To my fellow Jamaicans at home and abroad, Happy New Year!
2021 has come and gone, and my family and I wish that 2022 will be a safe, healthy and prosperous year for each and every one of you.
As a new year begins, we have the opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed.
2021 was a year in which the pandemic continued to dominate our lives here in Jamaica and all across the world. We are all hoping that 2022 will be the year in which Carona is brought under control and start a new chapter in which our daily lives are no longer impacted by public health restrictions. Achieving this will require us to continue to act responsibly in how we conduct ourselves, and observing the routines that have helped to keep us safe over the past two years.
2021 was a year when the impact of the global pandemic continued to negatively affect the economy and people’s daily lives. The economy continues to operate at a level well below where it was before Carona struck. In 2021, the increases in the cost of living, in food prices, electricity prices and gas prices, brought tremendous pressure to many Jamaicans, especially those on fixed salaries and those who hustle for their daily living.
Many Jamaicans would have liked to see more being done to assist them to weather the slow-down in the economy and these high prices. We must express a special word of gratitude to our Jamaicans overseas, who sent home a record amount of financial support to their families here on the rock, without which many people would have been unable to survive. We hope that 2022 will see the continuing recovery of the world economy, and that the global tide will also lift us here in Jamaica and ease the hardships being endured by many Jamaicans. We also wish to see more being done to protect the vulnerable among us who are close to the edge of survival and need assistance.
2021 was a year in which the education of our children continued to suffer terribly. Hundreds of thousands of students, especially those at the basic, primary and secondary levels, have received very little, if any, education for nearly two years. Remedying the negative impact of this learning loss must be an immediate national priority, requiring absolute focus and policy attention. 2022 must see the roll out of a well-funded series of measures that will remedy the negative impact suffered by these students, to repair the situation and prevent them suffering long-term harm.
2021 was a year in which violent crime continued to blight the nation. With murders up 10% over 2020, in 2022 we need to see the full roll-out of the tools available to bring this scourge under control.
We would like to see the more comprehensive and effective use of the JDF and the JCF in Zones of Special Operations to bring hotspots under control, supported by curfews, cordon and search, the intense usage of the Anti-Gang and Anti-Scamming legislation, DNA evidence and other lawful measures permitted by our Constitution that do not violate the basic fundamental rights of our people.
We need to see more action to strengthen the legislative tools to support law enforcement, including enhanced surveillance capabilities and updating of the legislation against illegal guns.
We also need to see a more balanced approach to crime prevention, including investments to address the structural failures in the education system the promote inter-generational poverty and inequality in our society, and national programmes to give hope and opportunities to vulnerable youths who have left school with little or nothing to show for it, all too often ending up taking the wrong path in their lives to the detriment of us all.
2022 brings hope for a new day. As we enter our 60th year of independence, we should recognize this milestone by taking the steps that will give Jamaica a Jamaican Head of State, and relinquish the colonial legacy of having a foreign monarch as our queen.
This is not mere “empty symbolism”. It is a fundamental issue of national identity and national self-confidence. It is an important expression that we believe in ourselves as Jamaicans, and believe that our destiny as a nation and a people lies in our hands and must be of our own making.
I salute our sister nation Barbados, its fearless leader Prime Minister Mia Mottley, and the Opposition party, for resolutely and successfully pursuing independent statehood as a mature, bipartisan national effort. Jamaica must act now, and not waste the opportunity for positive change that has arisen with the momentum now building behind this issue.
We also join with the Judiciary in calling for the other colonial vestige, which is the distant and inaccessible Privy Council as our people’s final court of appeal, to be replaced by the excellent, effective and accessible Caribbean Court of Justice. Two previous attempts to achieve this were unsuccessful because of a lack of bipartisan support. Surely we can do better than this, and join hands to complete Jamaica’s constitutional independence?
Having settled those two long-outstanding matters, we can also work together on other beneficial reforms to our Constitution that will strengthen our participatory democracy and bring greater accountability to those entrusted with the governance of our country.
In 2022, let us put an end the corruption and dishonest dealings that have become a constant blight on our public institutions. Jamaica deserves honest government, where scarce public resources are used for the sole benefit of the Jamaican people, and not for the personal enrichment of those who have been entrusted with governance of the State and its institutions.
The constant episodes of dishonesty in public institutions undermines the legitimacy of our democratic way of life, hurts our economy, and weakens the rule of law which must be the basis of our national life. Jamaicans are sick and tired of being let down by their political leaders. Better must come.
In 2022, let us recommit to policies which build social cohesion, reduce inequality and are inclusive of all members of our society, without discrimination or exclusion. The dignity of human life must be at the forefront of our policymaking, and promoting fairness and justice must be the cornerstone of principle which directs of our decision making.
This is the pathway that will ensure that that Jamaica will, under God, “increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.”
For 2022, “I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart, the wisdom and courage of my mind, the strength and vigour of my body in the service of my fellow citizens; I promise to stand up for Justice, Brotherhood and Peace, to work diligently and creatively, to think generously and honestly.”
Let us dedicate our energy and efforts in 2022 to taking Jamaica, land we love, forward to a new and better place. Together, we can do it. Together, we can make the change.
Happy New Year Jamaica! One love.