end poverty in Jamaica and I’ve stated that as my own personal mission and I continue to work towards that mission. I truly believe that absolute poverty doesn’t need to exist in any country and certainly, Jamaica has so great a potential that we could end absolute poverty in our country, so I want to reinforce that as well that it is a priority for the government. The government is still very much concerned about what is happening to the poor people of this country.

We have the policy mix, the priorities that we’ve just enumerated to you, we maintain that because ultimately we believe that in pursuing justice, in pursuing a macroeconomic policy that brings stability, fiscal prudence and reduce our debt and developing our human capital and focusing on our human development, PEP, and other such initiatives we will indeed end poverty in Jamaica.

The government though we espouse market-oriented solutions in many of our policies we acknowledge that market-oriented solutions do not always lend themselves to supporting pro-poor policies and so the government has to be proactive, it has to almost activist in ensuring that there are policies to address poverty in Jamaica. I’m giving you this context as it relates overseas with our partners and our friends that you have a clearer perspective on the government’s economic and social policy approach.

Obviously, the scope of the contribution that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Overseas Missions can make to the pursuit of these five (5) priorities, will relate to the readiness of your external partners to engage with Jamaica in respect of any one of these objectives.  I commend and acknowledge with appreciation, however, that the Administration has received from the Ministry’s representatives at its Headquarters and Overseas under the leadership of Minister Johnson Smith, in seeking to identify opportunities that will redound to the national benefit.

My assignment of Minister Charles to support Minister Johnson Smith is an indication of my recognition that the task is a mammoth one and an extremely important one.

Minister Charles has been working mainly in support of the Diaspora initiatives so far and I know that Minister Johnson Smith is seeking to expand your responsibilities. This would be my first chance speaking at an event since you have been minister, so it would be appropriate for me to welcome you and since I’m at the Diaspora, the Diaspora is a critical element of our foreign policy.

The challenge I’m facing, is that whenever I go overseas and the Diaspora gets a chance to interact with me they are always feeling as if we’re not engaging them enough and in spite of what I tell them about the institutions that are there and the great work that is being done by the ministry, our Jamaicans overseas still feel that they can contribute more and that the process of engagement is not as strong as it should be. It could be a perception mindset, but I would also want to think that there may be some element of reality in that and so in your interactions overseas I think mostly the public that you will deal with first and foremost is the Jamaican diaspora so that sense of engagement has to increase. It really requires a greater sense of communication and understanding of policy back home and matching it to the resources and skills that present themselves to you.

Largely, I believe in your individual capacities you can help by being the match maker and the opportunity creator for the diaspora. I believe that will help granted there has to be a constant structural rethink of how we engage the diaspora nevertheless, I believe your individual efforts can also help to correct any misperceptions that there may be an increase opportunity that exist.

The task of national development is tremendous, particularly in the prevailing worrisome and unpredictable political, social, economic and more so environmental scenarios that we experience on a daily basis across the globe. You will recall that I spoke to several of these in my recent statement to the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.  Our region has not escaped the vagaries of these uncertainties. Only a few days ago one of our closest neighbours Haiti another CARICOM partner experienced another major earthquake resulting in loss of lives, damage to infrastructure and displacement.  We offer our prayers to Haiti and Indonesia as well and other countries that have experienced these kinds of environmental disasters, but we also whisper a word of prayer for Jamaica thanking God for sparing us because just when was it… Sunday night I got a call from my wife “did you feel that earthquake”. I was walking around somewhere so I didn’t feel it but of course when I went on my phone everybody was saying “did you feel it, did you feel it” and thank God I didn’t feel and never hope to so collectively breathed a sigh of relief and keep praying that we will be spared but we have to match that with some works. The works really is as I’ve said in my address to the UN General Assembly is that for us the issue of climate change is not an academic debate.

We don’t have the luxury of saying whether or not climate change is real yes or no; that’s not the context in which Jamaica engages in the debate or indeed for any Small Island Developing State. We engage in it because we are seeing for ourselves and experiencing it daily a significant variability, unpredictability and intensity in extreme weather events so for us it is a practical issue. We’re not really going to add our voice to the political issues surrounding climate change as to whether or not it is real  yes or no or what side of the political coin you fall but our solid argument is that there are effects and we see the climate changing for us and there are real effects for poverty, for our infrastructure and indeed for some countries for the viability as is the case with our neighbours, our sister islands Dominica so our work is to add our voice with other small island developing states about the need for a global understanding that we are in a very vulnerable position and we have a right like any other country to guarantee our citizens that they can survive and they have a right to exist. I want to bring home that position to our representatives as clearly as possible.

