My Fellow Jamaicans, as we did last year, we are celebrating the anniversary of our nation’s Independence in the midst of a pandemic. While the pandemic has dealt a severe blow to our lives and livelihoods, we have, as a nation, done well together in managing the crisis. We have been able to do this through the hard work and sacrifice of thousands of frontline workers and the support and cooperation of most well-thinking Jamaicans.
As we celebrate our anniversary of independence, let us pause to reflect on what independence means. True national independence is not complete without economic independence. It is not enough to merely be proclaimed ‘politically independent’ without also achieving economic independence.
This Government has been steadfast in pursuing the path of economic independence for Jamaica through implementing the right policies to secure the future that we want. Independence means the ability to act as a sovereign nation and the flexibility to make choices that reflect the collective will and aspirations of our citizens; and to do so, unencumbered by external influences.
On a personal level, independence means income, ownership and the ability to create wealth and pursue happiness.
For many, independence starts with owning their own shelter. We are reforming the housing market to make 70,000 new houses available. This will transform not only housing, but families and how people live in communities. We are establishing structured, vibrant and sustainable housing projects such as the Greater Bernard Lodge development which will over time replace ad hoc, informal settlements.
We are providing Jamaicans with greater employment opportunities. At the same time, we are creating an ownership economy, not just through housing but through investment opportunities for Jamaicans to own a piece of important national assets and corporate enterprises. More than 30,000 Jamaicans now own shares in Wigton Wind Farm and Transjamaican Highway and will soon have the opportunity to own shares in the Jamaica Public Service Company.
Independence means better access to education to allow every Jamaican child to achieve their full potential. We must transform our education system to enable Jamaicans to pair their God-given creative talent with technology to compete in the 21st Century global marketplace.
A critical aspect of educational reform relates to changing the mindset and behaviour of our citizens so that violence is no longer seen as the primary means of conflict resolution. We must develop a social consensus that shuns violence in all its forms for the gentler, safer and more caring society that we all seek.
We look forward to receiving the recommendations of the Education Transformation Commission later this month and those of the National Violence Prevention Commission in due course.
Independence also means resilience. In life, there will be unforeseen shocks. To safeguard our independence, our fiscal policy is not only about borrowing less, it is also about saving more and strategically insuring against risk. Jamaica recently issued a catastrophe bond through the World Bank that provides us with US$185 million in financial protection in the event of a loss from a major hurricane. Jamaica is the first island state in the world to independently access the CAT bond market. While we seek to grow our wealth, it is important to secure what we already have against risks.
Independence also means the ability to provide for the most vulnerable in our society. The Government has spent a record amount in welfare protection and strengthening of our social safety net to protect our most vulnerable citizens.
We have introduced a new Social Pension Programme that will target Jamaican citizens aged 75 years and older. The fact that we have been able to do this in the midst of the pandemic is testament to how far we have come and to the resilience of the Jamaican economy.
The idea of independence is the ability to choose; and with that comes responsibility for the consequences of our choices. We are now faced with important choices as a nation. Jamaicans now have to choose whether or not to take the COVID vaccine and to diligently observe the infection prevention protocols. Our choices now will affect our ability to safely reopen schools for face-to-face learning in September. In the coming days, how we choose to act as free and independent citizens will determine if we will bring our positivity rate below 5%. It is through taking the vaccine that we will rid ourselves from the pandemic and regain our freedom.
We have come far as a nation; however, our quest for economic independence is far from complete. We have long held a dream and vision of a Jamaica, a land of peace, love and prosperity. As we celebrate 59 years of independence, let us join hands and hearts in working each day to make this vision a reality.
I urge every Jamaican to reflect on the true meaning of independence and to celebrate in a responsible way. Happy Independence Day Jamaica! May God bless you and bless Jamaica, land we love.