KINGSTON — Social responsibility and the economy were the main issues addressed by Prime Minister, the Most Hon Andrew Holness, in his inaugural speech after being sworn in by the Governor-General at King’s House, Sunday (October 23).
Speaking to a huge crowd massed across the green, sun-drenched lawns of King’s House, Mr. Holness said that on the eve of the nation's 50th independence anniversary, Jamaicans must commit to building on their achievements, correcting the errors and developing the courage and energy to chart new paths to success.
“Today, I take responsibility for the direction of this country. Today, my generation must take responsibility for charting new pathways to fulfilling our destiny. Today, let us start a new ethos of responsibility in all Jamaicans for Jamaica,” the 39-year-old Prime Minister said.
On the issue of social responsibility, Mr. Holness focused primarily on the need for consensus across party lines, reduced tribalism and garrison politics, or “better politics”, and increased support for vulnerable Jamaicans, including children.
“Let us be responsible for the education of our children, there is no reason why in modern Jamaica a child should leave school illiterate,” the former Education Minister said.
He urged the removal of the “garrisons”, stating that Jamaica is yearning for a new politics to emerge, which will allow citizens to express their conscience and make their choices on a ballot.
“Zones of political exclusion are incompatible with freedom, and aspects of our politics are an affront to liberty. It is time to end garrison politics,” the West Central St. Andrew MP argued.
“I am willing to walk with the Leader of the Opposition in Tower Hill, and I may just turn up in Whitfield Town. I will be writing to the Leader of the Opposition, to invite her to discuss this important measure of coordinating access to closed communities for representatives of differing political persuasions,” he added.
Mr. Holness also opened his arms to independent-minded Jamaicans who may feel excluded from bipartisan and tribal politics, suggesting that Jamaica is losing some of its best talent through their withdrawal.
He said that for too long, Jamaicans have been distracted from the seriousness of their problems "by petty politics".
"On both sides, the civility of our politics must improve. We must all pledge to elevate our political discourse. Our leaders must transcend petty, mean spirited, tear down politics," he urged.
Turning to the economy, the Prime Minister noted that Jamaica’s potential for prosperity has not been realized and the country has underperformed.
Jamaica cannot continue to borrow indefinitely, “as a palliative for short term gratification of social needs”, he cautioned.
He said that the Government has developed a practical plan to gradually reduce the debt, while maintaining its support for the most vulnerable in the society.
“The first strategy in borrowing less is getting more revenue, and the first strategy in getting more revenue is increasing the efficiency and simplicity of our tax administration and waiver systems,” he declared. He expressed the need for a “fairer, broader and less burdensome” tax system.
Another strategy in borrowing less was managing the expenditure, including the public sector wage bill, he said. He noted that Government is now in dialogue with the trade unions and other stakeholders, to come up with a consensus position on managing the wage expectations.
"I know the (trade) unions understand the situation the country faces, and I am hopeful for a positive outcome,” he stated.
However, he said that Government must also reduce waste, inefficiency, corruption and profligacy as part of expenditure management.
Turning to investment and jobs, Mr. Holness said that the country was well on its way to sustainable and meaningful job creation.
"We have set the necessary macro pre-conditions for investment and growth with stable exchange rates, stable interest rate and stable inflation. Our next task is to resolve the micro economic environment for business,” the Prime Minister said, expressing optimism for increased and sustained investments in Jamaica.
“The people are central to all our development activities and the poor and vulnerable are the focus of our social support,” he maintained.
Closing his speech, Mr. Holness insisted that Jamaica’s collective capabilities exceed its challenges, but only through participation these capabilities and this potential can be seized.
“I know that a better politics which allows broad participation and honest conversation with the electorate will lead to better, more sustainable policies to manage our economy and create jobs and opportunities. This is how we create a better Jamaican: Better politics, better policies, better people,” he said.
By Balford Henry, JIS Reporter & Editor