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JIS News

This year’s hurricane season has been one of the most active in recent history with Dennis and Emily coming in early July. Hurricane Wilma has brought us bad weather and heavy rain which have caused serious flooding, damage to personal property, as well as to our roads and bridges.In many areas, rainfall has been more than double the average level for the entire month of October.
As I extend deep sympathy to the communities and families who have suffered damage to their homes, I recognize that once again we are all faced with picking up the pieces.
Since the onset of this spell of bad weather, the persons and agencies responsible for our disaster management and relief system have been hard at work assisting those who need help and assessing the extent of the damage.
Yesterday morning, I convened a meeting of the National Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management team. We decided on an action plan to ensure early relief for those hardest hit.
In accordance with our disaster relief plan, emergency centres have been activated and food is now being distributed to persons in areas that have been entirely cut off.
Although we do not wish our children to miss a single school day, the schools were closed on Tuesday and today. Safety of our children must be our main concern at this time. They will remain closed tomorrow, when a decision will be made as to when they will reopen.
I have instructed the National Works Agency to give priority to the reopening of those roads that are vital to providing access to isolated villages and to ensure that provisions can reach our markets.
We will continue to manage the situation carefully and will keep the public informed of road conditions and other important information so we can get back to normal in the shortest possible time.
I urge everyone to take special care of themselves and their families and to respond immediately to advice given by ODPEM and the authorities responsible for your safety.
ENERGY and PETROCARIBE
This year we have not only been affected by the forces of nature but also by soaring energy bills. Like every non oil-producing country, we are struggling to cope with the escalation of oil prices on the world market. The increases in energy costs are most clearly and immediately reflected in the high price of gasoline at the pumps and in our light bills.
All indications are that the problem is not likely to go away in the foreseeable future.
One of the best and simplest ways to cope is for all of us to make a serious effort to cut down on our personal consumption of both gasoline and electricity.
We also have to accelerate the pace of developing renewable sources of energy. This industry will be expanded to include the use of solar technology, mini hydropower, wind energy and bagasse for energy co-generation in our sugar factories.
At the national level, we are continuing essential work on the diversification of energy supply for the public electricity system and for industrial application. Chief among our efforts is the programme to introduce Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Last year we signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the supply of LNG from Trinidad and Tobago. A team of technical experts from that Government will arrive later this month to continue development of the plans. Cabinet has already approved the engagement of a team to work on the site plan and the logistics for the LNG terminal and gas park that are an integral part of this project.
Under the PetroCaribe Agreement we are eligible for deferred payment for a portion of our supplies of oil that comes from Venezuela. This will ease the burden on our immediate foreign exchange bill, and allow for the conversion of an estimated US$136 million in this Financial Year into low-interest, long-term loans.
The funds are available for use to fuel economic growth, social development and improve our physical infrastructure. Bearing in mind that the amounts represent loans and are not grant funds, they will be allocated to Institutions for projects which establish a capacity to repay whatever portions they borrow from the Petrocaribe Fund.
Areas which clearly qualify for consideration include:
Energy efficiency and promoting renewable sources of energy
Income earning activities such as the petroleum, bauxite and alumina sectors
Mitigating the hazards of natural disasters through programmes of land conservation, forestation, drainage works, reef and coastal protection as well as river training
Funding to stimulate Small Business Development and financially feasible Community projects
Resettlement programmes, urban renewal and rural development
Enhancing human capital through education and vocational training, sports and culture
DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
Recently, I broke ground at Pear Tree Bottom in St. Ann, for our largest ever tourist resort which will be constructed by the Pinero Group of Spain – an investment of US$200 million which will create permanent direct employment for 2000 workers and indirect employment for several thousand others. During the construction period, some 3000 workers will be employed. This will make a vast and positive difference to the standard of living of the people from this area.
In another positive development, last Friday, in a meeting with the Hanover community, I introduced representatives of the Fiesta Group from Spain, who outlined their plans to build a 2000-room resort at Point in Lucea. In addition, the Group will be working with the people of the community and government agencies to develop a number of heritage sites as major tourist attractions.
This development at Point – one of the largest-ever resort developments in Jamaica – is expected to provide permanent employment for over 2000 persons and generate tremendous business opportunities.
Our strong programme of infrastructure development is continuing. We recently signed the contract for the construction of Segment 3 of the North Coast Highway that will run from Ocho Rios to Port Antonio that will transform the economy of this entire region and accelerate the development of communities along the route. It will allow us to capitalize on the great potential for the re-establishment of Portland, and especially Port Antonio, as a major resort destination for both cruise ship passengers and other visitors.
Our other major infrastructure projects – Highway 2000, the modernisation of our two international airports and the expansion of the Port of Kingston are all on schedule.
Construction on the US$800 million expansion of the JAMALCO plant in Clarendon has already started.