The theme for this conference is therefore appropriate and timely, as in all spheres we must be adaptable and resilient to survive: ‘Diplomacy in an Era of Constant Change: Jamaica’s Response’. There is no denying the fact that as a sovereign but small island developing state, Jamaica must play an active role in influencing developments that impinge on our national interests and those of similarly vulnerable states.

We must do so, however, with a sense of responsibility and due respect for the views of other states, including our developed country partners, whose positions may not always fully align with our own. In many ways much has changed, and more changes can be anticipated. We must prepare to meet the challenges that accompany those changes at the regional, hemispheric and international levels.

My tenure as Chairman-in-office of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM, has afforded me and by extension Jamaica a special opportunity to engage with members of the world’s most influential political and economic groupings. Here I refer to our participation in the meeting of the G7 in Canada in June and the BRICS Plus Summit in South Africa in July.  We also continue the extensive programme of preparations for the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires in November under the Argentine presidency. Now, I’ve gotten some Access to Information requests about my travel but I’m sure I’m on good ground.

This latter Group – G20 – comprises the membership of the G7 as well as BRICS, along with several members from other emerging economies with the support of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs).  It is essential therefore that we take advantage of this singular opportunity to clearly articulate the interests of developing countries, particularly small island states of our region  and I think largely in all the engagements that I’ve had whether or not we’re in the cap of Chairman of CARICOM or representing Jamaica, we have taken the position of representing small island developing states and we have raise the issue  of support or resilience initiatives for support for climate change issues and HIMIC Initiatives meaning the highly indebted middle income countries. In all fora, we have raised those issues and we’ve been able to do so because we have been taking action locally, so it is not just going out to be an advocate, but we can say from Jamaica’s perspective here is what we’re doing. So when we go out and we raise issues about being highly indebted but yet being deprived of loans that are concessionary or supportive because we’re classified as middle income countries, we are speaking on a stronger platform than other countries because we are able to say even though we’re calling for this initiative, we accept and we recognize our own responsibility to see we have reduced our debt from a hundred and forty-one percent of GDP to the end of this year we will be sub one hundred. If countries like us which show understanding we take responsibility and we are frugal and we are supported by the international community, imagine what more we could achieve. We have a stronger case and probably we are better advocates and so we’re utilizing that position to stand on the global scale to say we are not the same small island developing country state under the dependency syndrome. We’re going for handouts, we’re not asking for any special privilege. What we’re saying is that for a country like Jamaica in the context of the uncertainty of the global environment, whether it is uncertainty in commodity prices or uncertainty in the political environment or uncertainties in weather events, we are vulnerable if there were to be if there were to be any exogenous shocks to Jamaica as a result of this uncertain global environment we will not be able to survive. We’re doing our best, we’re putting in place frugal policies, we’re fiscally prudent, we’re managing our resources well, but we need to have an enabling global environment that recognizes these vulnerabilities and build them into the support; that’s all we’re asking for. We’re not going out there saying we have some right to aid, that’s not our message. The dependency argument we have totally eliminated that from how we poster on the international scene and I hope that that point gets through to everyone here.

If we are to effectively pursue the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in ways that will not leave any country or people behind, we must make our case in these fora the G7, the G20, BRICS with clarity and empirical evidence.  We must be able to elicit a greater appreciation of the responsibility of the industrialized countries to ensure that small and vulnerable states such as ours are deserving of a fair chance to participate in the anticipated fourth industrial revolution.

I believe that we have been effective in carrying out the CARICOM regional mandate thus far. We have made significant progress on several longstanding issues such as the CSME. The report of the Commission that I had established in 2016 to review our relations with the regional integration framework must be credited for giving some impetus to progress in that regard.

As a region, our greatest threat currently comes from climate-related and environmental developments.  You are well acquainted with the impact of two major hurricanes last year on several Caribbean islands. I therefore take seriously the mandate just issued by the UN Secretary General to me, jointly with President Macron of France to galvanize funding in the amount of US$100 million per year by 2020. The mandate is in pursuant of a commitment made by developed countries in Copenhagen at the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Those funds are to be allocated specifically for mitigation and adaptation measures and will be of critical interest to the island states of the Caribbean.

