Speech by the Prime Minister

Policy Statement – Prime Minister of Jamaica The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, MP at the General Debate – 74Th Session of the United Nations General Assembly New York, 27th September 2019

Policy Statement – Prime Minister of Jamaica The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, MP at the General Debate – 74Th Session of the United Nations General Assembly New York, 27th September 2019
The Most Hon Andrew Holness, Prime Minister speaking at the 74th United Nations General Assembly, UNGA in New York.

Theme: “Galvanising multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion”


Mr. President,

I extend heartiest congratulations on your election as President of this 74th Session of the General Assembly and assure you of Jamaica’s full support in the work ahead.

I must also convey our deepest appreciation to Her Excellency Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, for so ably guiding our work in the preceding session.

Mr. President,

The United Nations is critical to building a world of peace, security and development. These are the hallmarks of our multilateral collaborative activities of which we can all be justly proud.

No individual country can fulfill the development aspirations of its people, without working in partnership with others. We are grateful therefore, to the Secretary General and his team and all who have been the drivers behind the many successful UN initiatives.

At the same time, our global space is facing unprecedented risks. These include deepening geopolitical conflicts; heightened trade tensions; terrorist attacks and new security threats.

There is also growing religious intolerance, increasing xenophobic behavior and not least of all the devastating effects of climate change. Sadly, we are witnessing these phenomena against the background of fears of a global recession.

I, therefore, very much welcome the theme chosen for this Session of the General Assembly “Galvanising multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion”. Now is indeed the time to redirect our focus and enable our countries to reverse the negative trends.


Mr. President,

Jamaica is pursuing several policy and legislative measures designed to create a more cohesive society and a more resilient economy. Our major goals are the promotion of inclusive sustainable growth, economic opportunities, peaceful society, social harmony and citizen security. We are working to make this a reality for every Jamaican.

Greater investment in human capital will undoubtedly yield exponential returns for national development.  Empowerment of our people will facilitate participation in the growth and development of Jamaica, our region as well as the wider international community.Special attention must be given to the most vulnerable in the society to ensure that no one is left behind.  We have therefore, increased the budgetary allocation to the Jamaica Social Protection Strategy, which encompasses wider social and income security imperatives associated with a range of vulnerabilities.

In 2017, we revised our National Poverty Reduction Programme aiming to reduce the national prevalence of poverty to below 10 per cent by 2030.  We are working to ensure that persons living with disabilities, the elderly, women, children and young people are part of an inclusive, resilient and prosperous society.

We have made significant advances with universal enrolment at the pre-primary, primary and secondary levels of education, through a strategic and integrated programme of education and training.

As part of this endeavor, we are increasing emphasis on science, innovation and technology. We are committed to creating a labour force adaptable to the new and emerging demands of the global workplace.

We also launched the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment programme (HOPE) which engages unattached young people in training, life skills, character development and employment. Over the last three years, more than 26,000 young people have benefitted from the programme and have become ambassadors of HOPE.  In addition to cutting youth unemployment in half over the last three years; Jamaica has achieved:

  • a record-low unemployment rate of 7.8% per cent;
  • 18 consecutive quarters of economic growth,
  • Low and stable inflation; and;
  • a reduction in our debt-to-GDP ratio from 147% to 95%

Mr. President,

I have shared these indicators of Jamaica’s steady economic performance, while fully acknowledging that the successes are not solely dependent on a strengthened domestic fiscal responsibility framework but also on an enabling global economic and financial environment. Jamaica is determined to achieve economic independence and social equity, working collaboratively with our bilateral and multilateral partners.

Mr. President,

A major challenge for Jamaica is crime and security, particularly in terms of its impact on our economic development goals. Despite the strong programmes that are in place to get guns off the street, and our investments in improved border control systems, we DO NOT by ourselves have the capacity to stem the flow.

The malignant link between organized crime, the illegal drug trade and the illicit proliferation and trafficking of small arms require transnational, regional and multi-lateral action.   We therefore not only rely on the support of neighbouring countries, but we look to the UN to continue to play a pivotal role in supporting peace and security at all levels, including with respect to the proliferation of conventional weapons.

The growing geo-political challenges and risk of global economic instability are of concern. The situation is especially worrisome for small developing countries like ourselves that are already susceptible to external shocks. Instability and insecurity affect foreign direct investment and have implications for GDP growth, revenue, employment and public spending.

Yesterday’s High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development as well as the High-Level Summit on the SDGs remind us of the pressing need for us to mobilize increased capital. Sustained progress is not achievable without the requisite quantity and quality of public and private investment, to close the financing gap for climate action and SDG implementation.

It is for this reason that Jamaica and Canada continue to spearhead initiatives through the UN Group of Friends of SDG Financing and continue working with partners such as Denmark in Closing the Investment Gap Initiative to attract greater investment in sustainable infrastructure.

Jamaica also welcomes India’s offer to establish and host a Coalition of Disaster Resilient Infrastructure to provide a framework to ensure that all future infrastructure is resilient in the face of disasters.

We encourage coordination and cohesion among the efforts now emerging so that the strongest impact may result from our efforts.

