The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, PC, MP
Prime Minister of Jamaica
Spanish Town Hospital Groundbreaking Ceremony
January 16, 2024
Good morning, everyone.
We’re still in the part of the month which we could consider new. I suspect that after tomorrow we will dispense with any new year wishes but I would take the opportunity to wish for everyone here health, I’m not afraid of wealth, peace, productivity, and prosperity. How does that sound for 2024?
Indeed, the theme and focus of my government, which serves you, the main lines of effort will be to focus on increasing our productivity and increasing peace in our country. If we focus on those two things, productivity and peace, then prosperity becomes an even greater reality. In fact, if we focus on this line of effort, we will create what we call a virtuous cycle. More productivity creates more peace. Productivity and peace create more prosperity. More prosperity creates more productivity and more peace. Two things again create more prosperity, and more prosperity creates more peace and more productivity. Let us all bend our minds to this focus; productivity and peace will create prosperity, a self-reinforcing fulfilment of the vision that we all want for our beautiful island.
Having said that, Minister Tufton nudged me in his uncontrollable elation. He said, “I am so proud today. I am so proud of you, Prime Minister. I’m proud of my team at the Ministry of Health. I’m proud of my government. We are able to build this hospital.”
It is rare that I have seen Minister Tufton express that kind of emotion. So, it means that it means something to him as minister. It is a signal achievement of his eight years of ministry. Now, I don’t know what signal he was sending to me if he was looking for another assignment, but I think you should stay on to complete the assignment that has been given.
The mayor intended that I focus on him with his distracting tie, but I’m here to say to all Jamaica, do not be distracted by bright colours. All that shocks and glitters is not gold.
Of course, my parishioner and fellow alumni of St Catherine High School, Member of Parliament, Denise Daley. We went to the same school. We were born here in Spanish Town. Denise, were you born at this hospital? Like myself, I came into the world in this hospital right here, so it does have some sentimental value, great sentimental value for me that we are able to do this.
I want to thank the European Union represented here today by Her Excellency Ambassador Marianne Van Steen and the team that is with you. The European Union has been a long standing, faithful, and generous partner to Jamaica and I want to use this opportunity to acknowledge and to express gratitude to the European Union for their significant contribution of 10 million euros to this cause. The people of Jamaica are appreciated.
We have been working with the IDB through very difficult times. I was a part of the 2009 government, 2007 to 2011, and when we were forsaken by friends, and we were looked upon in some instances as a case that is on the brink, the IDB stuck with us, and indeed, was a significant lender and development partner to Jamaica, and we have never forgotten that, and we continue with that very strong relationship with the IDB and we’re happy to be partnering with you on this project. Our development partners, our development banking partners, they not only lend but we strategically partner with them because they make available to us significant technical resources.
Sometimes I listen to the public conversation, but not sometimes, I always listen to the public conversation because it helps me to address gaps in the public understanding. There is a view that to build a hospital, it is the equivalent of building any other building. The science of building a hospital over the last 50 years has increased by volumes. It is a whole study in itself, the kind of engineering and construction that is required. Jamaica has not built a hospital in the last 30 years or more. We don’t have those skills resident here and what is required to build the hospital, it is a learning curve that Jamaica is on.
So, I do take note of the comments made earlier regarding Cornwall Regional Hospital. Cornwall Regional Hospital is over 50 years old. It was a gift by the government of Canada. There was no major refurbishment to that hospital since its construction. No building built 50 years ago can stand up and provide the same level of facility and service as it did at the time of its construction, especially a hospital without constant routine maintenance. I am actually surprised that we were able to take on that project because the professionals will tell you it would be easier to just knock down the building and start again than to go and retrofit it so it is a great bravery on our part to expend the resources.
This is not to excuse the dislocation that is caused by this, but it is a necessary dislocation. That hospital is literally brand new. I’ve toured it three times. I have walked it from the first floor to the top and I’ve seen the work that is being done and I’ve seen the deterioration that is there that requires the level of work that is being done. So, I want the Jamaican public when we are speaking to fill the gap, that to build a hospital is no simple exercise. It’s not a simple undertaking. We don’t have the skills here. And therefore, we are doing, we are now climbing a steep learning curve, building those skills, which we will now have to take on more hospital construction projects, and we are now doing that with our development partner in the IDB with the WHO, and all the other health agencies that are helping us to develop that human capital capacity to be able to build the hospitals. So, I totally reject any argument that would be made politically to diminish the value of what this government has undertaken and done.