And here I just want to make a few comments. Obviously, it is a distinct recognition of Jamaica to be asked to do this and the details of what is being asked will come to light very shortly but it was clear in one of the side meetings at the conference where this matter was discussed. President Macron said “well, let’s not talk too much in detail about the funding, that’s smoke and mirrors, all kinds of gymnastics can be used to say here is the funding, let’s talk about some real issues” and I agreed with him that there is indeed a lot of smoke and mirrors around funding of climate change issues so I raised some the real issues so I don’t know if I offended anyone. Minister you’re are my witness… I didn’t. Good, because I did point out that small island developing states like Jamaica effectively fund the first, second and third industrial revolutions and that it is now time for some equity. Did I say it as elegantly as I said it now? And I di point out that while I’m agreeing with President Macron that it’s always easy to say you’ve raised, that there are significant resources incarcerated in several global funds for climate change and literally you will have to have a PHD and an Advanced Law degree to plea the case to get funding and so a part of the remit that I would insert in the mandate given by Secretary General Gutiérrez is how can we make it easier for small island developing states to access these funds because the initiatives that they are undertaking to build their resilience and adaptation are urgent. They need to be done right now so it’s one thing to say you have billions of dollars ensconced in some funds somewhere but you just can’t get access to it, so there has to be a certain practicality applied to this whole climate change funding conversation and that’s part of what I intend to do as part of the advocacy of Jamaica on the international stage for climate change issues.

As I look at your programme and agenda, I am particularly struck by the planned exchanges on a range of foreign policy and trade issues that are of paramount importance to Jamaica’s development.  Quite rightly you are also taking account of the need to embrace new technologies in getting the job done. This will be particularly important as you engage in the art of economic diplomacy and public diplomacy. Your theme already acknowledges that in the pursuit of those objectives in an era of constant change, we must manage our responses effectively.

It has not escaped my attention that the resources of the Ministry (both human and physical) are not commensurate with the level of support demanded of the Foreign Service across the public sector as well as the private sector and civil society.

My ministries and pardon for saying that because I do have several ministries particularly the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation has been pleased to provide the requisite input of funding for outfitting your new Headquarters in downtown Kingston, which has been made possible by the generous support of our Chinese partners.

So, you’re going to be the first Ministry to get a new home which is purposed built and appropriately appointed for the important work that you do. So, the first statement wasn’t quite true, but I understand and just quickly there is a point that needs to be made.

Jamaica is in a process of transitioning on many fronts. One of the areas in which we are transitioning is the ability to self-finance infrastructure projects and that’s very important. We have resources in Jamaica whether it is in the Pension Funds, in the banking sector, through the stock market for equity, private placements or from the GOJs budget to support infrastructure development.

We plan to execute a whole series of major infrastructure projects. Some of them will be privately funded, some of them will be publicly funded, some them will be a mix of public private partnerships. In addition to that we also under the general rubric of full utilization of assets, plan to divest certain assets as well and that will bring into play local persons who are interested and foreigners who are interested. One way in which the diaspora can participate even without the existence of a specific vehicle such as a diaspora bond which we are working on and hopefully will come to the country with something tangible soon. I see Senator Hill nodding his head and I see Ambassador Marks nodding her head because both are integral in what is being developed but even without that if you can point out to the diaspora that you interact with, that if you want to participate in Jamaica then the best way to do it is to own a piece of Jamaica. So, yes we want you to send as much support as you can for your family, don’t send any weapons but buy a piece of Jamaica, demonstrate your confidence  in Jamaica by putting your money here and if you look at Down Town, Kingston you can see the emergence, the sign of a renewal and now is the time to get in because I tell you in ten years’ time we’re going to look like Miami. Senator Hill is very optimistic, he says three years but… You’re right, after three years you’re going to have to pay substantially more but now is the time to get in on it because I tell you my finger is on the pulse and that is pulse is starting to throb strongly so encourage our people in the diaspora to come in.

Now, there are persons who want to invest and C.G Deans introduced a few investors to us and they are eager, they want to go. On our side we have to put things in place to accommodate them but nevertheless they will be accommodated but what I’m saying to you is that your role in all of this is to be catalytic, is to be the relationship maker, you are basically the JAMPROs even if you don’t have a JAMPRO office in your Consul in your Mission. The foreign policy supports the economic policy. We are people who are speaking on the international stage for other small island developing states who some of them are doing better than us economically but don’t have the brand recognition and maybe not the history so we have to reclaim the space that we held before obviously on different issues and we have to project more and we have to use that to bring attention to Jamaica and resources to Jamaica as well.

