When you are independent, you walk your own road to success, peace, and prosperity. Independence, therefore, begins with a road.
Today I am standing on the May Pen to Williamsfield Highway, which is slated for completion at the end of August 2023.
This infrastructure, like all the others currently under construction across the island, represents development and ease for Jamaicans. It represents progress, growth, transformation, and independence.
Today I stand in acknowledgment and reflection on our attainment of 61 years of national independence and my thoughts, as always, are about my Jamaican people and what independence means for them.
On August 6, 1962, when we raised our own flag, bearing the much loved and celebrated, black, green, and gold, we heralded in our political independence.
Since that time, we have embarked on a journey to become economically independent, with one aim; to raise the standard of living of our people and to provide every Jamaican with the opportunity for an improved quality of life.
To do this we would have had to achieve economic growth. Jamaica, except for the early post-Independence years, that is the period during the 1960s, and for short periods during the 1980s and early 1990s, has not experienced insignificant economic growth, a phenomenon which has persisted well into the 2000s.
This cumulative stagnation has prevented many of our people from achieving the standard and quality of life they deserve.
This is why since assuming leadership of this great nation in 2016, we have prioritized economic growth and job creation; these are the pillars of prosperity.
Amidst global challenges, Jamaica has been able to report:
- Eight consecutive quarters of economic growth
- A historically low unemployment rate
- Net international reserves of $US 4.17 M as of June 30, 2023.
- Increased export earnings of 55% for the first quarter of the 2023 calendar year in comparison to the corresponding period last year.
- And of great importance is the fact that we have been paying down our debt; our debt to GDP stands at 78 % and is projected to decrease even further.
Not only did we recover from the pandemic, but we surpassed our pre – COVID economic indicators and despite the ongoing war in the Ukraine which has caused a global economic environment of inflation, Jamaica has remained stable and now we are seeing glimmers of hope as inflation is slowly being tamed.
Our current economic position means your government will have the fiscal space, that is, more resources to provide services for you our people who are rightly demanding an improved standard of living for yourselves and your children.
We have already demonstrated our commitment to improving your lives, and because of sound policy decisions, Jamaica has:
- Increased the minimum wage
- Increased the NIS rate to pensioners from between 23% to 76%. These rate increases are applicable to retirement pension benefits, the invalidity, and widows and widowers’ pensions.
- Increase the number of grants from the Students Loan Bureau to eligible students from low-income households, PATH households or by wards of the state from 3,000 grants last year to 4,200 grants this year.
- We have also been able to provide 1250 tuition scholarships jointly with The MICO University to STEM teachers over the next 5 years. (250 scholarships per year)
- Provide 1000 STEM Scholarships to UTECH students over the next five years. (200 scholarships per year).
- From our improved financial position, we were able to procure 50 Electric buses for the JUTC fleet.
- We procured 100 Garbage trucks for the National Solid Waste Management Authority
- And we continue to make investments in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) including the construction of the Divisional Headquarters in Westmoreland, and St. Catherine, as well as the completion of the construction of the Forensic Pathology Autopsy Suite.
- Within the health sector we are undertaking the most significant investment in hospital upgrades since Independence with major capital works, for example, the construction at the Spanish Town Hospital, the redevelopment at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, and the redevelopment and modernization of the University Hospital of the West Indies, as well as the construction of the Western Children and Adolescent Hospital.
- We are pursuing Infrastructure Development across the island with the Southern Coastal Highway Improvement Project, the Montego Bay Perimeter Road, the Southern Plains Agricultural Development Project, and the Essex Valley Irrigation Infrastructure Development as well as the Community Roads project SPARK, which will address longstanding road improvement in your community where it matters to you.
- We have built 152 houses that have been handed over to vulnerable families under the New Social Housing Programme (NSHP), and I have seen how this has improved the quality of life for the average Jamaican who has benefited.
These improvements in the lives of our people are worth celebrating and acknowledging, but there is still much ground to cover, to transform Jamaica into a truly independent, developed, self-sufficient, modern, and peaceful nation within which our people can thrive.
This transformation requires commitment, unity, selflessness, sacrifice, and courage.
Sacrifice and courage are crucial to turning around the fortunes of our beloved country that for years failed to deliver for its people.
The improvements we have been able to make for our people over the last 7 years are decades late. We understand this and we understand the urgency that Jamaicans feel, but finally, we are making progress and prosperity is within reach.
I understand your concerns, I hear your voice, and your voice matters. Particularly when you have been waiting for years for change, and improvement for decades, but your government is responding to you.
At the same time, we must be cautious that we don’t make the same mistakes that we have made in the past. We must avoid the pitfalls that bedeviled us and kept us stagnant for decades.
Each of us should learn from our past experiences and make every effort not to repeat them. A government is no different. Jamaica made many significant errors in the past with very poor policy choices and our people paid dearly for them. We will not do the same.
Your government has created and implemented policies to put our country on a path of resilience which will allow us to manage any external shocks that will come.
We are a vulnerable small island state with an open economy. Shocks will come and we must be strategic and prepare for them, unlike in the past.
To do this we must engage the principles of saving now for a brighter tomorrow and we must show courage in the face of calls to perpetuate a cycle of yo-yo success which is periods of plenty, followed by long and torturous periods of austerity and suffering.
Courage calls us to stand tall in the face of opposition when we know that what we are doing will yield the best and most sustainable outcomes for our people.
Courage calls us not to repeat the expensive mistakes of the past, for which our people are still paying, but instead to use those lessons to inform a new and better future.
As we mark 61 years as an independent nation, I remind my Jamaican people that though we have a long way to go, for the first time in our history, we can report that consistently good things are happening in our country.
It has taken some time and is not at the pace that many Jamaicans want, after decades of suffering, however, we have been good stewards of your affairs and you can continue looking forward in confident expectation as we continue to improve your lives in ways never before achieved.
Let us maintain a focused and positive mindset, undistracted by negativity and the purveyors of falsehoods.
It takes all of us to build this great nation and if we are distracted or succumb to the noise around us, we will further delay our own progress and prosperity.
I encourage you, my Jamaican people, to think about what independence means for you. Define for yourself what kind of future you want and take charge of your destiny.
Opportunities are opening up around you every day, reach out and grasp them with both hands. Shut out those dark, depressive voices that fuel negativity and internal strife by telling you every day that nothing is happening in your country.
Things are happening in your country, good things. Things that weren’t impossible 7 years ago but are possible today. Choose hope. Choose positivity.
Let us be inspired by our Reggae Girlz, who despite resource challenges have shown what commitment and positive attitude, and perseverance can achieve.
Take advantage of the skills training being offered by the HEART NSTA free of cost.
Take advantage of the grants offered by the Students Loan Bureau.
Take advantage of the scholarship programmes being offered at The MICO and at UTECH.
Empower yourself and let’s continue the march towards a better Jamaica.
Happy 61st Independence Jamaica, and may God continue to bless you, your family, and our dear nation richly.