We give God thanks for sparing us to see the dawn of a New Year; to live another chapter in the book of our lives; to turn a new page; to be excitingly expectant of the prospects and the opportunities a New Year brings, and; to reflect on the void left from the passing of our loved ones and great Jamaicans whose contribution enriched our lives.
Armed with the lessons from 2017, we embrace 2018 with optimism and vigour.
1. Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO):
We continue our resolve to make Jamaica safe and secure. Zones of Special Operations have shown Jamaicans that our security forces can police communities and control crime in localities without abusing citizens’ rights. We have now created a framework for the whole of government response to citizen security. 2018 must be the year when we scale up the Zones of Special Operations to reclaim communities that have been captured by criminals.
2. New JCF Act
The Jamaica Constabulary Force is our lead crime fighting institution. Last year it celebrated its 150th anniversary. Given the current crime situation it is without question that the JCF needs critical institutional reform to be able to effectively lead the fight against crime. This year the Government intends to table new legislation to define a transformed police service. This new legislation will replace the current JCF Act and focus, among other things, on preserving the integrity of the men and women who serve, to ensure that corruption within in the ranks of the police services does not compromise the ability of the force to fight crime.
3. National Security Act
We will also pass the MOCA Act and table the National Security Act which will create a more coordinated framework for all agencies operating within the national security space. The recent discovery of over 100 illegal guns destined for Jamaica is another indication of the depth and extent of the problem. The importation of weapons cannot be viewed narrowly within the prism of street crimes and gang on gang warfare, this is a direct threat to the national security of the state and the facilitators and traffickers will be treated as such. Illegal weapons and the organized criminal network around their procurement, importation and distribution are national emergencies and will get national attention in 2018 which will include amendments to the Firearms Act, amendments to the Anti-gang Legislation and amendments to the Bail Act.
Last year, we allocated an additional JMD2.4 billion dollars in the National Budget to support the operations of the security forces and strengthen our crime fighting capabilities. We will continue to make security spending a priority. However, institutional reform is necessary to ensure that government spending is effectively used and gets results.
4. Public Sector Reform
We value our public sector workers, and respect the sacrifice they have been making over this decade as Jamaica continues on the path of structural adjustment of our economy. However, the wage to GDP ratio is not merely a theoretical notion that can be dismissed in the real world. It is the distillation of the connection between the value of what we produce and the cost to the public. For too long we have refused to address the relationship between the productivity of our public sector and the cost of the public sector. In 2018, the government will intensify the pace of public sector reform, the objective of which is not to separate workers from their jobs. The objective is to make jobs more relevant and supportive of the economic growth agenda, to make workers more productive and efficient, and maximize the return on the wage expenditure.
Ultimately, this will create an environment where there is greater job creation particularly in the private sector and greater economic expansion generally for all to benefit.
5. Wage Negotiations
Jamaica has come a far way in enlightened labour relations and I am sure that in the current wage negotiations, common ground can be reached. Bearing in mind the bigger picture, that wages are connected to productivity, government can only pay more if it collects more in taxes; and we cannot borrow infinitely. Our economic state is still very fragile, and any unreasonable action by any stakeholder can derail our economic growth.
As Prime Minister I am very sensitive to the conditions of the public sector workers, and I know the sacrifice you continue to make. There is a brighter future ahead for all of us if we all help to balance Jamaica. I take this opportunity to appeal to reason common good as we seek to settle wage negotiations.
6. Accomplishments In 2017
We enter 2018 knowing that we took many positive steps towards a prosperous future:
- Over 1.2 million Jamaicans will start the New Year employed, the largest number in our history.
- Over 280,000 Jamaican workers no longer pay income tax.
- Consumer and business confidence remains high and we are seeing the signs of growth.
- Jamaica continues to make progress on various measures of the ease of doing business and investors are choosing Jamaica more and more as a destination for their investments.
7. Increased Foreign Investments
As a result we are seeing increased investment in:
- Tourism, where we welcomed our 4 millionth visitor in a year, a record.
- In Energy, we have diversified our fuel mix to include LNG and we just broke ground for the largest solar plant in the Caribbean to be constructed and commissioned this year.
- In Mining, for the first time in over 8 years the Alpart Bauxite Plant has restarted operations and exported its first shipment of 35, 000 tonnes of alumina under new owners JISCO
- In Business Process Outsourcing, over 1 million square feet of space between private and public sector projects are programmed to come on stream this year.
- In Construction and housing development where aside from increased private sector spending, already the NHT has accomplished more than 5000 housing starts, the most housing starts in a decade and approximately 8500 or $29 billion in mortgages issued, the most in the 41 year history of the NHT.
8. Wish For 2018
There is a real sense of buoyancy and Jamaica is pointing in the right direction.
We have made positive steps in protecting our environmental assets, in declaring the Cockpit Country Protected Area and the Goat Islands; as a wild life sanctuary. In 2018, more must be done to manage our domestic and commercial solid waste and make our cities and public areas clean and beautiful.
We have started to grapple with the problem of unattached youth with the HOPE programme and the National Service Enlistment in the Jamaica Defence Force.
In 2018, we must do more to protect our women and children from violence.
Indeed, we must all do more to reduce the level of violence and aggression we use in our daily life and social transactions. Whether it is in disciplining our children, resolving a domestic dispute, resolving an intimate partner dispute or simply the rage we express because someone stepped on our toe.
Our acceptance of violence as a means of resolving conflict, is taking away from the good natured, loving and hospitable people we are. It is threatening our civility and sensibilities and introducing a crassness which undervalues life.
This year I intend to lead a National Campaign against violence in all its forms. In 2018 let’s bring back the Irie Jamaica, the Peaceful Jamaica, the Loving Jamaica, the Happy Jamaica, the Prosperous and Progressive Jamaica.
Let’s make 2018 a Happy New Year!