I know that the Ministry of foreign Affairs is doing a review of your structure and how you execute your mission and hopefully, you will be bringing that to Cabinet soon. You may also notice that whenever there are difficult national issues to address the policy of the government has been assemble knowledgeable persons, stakeholders, interest groups into commissions to study the problem and advise the government and it is done in a nonpartisan way and usually including representatives of the Opposition, Civil Society and other stakeholders. We did that with the CARICOM Review so we brought a position to Parliament, it was debated on a resolution so there is a national position so that when you act on behalf of the government you can have certainty that this is not necessarily only a political administration position but this is the Government of Jamaica spanning administration because there is a declared support. Of course, policies change but that gives you even greater confidence in representing our policies abroad. We have done that with the NHT and there might be some changes coming there as well but that will go to parliament, it will be debated.

We are actively now putting together a commission on violence. Minister forgive me, I’m going to come down shortly. I just have a paragraph of conclusion.

At the UN speaking to Bloomberg, his foundation has supported work in Jamaica on health initiatives and so after the meeting, we had a conversation, so he said to me “things are going well in Jamaica but you have to deal with the crime”. Yes, i know you have to deal with the crime and obviously everyone knows that but the profound thing that came across was that here is a billionaire, forgive me, a multi-billionaire, a man who has held high office and well-respected; what does he have time to look about Jamaica to know that hat is holding us back is crime and violence. It is something that you, I’m certain, encounter in your Missions and Headquarters overseas and how do you address it. I know the strategy is to not address it at all or not to bring it up or to… I can’t… I’m going to leave the minster to advise you what’s the best way to address it.

The Ministry of Tourism obviously has a special interest and what I would say is that there has to be synergy between what the Ministry of foreign Affairs does and what the Ministry of Tourism does to make sure that there is a coordinated message but what I would like to see in the public domain overseas is that the government is addressing the crime problem because that was the message that came from Bloomberg. It’s not that there was a crime problem, the message is that you have to do something about it. That message has not gone out that the government is doing something about the crime problem and that is what i want, to give you some confidence in saying that the government is doing something.

Murders are down 20% or more now and I’m raising that in the context that the State of Public Emergency is sometimes viewed negatively in certain markets and certain countries because obviously, a state of public emergency is an extreme measure in most of the countries that you have to interact with but it’s a very difficult subject to   manoeuvre and i don’t want to get into too much detail except to say that you are on sound footing to say that the government acknowledges that there is a problem, we accept the gravity of it and we are addressing it and we’re being effective and seeing results.

I tell you that in five years’ time we are going to maintain the murder rate below a thousand and in a decade and I’m just being very cautious with time, but my intention is to put in place the policies that will bring our murder rate below five hundred and continue to decline. The sad thing is that the country has become so desensitized and has accepted a murder rate of a thousand or more as almost the normal so there is no sense of emergency in the country about addressing this crime issue. I don’t know how you feel about it, but it is an emergency. It is an emergency when you have a greater chance of being murdered than by being hit by a car, so we are treating it as it is. It is the stumbling block in our progress and if we did not have the murder rate that we have now and the high crime and violence level that we have now, we would have passed two percent growth rate long ago so I want to get this point across to you that the government is seized of the issue, we are acting in an instrumental way but we have done so in a way that you can hold your head high internationally. There’s no loss of life in an extrajudicial way, there is no abuse of power. We have deployed our security forces and given them exceptional powers and they have used to the credit of this nation and we have to continue to support our security forces, to thank them, to encourage them but the bad name that they have gotten on the international scene, I believe that this is an opportunity to show that Jamaica as a civilized nation  can give its security forces the authority and the power to use force within the context of the law and the respect for human rights whilst at the same time having an impact on reducing crime and that’s a powerful message to counter the negatives that have been spread about law enforcement in Jamaica. Maybe those negatives had some groundings in reality but the reality is changing, and it is important that that message gets across to our partners overseas.

As you juxtapose the national and international agendas in your deliberations over the coming days, I urge you to be bold, creative and forward-looking in your thinking.   The strategies for managing your external affairs in an era of constant change must recognize ever-evolving and new demands.  Indeed, I am confident that you will find ways to ensure that Jamaica’s response is innovative, robust and effective.

I wish for you, the Ministers, the Permanent Secretary and your senior managers a successful and truly rewarding Conference.


I thank you.