As I thought about what I would say to you today, and the memories come back to this ground because I went to a primary school just down the road, Spanish Town Primary. My best friend, his mother was the matron at the hospital at the time and instead of going straight home, I would come on the grounds with him, and we would be playing until it was very late, very dark and then I had to find my way home to Hampton Green. Those days it would be very safe to walk from here to Hampton Green without worry but I know these grounds very well. I have played on them. I’ve been around here. I know the history of this place, where we are now was formerly a sugar plantation. The colonial government built the hospital here and opened it in 1952. The hospital is now 72 years old almost.
Sir Alexander Bustamante was the head of the government at the time. It was a colonial government. The budget to build the hospital at the time was 180,000 pounds. 123,000 pounds were provided from the colonial government, the government of Britain gave that as a grant to build the hospital. The government of Jamaica, meaning the local taxes of Jamaica provided the rest. It was part of a larger plan for the development of the island by the colonial powers, which included the building of the Annotto Bay Hospital, the building of what they call the University College Hospital, the building of Falmouth Hospital and so forth.
Since then, we have built more hospitals. I digress into that kind of history and context to say to you that the vision for healthcare, which was laid out by the colonial powers, laid out by our founding fathers as an independent nation, somehow that vision got stalled. So while there is a great cry and reflecting on it, the people of the country are rightly frustrated about the quality of the healthcare that they have, the long waits, the poor facilities, almost 70 percent of our health care facilities in terms of equipment and structure would be below the standard requirement. And so while we’re complaining, which we must because that keeps the government on its toes to realize the urgency of the situation, the populace must also bear in mind and contemplate what decisions did we make about the governments that we have elected that did not administer the affairs of the country in a proper way that there would be the resources available as they are today.
For a government to stand up and say we are not only looking for a grant, which we are grateful from the European Union of 10 million pounds, we are not only going to borrow 50 million dollars from the IDB but your government, your taxes which have been properly utilized…
You know, when we talk about fiscal responsibility, the average person takes it for granted but this government has managed your fiscal affairs, your revenues, the taxes that you pay, whether it is GCT, property tax, whatever tax, we have managed it in such a way that today from our budget we can say we will allocate 87 million US dollars from our budget. So yes, we do get some grants. Yes, we have to borrow; still our responsibility, we’re going to pay it back, but the greater part of this investment comes from the productivity of the Jamaican people. In the same way, we are building the Montego Bay bypass, all of that comes from the budget, the revenues of the people.
Managing the economy properly is rocket science, but it is not a secret. When I look back historically it is clear that we deviated from the right path of managing the economy which would Increase the productivity of the people and then that productivity is used to further invest in the human capital development, which creates greater productivity, which creates greater human capital development. We deviated, yes, there were shocks. Yes, things happen beyond our control, but we did not build the economy that was resilient to recover.
When I talk about the economy, there are those who would want to diminish the value of it. When has Jamaica experienced a shock? Meaning oil price shocks in the 70s, commodity price shocks that resulted from that, hurricane shocks like Gilbert, financial shocks like FINSAC or the 2009 financial collapse and recovered immediately.
Well, it has taken us decades to recover from those shocks, but because we have built the economy on strong footing putting in the necessary fiscal buffers making sure that we manage expenditure, we have been able to reduce our debt, reduce our debt servicing so that we have more money to spend on the things that matter to you.
Today is a perfect example of what a good economy delivers for its citizens. I have to drive this point home all the time because as Jamaicans, we tend to get distracted by bright promises and bright colours. We tend not to make the connection between our economy and our welfare. We tend to not make the economy between what we produce and our well-being. Somehow, we believe that there is some secret wealth stashed somewhere where governments can just reach into and spend with no connection to what we produce. Indeed, that philosophy drove governments in the past and electorates supported it. And what the result was? The result is that your government would have borrowed not what you produce they spend, what they borrowed in the view that in the future we’ll pay for it, pay for it with what? You can only pay for it with what you produce.
