PRIME Minister Andrew Holness, in his New Year’s Message, says that “peace and public safety” will continue to be an area of priority and focus for his Government in 2019.
He said that the Government will continue with the strategic implementation of Plan Secure Jamaica, using all resources, ways, and means, which are firmly within the boundaries of the law to continue reducing the crime rate.
“Our objective is to see a massive sustained decrease in murders, bringing us below the global homicide rate of six per 100,000,” Holness said.
He noted that, for most Jamaicans, having experienced murder rates as high as 10 times the global average for such a long time, the target may seem incredulous. However, he said that the country has the capacity to do it.
“We have proven what works. What we have learned from this last decade of crime fighting is that political unity, around the proven measures and a financial commitment by the Government, are critical for successful and sustained outcomes.
“The Government this year will intensify its outreach to the Opposition to build political unity around the crime plan. We will also continue to make significant investments in the retooling, training and capacity building of our security forces,” Holness stated.
However, he noted that, as the country progresses in terms of its crime-fighting and peace-building strategy, it is clear that greater attention has to be paid to the socio-emotional considerations.
He also announced that the naming and disclosure of the scope of the new National Commission on Violence will be done in January.
“Violence, as a means of resolving conflicts, has become far too accepted as the norm. A significant percentage of our murders are as a result of random acts of violence and domestic and intimate partner disputes,” he said, noting that the commission will be tasked with examining the culture of violence and making far-reaching recommendations to stimulate behavioural change.
“Violence is the cancer that has destroyed families and communities. Let’s get to the heart of the matter,” the prime minister urged Jamaicans.
Turning to the economy, Holness said that, in the upcoming fiscal year, Jamaica is projected to have a debt to GDP ratio of just below 100 per cent; a significant reduction having been as high as over 140 per cent before.
“This will create the fiscal space for Government to undertake greater expenditure on human and social services. Additionally, the Government will be packaging and bringing to market several public sector assets for sale on the Jamaica Stock Exchange. The first of which will be Wigton Windfarm Limited,” he stated.
“This is in keeping with Government’s policy of creating an ownership economy, giving average Jamaicans the opportunity to own shares in some of Jamaica’s profitable enterprises,” he explained.
He said that another element of the ownership economy is assisting Jamaicans to acquire decent and affordable housing, recognising that the most important asset for any Jamaican is their own home.
He said that in addition to the work of the National Housing Trust, the Housing Agency of Jamaica and private developers, this year the Government will begin implementation of the social housing component of his HOPE programme.
“Through this modality, the Government will seek to improve and regularise the housing stock and living conditions of the most vulnerable Jamaicans, assisting them to realise the value in real estate,” he explained.
He said that as the country recovers and grows, within the context of climate change and a globalised world, resilience-building strategies must be mainstreamed in all Government endeavours, so that the country is better able to recover from crises, shocks and natural disasters.
“This is particularly the case, considering that in November this year, Jamaica will graduate from its IMF programme,” Holness added.
He also noted that, in the post-IMF era, the Government will be required to undertake greater forward planning, deeper analyses of policies and targets, greater assessment of risks and a greater commitment to discipline in the implementation of our programmes.
“My Jamaican family, great things are happening. There is a real sense of buoyancy, hope, and optimism; Jamaica is pressing ahead in the right direction,” the prime minister said.
“It is often said that the New Year is a time for introspection, reflection, and change. Let us seize the newness of this year to plant the seeds of peace and love, so that they may flourish as the year progresses.
“Let us turn away from aggression in our speech and actions. Let us be guided by the principles of care and compassion for one another. A new Jamaica is emerging. Let us build this new Jamaica that we can all be proud of. Together we can do it,” Holness added.