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The process of housing the workers in our sugar industry takes another giant step forward today.
As I stand on these lands, home to Jamaica’s oldest sugar estate and some of our finest rums, I cannot help but feeling a sense of history mixed with immense joy.
This estate in the heart of the St. Elizabeth sugar belt dates back hundreds of years, bringing wealth and riches to many.
Yet, one of the most disturbing aspects of our centuries of involvement in sugar has been the poor housing conditions sugar workers have endured.
The fact is that up to recently only one in every four sugar workers owned house or land.
Added to that, the conditions under which many sugar workers lived were unacceptable.
My joy today comes from being here to share with you in an occasion which is changing that history.
I am proud to be leading a government with vision, courage and sense of caring for its people.
As sugar workers, you have toiled long and hard, often in the boiling sun, and in rain; in good times and in bad.
You have to get out of bed at the ‘crack of dawn’, to make it to the fields.
For years, you, our sugar workers, invested your energies in working these lands.
You have all made a significant contribution to the industry and our nation’s development.
I am proud of you. The estate and your unions appreciate your efforts.
And yes, Jamaica applauds your work.
Our world acclaim Appleton rum is demanded in countries all over the globe.
This country will continue to owe you a debt of gratitude which cannot ever be repaid.
What we are doing today in handing over these service lots can be considered a token of appreciation.
This sugar workers housing programme has been made possible through the collective efforts of a number of players in the sugar industry.
It shows us what can be accomplished when we work together and when we put the needs of others before our own.
If you recall, it was in February 2000, that nine sugar estates and the Trade Unions representing sugar workers got together with the National Housing Trust.
The objective was to work out a solution to the problem of decent housing for sugar workers.
Today is a good day.
It is an historic day and I am here to rejoice with you, proud new land owners.
When you leave here this afternoon, you will have in your hands, a signed, sealed and delivered letter of possession for your lot.
You will know for sure that you have your own land, on which you can build your home and raise your children.
You will know that you have property to pass on to the next generation of your family.
In all, 140 Appleton Estate employees will be enjoying that pride and joy of property ownership.
In the five years since the initiative to improve housing for sugar workers got underway, the National Housing Trust has developed and completed 1,892 serviced lots on six sugar estates.
Nineteen of these lots were completed at Bellrock; 79 at New Yarmouth; 665 at Frome, 587 at Monymusk, 402 at Bernard Lodge and now 140 at Appleton.
These service lots have been developed at a cost of close to one billion dollars.
The success of the programme and the dire need that exists have led to our decision to add a new phase next year.
In April 2007, the NHT will begin construction of 400 housing units for sugar workers.
These will be built at New Yarmouth, Monymusk, Frome, Bernard Lodge and Appleton Sugar Estates.
The government of Jamaica has heard your pleas for assistance with housing and we are responding.
While some of you will love to build your own units on these plots, others would prefer a completed unit and yet others only need a start.
The NHT is providing a total overall subsidy of over 930-thousand dollars to each worker towards the purchase of their lot and a housing unit.
Naturally, it is the lowest paid workers who will qualify for the full subsidy.
We are helping you to make that start.
With the construction of these 400 units by the NHT, the sum invested in the sugar workers housing programme will be increased to six billion dollars.
Of this amount, cabinet has approved a total subsidy of $2.33 billion dollars.
It means you will be able to purchase these lots and/or housing units at a substantially reduced cost.
In fact, the open market price of these service lots is in the region of 676 thousand dollars.
You are getting them for 350-thousand dollars.
I would like to express my appreciation to the management of the sugar estates for their role in making a success of this effort.
They provided the land while the NHT financed and managed the development.
It is these arrangements, together with the subsidy from the government which have made it possible for you to get one of these lots for 350 thousand dollars.
That is almost half the cost of its true value and much less than any NHT contributor could expect to pay for a piece of land of similar size.
This is indeed a great day for the sugar workers of Jamaica — field workers and factory workers alike.
Now you too can enjoy the sweet taste of sugar, and the pride that comes with being a titled land owner.
To the workers who will receive their letters of possession, this represents a major milestone.
It has been a great sacrifice to get this far.
And you will have to sacrifice even more, as the best is yet to come.
Even as you collect your titles today, I know some of you might be wondering when you will be able to start building.
I know that for some workers, even with the current price of the lots, it may seem a little difficult to move to the next stage.
But I am urging you to look to the future.
When we Jamaicans make up our minds to do something constructive; when we really want something badly, nothing can stop us.
I therefore encourage you today to remain focused. Make the investment and sacrifice.
Stay up to date with your mortgage payments.
Work at improving your property and watch its value grow.
I say, take your time. Save.
Overtime, when you are good and ready, there is the additional subsidy available to you from the NHT which can help with building your home.
In fact, I have been told that ten of you who already received your letters of possession have begun the process of seeking additional loans to start construction of your homes.
This is highly commendable and I am encouraged by it.
I am very proud that you have already decided to take action by making that move.
Soon, I know you will agree with me, that one of the sweetest things in life is to be able to own your very own home.
As a matter of fact, I happen to know that in days gone by, some men in rural Jamaica would never think of proposing to a lady until he knew how he was going to put a roof over her head.
There is nothing like being able to turn your own key, as we would say.
When you can do that, you are on the way to being an independent man or woman.
So never give up on your dreams.
I am further encouraged that you have also come together as a group to secure the services of a contractor.
As a group, I am sure you will all benefit from this move.
Your combined numbers mean you can negotiate reduced rates and bulk purchasing of building materials.
What this says to me is that you are a united group of workers.
You believe in unity and as we know ‘unity is strength’.
You will benefit much more as a group rather than trying to go it alone.
This coming together; this pooling of effort, reminds me so much of the strong traditional values, we once had as a people.
I speak of cooperation and unity. of togetherness … Of joining hands and hearts.
We can accomplish so much when we work as a team.
It is an act of togetherness which has made these lots possible and units to be constructed on them possible.
This is one of the values we must hold on to dearly and practise if we are to secure our future as a nation.
Sometimes, I cannot help but feel that, as a people, we are losing out on the value and benefits of this spirit of co-operation.
But all is not lost. We must strive to recover and recapture this spirit which has served us so well in the past. You, the sugar workers of Appleton Estate, are proudly leading the way in rebuilding that spirit of cooperation.
I commend you most heartily and urge you to keep up this fine example.
By co-operating with each other, communities can achieve objectives which are not possible through individual effort.
You have revived an old tradition which I hope will serve to inspire beneficiaries on other estates.
It has taken a very long time, over four hundred years, and many struggles and sacrifices to move from the era of forced labour on the estates.
Today, the rights of workers are guaranteed and workers have a voice at the workplace.
It has taken a very long time to get to this point where deserving attention is given to the needs and concerns of working people.
It has taken a long time to get to this stage where sugar workers are afforded an opportunity for decent housing.
This function here today confirms that this long journey towards a better situation is well and truly underway.
It symbolizes the progress that has been made and gives us real hope for the future.
Let me in closing, again congratulate the Management of the Appleton sugar estate, the Trade Unions who helped to put this project together and of course the NHT for financing this development.
Last but not least, my congratulations to you, the beneficiaries.
I urge you to continue on the path on which you have begun.
Let this new community at Appleton in St. Elizabeth be a model for other communities in Jamaica.
Let it shine a clear, strong light of hope for all Jamaicans who aspire to owning their land and their homes!
I see a great future for you and for your community in Appleton.