JIS News

We have said goodbye to 2008 with mixed feelings. I say “mixed feelings” because in spite of the difficulties we experienced, there were some great moments.
Beijing Olympics
The outstanding performance of our athletes at the Beijing Olympics filled us with pride and served as a reminder that we have it in us to accomplish great things. They are undoubtedly our heroes of 2008.
Crime Concern
Crime was a major concern in 2008 as it has been for as long as we can remember. The brutality of murders committed especially among women and children caused great alarm and outrage throughout the country. Up to the end of May, the murder rate was running at 18% higher than last year. The measures which were instituted around the middle of the year have begun to work. There has been a noticeable slowdown in the rate of murders and we ended the year 3% above last year’s figure of 1574 but, thankfully, below the record level of 1674 recorded in 2005.
This, of course, is no cause for satisfaction. The level of violent crime is far too high – one of the highest in the world – and we are going to have to intensify even further the efforts we are making to turn back the tide of criminal activity plaguing the land. We are providing additional vehicles, equipment and other resources to the Police, we are stepping up recruitment, we are increasing our training capacity, we are improving our intelligence capabilities, we are intensifying Police operations, we are improving the Court system. We must keep up the pressure for 2009.
The Hurricane Season
We suffered significant damage during the hurricane season estimated at over $15 billion. Repair work is underway but it will take some time and considerably more resources before all the damaged infrastructure can be restored. In another few months, the 2009 hurricane season will be upon us. We must ensure that we are better prepared in minimizing the extent of any damage that might occur.
Financial and economic crisis
A major setback for us in 2008 was the financial and economic crisis which shook the world. Two weeks ago I outlined the serious effects this is having on Jamaica and the measures we are taking to cushion the impact. Many of these measures come into effect today.
Unfortunately, the crisis is not going to go away with 2008. It is alive and well and while its fury in terms of bank failures and stock market crashes may have abated, its effects in terms of investment flows, availability of credit, currency instability, the demand for goods and services, job losses and general economic uncertainty will persist for some time.
Analysts are unable to agree as to when recovery will begin. The most realistic forecasts suggest that it will not be until 2010. How to manage our way through 2009 and position ourselves for the earliest possible recovery will, therefore, be the primary focus and responsibility of the government.
Much will depend on the policy initiatives pursued by the new Obama-led administration in the United States which, as the world’s largest economy, exerts considerable influence on the global market. His will be a baptism of fire…..or a nightmare, if you will. I understand what he is about to go through and the pressures he will come under. We wish him well not just for the sake of America but, also, because of the direct effect that American policy will have on our own economy.
The job of piloting Jamaica
But the job of piloting Jamaica through the storm and placing it on a path of growth after the storm has passed is not Obama’s – it is mine. That’s the job you have given me to do. That is what I and the members of my government spend long hours day and night working to do.
The economy
Preliminary data suggest that the economy remained relatively flat for 2008. Those who see the glass as half-empty will bemoan the fact that the economy did not grow. Those who see it as half-full will acknowledge that the economy was able to hold despite the turbulence.
I am never satisfied that we have done all we need to do. There is always more that needs to be done and we must summon every ounce of energy, mental and physical, to work harder and do more. But there is no doubt in my mind that had we not been as diligent as we were, had we not worked as hard as we did, we would have fared much worse, the fallout from the global crisis would have been much greater.
Part of the reality that faces us in 2009 and beyond is that the world is not likely to return to what it was before the crisis began. The international financial structures are likely to be different; trading patterns are likely to be different; investment decisions and the attitude to emerging markets are likely to be different. Fast-growing areas of economic activity are likely to be different. Some traditional doors are likely to be closed and new ones opened. It’s going to be a new ball game that requires a new game plan.
Our economic structure and strategies
Our economic structure and strategies that had been employed weren’t able to cut it in the past. They are even less likely to cut it in the future. We are going to have to make changes in several areas – the way government operates, in the way the private sector operates, in the way employers and unions operate, in the way we approach the business of production, efficiency, competitiveness and marketing, in the sacrifices we are prepared to make to secure our future and how those sacrifices are to be shared among us. It can’t be business as usual because business as usual won’t be good business.
Over the next few weeks, the government will be engaged in intense discussions at Cabinet level, with our policy technicians, with the private sector and trade unions and with critical stakeholders to prepare ourselves for the road that we must travel. These consultations will coincide with the preparation of the new Budget which is due at the end of March. But it will involve much more than just putting together a budget. It will involve fundamental changes that will enable us to make a quantum leap from a frustrating past into a confident future.
We are bold enough to grasp the future
I am not unmindful of the difficulties ahead. I do not underestimate the enormity of the challenges we face. But I am not frightened by them and neither should you be. I believe with every fiber in my body that if we are bold enough to grasp the future with both hands and steer our way with a clear mind, that we will succeed where we failed before, we will reap the harvest we have long hoped for and we will prove the faith that so many of us share that Jamaica is a great country and that Jamaicans are a great people.
May God grant us the wisdom and strength to do the job that we are called to do and, as always, may God bless the people of Jamaica.
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