So, I’m using this as an opportunity for every Jamaican to make the connection that if you want more hospitals, you want better roads, we have to produce more. Our personal productivity has to improve and when that is paired with good government that manages that within an economy, it generates the revenues.
Now, there is a reason why our political economy is the way it is, meaning there is a reason why people make the choices they make about the governments they elect because there’s always a desperation for governments that care. For good reason, when my mother calls me, because she gets a lot of calls because she still lives in the area, people call complaining about the care they receive, there’s no question. Madam Master of Ceremony Consulting Paediatrician, that we have high quality healthcare here. No question in my mind, but we must also admit that the lack of resources have a significant impact on how people feel that they are cared for.
I don’t want the people to believe that I don’t understand it. My mother told me the story of what she went through when I was being born and from her perspective, it is a matter of care. Even if there are no resources, it’s just the extra mile that you go to show you care but that even has its limit after you deal with your first 20 or 30 patients. Humanly, it’s not possible sometimes so we get it. We understand it; the waiting time, the rough treatment that you get, and we want to change it and we are working to change it but we can’t wish it, we have to vision it and then plan it and then execute it.
One thing you can get from this government is that we are very practical. I’m not going to come here and tell you in glowing rhetoric, pine the sky vision; I’m going to tell you what is practical, what is realistic and what we’re going to achieve. We told you we were going to do this. During the pandemic, Minister Tufton and his team and myself, we had a massive presentation of this. We showed all the hospitals we plan to build. It was reported like, yeah, here goes another promise but we deliver on what we say we’re going to do.
We don’t come with the fancy talk. We understand that our economy as much as it is now developing the institutional legs to stand on and be resilient, the economy must be a caring economy. And as I look at the persons gathered in the hallway of the old hospital building, some of them looking at the ceremony, some of them waiting for service, I want to say to you that we are building a caring economy. Our economy will care for the people of Jamaica. So whatever increase in output that you give us, we are going to take that and we’re going to spend it on healthcare. We’re going to take that and we’re going to spend it on schools. We’re going to take that and we’re going to spend it on public transportation. We’re going to take that and we’re going to spend it on garbage collection. We’re going to take that and we’re going to spend it on our elderly care. That is what we mean when we say we have a caring economy.
I want every Jamaican listening to this now to understand the connection between productivity and the caring economy. Everyone’s productivity must increase and one of the best ways the experts will tell you to increase the productivity of a nation is to increase the healthcare of a nation. If you reduce the number of sick days that people have at work, immediately you see an increase in your GDP. If you reduce the level of obesity in the society, immediately you see an increase in productivity. If you reduce all the other NCDs, which Minister Tufton talks about, we need a new citizenship and a new mindset of our citizens.
There is no external force that is coming to help Jamaica. There is no hidden fund somewhere. Everything that we do is what we produce. Everything we are able to do, is what we produce. Our future depends on what we produce. There is no colonial government that is going to spend on us and until we recognize that, we can’t really call ourselves an independent country.
My task as your Prime Minister has been to secure, first of all, our economic independence. Political independence is important but until you can pay your own bill, that is what we want, our economic independence and as we move towards becoming a republic, it is not about a change in the constitutional arrangement; that is perfunctory. What is important is a change in the hearts and minds of Jamaicans, that we are our agents, we have agency, we are responsible for our country, that we can build our own hospital, build our own roads, build our own ports, build our own schools from our own resources. Until we have that agency, then we can’t really say we are independent. That is what we are about. That is what this government is about. That is our mission. And we have crafted that mission now into two lines of effort, the productivity of the people into a virtuous cycle but then there’s the other issue of peace.
Many of the persons who will be served by this hospital will end up here because of violence. They will end up here because they have been stabbed, shot, otherwise maimed. They will end up here because of some carelessness like doing stunts on the road on a bike without a helmet, without light and cost the taxpayers of the country. They will end up here because of conflict at home. It is a sad reality, but it is something that I have to speak about.