THE ECONOMY
With regard to our economic programme, our priority remains the balancing of the Budget by the end of this Fiscal Year. Weather-related disruptions have affected activity in several sectors as well as the flow of revenues. The disruptions have also necessitated increased expenditure to repair damage and the unusual weather of the past four days will create additional pressures on the Budget.
Despite these setbacks, we are determined to stay on course, as this is essential if we are to achieve the desirable outcomes of reducing interest rates and easing our debt burden. Combined with new investments, lower interest rates will serve to further spur economic growth.
All indications are that we will have a strong winter tourist season. Already, many of our hotels are enjoying high reservation levels and we confidently expect this trend to continue throughout the season.
CRIME
Let me now address an issue that is on the mind of every single Jamaican and continues to cause us all serious distress. I refer to the continuing problem of violent crime.
The recent brutal and merciless killing of our innocent children and women represents even more unforgivable levels of evil. Once again I offer my deepest sympathy to the grieving parents and families. As a parent and grandparent myself I fully empathise with your feelings of rage and sorrow. The Government is doing all we can to offer total support to the bereaved at this time.
One of the key initiatives in the fight, is Operation Kingfish, which has been most effective against major drug traffickers. Since the inception of this Operation just about one year ago, more than 100 firearms and over 2000 rounds of ammunition have been taken out of the hands of criminals. More than 50 speedboats have been seized and three illegal airstrips have been disabled. The security forces have seized large quantities of cocaine, hash oil and ganja.
There have been more than 200 arrests for murder, possession of ammunition and drugs. Some of the major criminal networks are being dismantled. The members of the security forces deserve high praise for these successes.
What is also most encouraging is the positive response of so many decent citizens to our repeated appeals to assist the police with information. So far, nearly a thousand phone calls have been received on the Operation Kingfish hotline which have enabled the police to take action based on the information received. This cooperation from citizens not only helps with the apprehension of criminals but also boosts the morale of our Security Forces as it makes them realize that they are not alone in the struggle.
I want to thank those courageous citizens who have done their duty and helped to make our country safer for all of us. Once again, I appeal to everyone who has information to come forward with the assurance that his or her identity will be scrupulously protected.
We are also benefiting from the cooperation of, and support from our international partners – particularly Britain, Canada and the United States. Their recognition of the international nature of the trade in drugs and guns makes such collaboration critical. Intelligence through these sources and the improved competence of our local security forces will help us to make real progress.
We are now better geared ready to take action in the urban centers where extortion and the fight over turf have caused an escalation of violent crime.
The Minister of National Security and his team have developed an immediate programme of action which has two main dimensions.
First, increased and more effective police action in targeted areas.
Second, the immediate implementation of community programmes to provide employment, particularly for young people. These will be funded through Lift Up Jamaica, to commence next month, and the Community Security Initiative. The CSI will also include counselling and conflict resolution in selected communities.
I have noted Mr Golding’s statement that if we are to retain the death penalty for certain categories of murder, then steps must be taken to ensure that it is actually enforced in appropriate cases.
Our experience has shown that actual enforcement can only be ensured if there are constitutional amendments to nullify the effect of, at least one and possibly more, decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Such amendments, however, require the support of the Opposition in Parliament.
As it happens, a programme of meetings is currently in place between a team led by the Attorney General and one led by the Opposition Spokesman on Justice Mr Delroy Chuck. Constitutional Reform is a main item on the Agenda of these meetings.
In the light of Mr Golding’s statement, I would hope that there is the possibility of our now arriving at bipartisan agreement in relation to those amendments that affect capital punishment. I will therefore be instructing the Attorney General and his team, to formulate proposals for discussion with Mr Chuck and his colleagues.
I have held meaningful discussions with the leadership of the Police Federation regarding their claims. I hope that the results, when put to the delegates, will meet with their approval.
This will enable us to focus all our energy on the fight against crime and lawlessness.
CONCLUSION
Our work to get the economy moving is showing substantial and measurable results and we are seeing the acceleration of investment activity on several fronts.
As we move around the country, the signs are everywhere. Work sites are buzzing and the face of our landscape is changing rapidly as our construction projects progress, with many more ready to go.
Employment opportunities continue to increase and we are recruiting more and more young people for skills training. We are also upgrading the skills of those already in the workforce to meet international standards as we seek to compete in the global environment.
We are beginning to meet some success in our unrelenting fight against crime as we continue to equip our security forces, and work with our international partners. Once again I appeal to all our citizens to participate in the struggle through action and not just words.
We are addressing the physical and social conditions that contribute to the recruitment of our young men into a life of crime and once again we call on every Jamaican to help develop the projects that will create employment for them; to give the moral guidance, the love and support for which many of them are crying out. I once again urge parents, both fathers and mothers, to take greater responsibility for their children and seek help from the many Government and NGOs agencies that exist to help children who are obviously troubled.
Jamaicans are strong and resilient. We are no strangers to challenges. Let us vow yet again to work together, with God’s guidance, to build the type of society and the peaceful, caring and prosperous nation that we deserve in this beautiful land we love.