JIS News

2005 was a difficult year for us as a nation. Before we were able to recover from the ravages of Hurricane Ivan in October 2004, we were hit with Dennis and Emily in July. Many families have not been able to put their lives back together, some having lost their homes, others their source of livelihood. Much of our infrastructure – our roads and bridges, river courses, gullies and drains – have been left in a terrible state and some of our communities barely accessible.
2005 was also a difficult year for the nation in terms of its safety and security. Over 1,600 persons including women and children were murdered during the year. It is the highest number of murders ever to have taken place in Jamaica in any one year and it was the highest number of murders in proportion to population anywhere in the world. The usual new anti-crime measures were instituted but despite whatever initial impact they might have had the murders continued.
Brazen, vicious gang violence in sections of the Corporate Area and St. Catherine claimed many lives and forced the shutdown of schools and other critical services. The Police have not been able to bring it under control. The local political leaders in these areas have not been able to offer the Police much help in bringing the situation under control.
2005 was also a difficult year for the nation’s economy. The high oil prices hurt us deep in our pockets and inflation soared past the single-digit projection which the government had made in April. The government tries desperately to meet its balanced budget target for this fiscal year, by tightening expenditure even in the face of the need to provide more resources for the Police and repair hurricane damage. But it has placed no such restraint on government borrowing. By the end of October the country’s total debt had climbed to $827 billion – $65 billion more than it was at the end of 2004.Unfortunately, these are not problems that we can leave behind in 2005. They will cling to us and form part of the challenges that will confront us in the new year.
There can be no question that crime and violence is the most urgent problem that must be tackled. And it must be tackled with appropriate strategies, firm resolve, strong leadership and adequate resources. The criminals have turned the tables on us: They roam the streets while we are behind bars.
Last month I announced that Colonel Trevor MacMillan had agreed to head a team that would prepare an action plan to tackle crime, its manifestations as well as its root causes. That team has now been assembled and will commence work immediately. In addition to Colonel MacMillan the team comprises Dr. Henley Morgan, Management Consultant and Public Administration Specialist, Dr. Anthony Harriott, noted Criminologist and University Lecturer, Miss Margaret Orange, Management Consultant and Mr. Peter John Thwaites, Insurance Executive. They will be joined by a retired senior police officer who will be named shortly.
I have asked the team to prepare what I call a road map for effectively reducing crime. I want to stress that it is not a partisan effort. It is a national effort and its findings and recommendations will be shared with the government and the relevant agencies whose collaborative efforts will be essential in ridding the country of this monster.
Cranking up the economy and creating jobs especially for our young people must also be a priority for 2006. The government insists that the economy is on the right track. It is not on the right track! It cannot be on the right track when we continue to pursue strategies that have produced less than 5% growth in the last 10 years. Thousands can’t find work and many of those who we claim are employed are engaged not in meaningful jobs but in hustling and juggling, struggling to survive. These strategies haven’t worked for the last 10 years. There is no reason to think that they will work this year.A major undertaking for the Opposition this year will be to lay out a bold, new strategic framework geared not just to balancing the budget and satisfying our creditors but geared toward economic development – generating growth, creating jobs and expanding opportunities for our people.
The backlog of hurricane damage will also have to be addressed. Some communities are experiencing strange phenomena with water rising in places where it never rose before and rivers taking the course of least resistance, threatening homes and destroying cultivations. We must be mindful that although forecasters do not expect the 2006 hurricane season to be as volatile as the record-breaking one in 2005, the predictions are that it will be twice as active as an average season. The damage we suffered last year most of which has not yet been corrected leaves us extremely vulnerable for major disasters this year.
We must avoid unnecessary distractions this year – occurrences that can sap our energies and divert our attention from the important work that has to be done. The uncertainty surrounding the change of leadership of the government is one such distraction. It has gone on too long and the sooner it is resolved so that the country can see more clearly the direction of that new leader, the better.
As we enter upon this new year, let us prepare ourselves for all of these challenges. Let us not be intimidated by them for we are a tough people and I have an abiding faith in our strength as a people and in our capacity to rise to the occasion and triumph over adversity. But in order to do so we must find common cause, we must find that national purpose to which all of us, regardless of our political affiliation, social standing or economic status, are prepared to commit ourselves because each of us has shares in that enterprise. That is what Jamaica must become – an enterprise in which every one of us is a recognized and respected shareholder. That is my wish for 2006.
May God bless Jamaica and its people and guide us through the challenges and uncertainties of this new year.