I am also compelled to reiterate the special challenges faced by Highly Indebted Middle-Income Countries (HIMIC) like Jamaica and our Caribbean neighbours. Although poised for economic transition, our potential is seriously constrained by having to choose between high external debt repayment and catalytic growth spending.   Furthermore, the current policies that govern access to concessional financing windows do not allow us to access sufficient affordable long-term financing for SDG investment and our capacity to mobilize public resources domestically is limited by our small size and vulnerability.  This touches on the issue of graduation criteria, which do not take account of the range of vulnerabilities facing middle income countries.

Our economies face further challenges from de-risking and the attendant problem of the loss of correspondent banking relations which severely impede access to essential financial services.

In the context of our special vulnerabilities, my delegation welcomes the mid-term review of the [Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA)] Pathway which presents an opportunity to further operationalize the mandate of the SAMOA Pathway. Jamaica is committed to this process and looks forward to the full support of the international community in this regard.

Mr. President,

I am pleased to advise this Assembly that Jamaica successfully implemented, on 1st January this year, a ban on the importation, manufacture or distribution of single-use plastic bags, expanded polystyrene and plastic drinking straws. The ban, has served to sensitize the general public to the environmental challenges posed by non-bio-degradable litter, especially those that end up in our oceans.  We are considering expanding the ban, even as we prioritize strengthening our waste management processes.

This year we will also launch a national tree planting initiative through which we will plant over 3 million trees in three years, representing one tree for each Jamaican.

We remain committed to the reduction of the erosion of watersheds and the attendant impact on coastal ecosystems. We are partnering with others to ensure that our marine environment, on which our socio-economic survival depends, is being sustainably utilized and managed.  The High Level Panel on the Sustainable Ocean Economy, convened by Prime Minister Solberg and its resulting call-to-action and Report[s] on the Oceans as a tool for combatting Climate Change, enjoy the full support of Jamaica.  We look forward to the convening of the Ocean Conferences next month in Norway, and in Portugal in June 2020.

Mr. President,

That brings me to the single most visible threat facing the global environment which is climate change. Its effects are intensifying, with coastal cities and low-lying island nations facing the greatest risk. The recent devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian, in the Bahamas reinforces this reality. We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of lives and extensive damage to property, infrastructure and livelihoods, occasioned by this climate disaster.

Jamaica and other Caribbean islands have first-hand experience of the increase in intensity of hurricanes as well as intermittent increased rainfall and extended periods of droughts. These adverse weather events have resulted in major economic losses and dislocation across the region.

Jamaica has adopted several policies and legislative measures to reduce our vulnerability to natural hazards and to adapt to the impacts of climate change. This includes the development of a comprehensive and first of its kind, Public Financial Disaster Risk Management policy with provisions for financial risk protection, including budgetary contingency funds and state contingent debt instruments.

More action is needed at the national and global levels to urgently tackle climate change. I was honoured therefore, by Secretary General Guterres’ mandate to jointly lead with France and Qatar, the Climate Finance and Carbon Pricing track at the recently concluded UN Climate Action Summit.

The success of these efforts for climate action will require adequate financing and transformative and scalable programmes. I look forward to building on the outcomes of the Summit, and the decisions to be made at COP25 in Santiago later this year.

Mr. President,

This is a seminal year for the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as we commemorate the 25th year of its entry into force, as well as the 25thanniversary of the International Seabed Authority (ISA), headquartered in Jamaica. The ISA’s contribution to the development of this “Constitution of the Ocean” and its continued relevance to the preservation of this global common resource is worthy of commendation.

We look forward to the successful conclusion in 2020 of the negotiations of an international treaty under the Convention to sustainably use and conserve marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.


Mr. President,

Jamaica maintains an abiding faith in the value of multilateralism.   Every Member State has a role to play in confronting the challenges that beset the global community. This is what continues to inspire Jamaica to contribute its professional and technical expertise to the multilateral process, including at the Council of the International Maritime Organization, as well as the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in 2020. We are committed to supporting the fulfillment of our common objectives in both institutions.


Mr. President,

The United Nations Charter commits the international community to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and conflicts of all kinds.

Jamaica, therefore, supports efforts by the Secretary-General and his special envoys in Western Sahara, Syria and Myanmar.

We also support the efforts towards rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula and discourage any action that would reverse those efforts.

Additionally, we remain conscious of persistent tensions in the Middle East and Africa, where the attainment of peace and security has been far too elusive.

Coming closer to home, we further reiterate the call for the discontinuation of the economic, commercial and financial embargo in our neighbouring Caribbean country, Cuba.

We are equally concerned about the disarmament and proliferation landscape, particularly the gradual dismantling of longstanding disarmament treaties and the implications for international peace and security.

We cannot ignore ongoing conflicts in countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Libya where UN personnel continue to provide yeoman peacekeeping service. We commend their dedicated efforts, and respectfully recall the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to advance the United Nations’ ideals of global peace and security.

This includes our own Jamaican national, Mr. Clive Peck, who lost his life in the service of the UN as a result of a bombing that occurred in Benghazi, Libya, a few weeks ago. We thank the Secretary General and the UN for the support that it has provided to his family in this time of bereavement.


Mr. President,

As a global family of nations, our collective commitment to the rules-based international order, must remain steadfast. Sustainable development for all is attainable only through concerted effort and partnerships,

To that end, we must act decisively and expeditiously. This 74th session of the General Assembly represents a crossroad for decision-making and action. Let us not waver in our determination to make this a reality.

Thank you.