It is also the sad reality that it is quite likely that some of the people who will end up here for treatment will end up here because of gang warfare; likely gang warfare over the work that will happen here because I am born in Spanish, and I know what happens in Spanish Town. Well, let me tell all the gang members who are licking their lips, looking on at big fat contracts to come, none of that will happen here.
I want to say it loud and clear. We have already started to work with the JDF and the JCF. This will be a military camp if it has to be. There will be no extortion here, no illegal activity here, no controlling of site here; none of this government funding spending here will go to fund criminals. That link must be cut. Taxpayers’ money can’t come here, and people have name on list who don’t come to work, collect pay and then use it to buy guns, cannot happen.
This must not help to build gangs so those who have that in their minds, stay far from here. We have learnt our lessons, we have seen where many government projects and other private projects, the criminals have sought to take it over. Don’t put your eye on this one. The Anti-Gang legislation, we are perfecting it and we intend to use it so if you get work on this project, you better turn up and work. I want to be clear about that. If it means that I have to put JDF and JCF around here and any man coming in or coming out has to be checked and the roster has to be kept outside by the JDF and the JCF about attendance for work, then it will be done. It is sad that I have to speak this way at such an important launch but until we put these things in the open and treat with them as it should be treated, it will always be continuing. Our generation must break the cycle. We must break the cycle.
Now, as I said, this is my town. I know it well. I love it. I heard the one commentator making the point that we’re going to build this lovely facility, but the town itself is in a deplorable state. Again, our history, Spanish Town was a glorious place. When you look at Munamar Square, when you look at Emancipation Square, you can see that there is history there but again, we deviated. We didn’t have the resources, breakdown in governance; we have to put a halt to it and that is a mission that I have.
You will notice that I’ve spoken a lot about building a new township for Morant Bay, which is on its way. You will see the new road leading into Morant Bay and there’s more to come for Morant Bay. We’re going to put a museum there, the Paul Bogle Museum. We’re going to do a bypass road around the town. We’re going to really create that as old Morant Bay; restore all the buildings there, and really fix it up as a monument to where you could say modern Jamaica started because it is as a result of that rebellion that the administrative arrangements for Jamaica changed as a colony.
Yes, you would have seen we started in Bernard Lodge in building a new city there, essentially. I’m not going to go into the Portmore argument because, again, it is unfortunate that an attempt to ensure that as our society develops and evolves, and different geographical areas show a trajectory in their own economy, in their own culture and socially the synchronous is, that you seek to ensure that the administrative arrangements for their public affairs closely matches that trajectory, that’s what it is. There’s nothing political about it.
When you think of Portmore, the reason why Portmore became a municipality is that the then mayor realized that and the then political party also realized that and said, yes, Portmore is evolving on its own. And it’s not just Portmore that is evolving, Negril is also evolving more so because it straddles two parishes and so it needs its own administrative arrangement so we can’t be wedded to this fact that it’s 14 parishes and it’s God sent it down in the Ten Commandments and it can’t change.
We must have agency. If we’re going to talk about our independence, then it means that we must think of ourselves as being powerful enough, knowledgeable enough. We must trust ourselves enough that we can make these administrative changes that will improve ourselves, not some stupid argument about it’s going to cause people to lose election.
Spanish Town is on the books for development attention. We have had several plans put forward, SPARCOM, (Spanish Town Redevelopment Company), some of you may have heard about SPARCOM as a development plan, but we are looking at Spanish Town in a much broader way to restore its historical buildings, particularly it’s Georgian buildings, to improve that bridge that is there, to preserve the historical bridge, to do a thorough upgrade- an upgrade was done in the 80s of the road coming in, Burke Road and so forth, but all of that has to be developed. We have to improve the market district. Sewage has to be put in and the water mains have to be changed. It’s a massive undertaking, drainage as well so in my budget presentation, I will have something to say about what we intend to do in Spanish Town.
You have been an excellent audience and you have listened to me give a quite extensive presentation, but these ceremonies are important. As I read the archival report of the opening of this hospital 72 years ago, and it recorded what the then governor general, I believe it’s Governor Hugh Foot said, what Bustamante said. He was then the chief minister and what others have said. We have to properly document our history. And so, I’m sure that my comments here will probably be read 70 years from now as motivation for this nation to do even better.
God bless you and thank you.