As we say goodbye to 2018 and welcome 2019, first of all we give thanks to God Almighty for his many blessings which have sustained us all during the past year.
All of us should be grateful that Jamaica was spared any direct hit from hurricanes this past year.
At another level, we can all rejoice in the historic achievement of the Reggae Girls who have made it through to the FIFA World Cup in women’s football.
2018 should be celebrated too for the fact that our Reggae Music was recognized at the United Nations as part of the “intangible cultural heritage” of the world.
This is a well-deserved tribute to the creativity of our artistes over the years and to Jamaica’s iconic popular culture.
Despite all this, the past year proved to be a particularly challenging one especially as it relates to the historic mission of our people to build Jamaica into a strong, vibrant, socially inclusive nation, where the opportunities to achieve economic and social progress are available equally to all the people and not just to a few.
While we are all pleased that the programme of economic reform started in the last administration has continued to reduce Jamaica’s public debt, economic growth continues to lag behind expectations; boasts of 5 in 4 having long been abandoned.
Worse, is the fact that Jamaica slipped several places in the ease of doing business rankings.
This has been particularly burdensome for small businesses and new business start-ups, which should be the focus of creating a more inclusive economy.
The proliferation of violent crime island-wide and the spread of anti-social behaviour continues to threaten us all.
Thankfully, the mobilization of the security forces, albeit too delayed has brought some relief.
Nevertheless the country still has not been presented with a sustainable plan for crime management and control, and for the overall reform of the Criminal Justice System while maintaining our hard-won constitutional rights.
Perhaps the most demoralising feature of the past year was the rampant corruption which unhappily has become a major feature of the current national landscape.
The PetroJam Scandal with all its many dimensions is just the latest expression of the abuse of the taxes paid by hardworking Jamaicans by those in authority.
While thousands of Jamaicans struggle on the margins of society to make ends meet, they are forced to watch vulgar displays of “Wakanda style parties” celebrating the extravagant prosperity of a few with “connections” to those in office.
Such wanton and lurid displays of the misuse of public funds, weakens confidence in our nation’s institutions, and drains the energy and resolve of our people.
Good governance must be rooted in the rule of law and in the protection of the rights and the resources of the people.
Government officials must see themselves as being subject to the law, and not as “breakers” of the law.
Also, they should act as guardians of our tax revenues and ensure that those revenues are used only for the nation’s benefit and not for their private enjoyment or in the search for partisan political advantage.
As we enter into the New Year we must all draw hope from the vision and aspirations of the founding fathers and mothers of our nation.
Eighty years ago they set out on a mission to build a nation, on the foundations of democracy, the rule of law and a programme of economic and social development that offered every Jamaican the opportunity for personal progress.
That Mission is still very relevant today as too many Jamaicans still exist on the margins of the society, denied access to high quality education; forced to rely on run-down and crisis plagued health services, and living in so-called squatter communities with inadequate social services such as roads, water, electricity, etc.
Our commitment is to a programme of economic and social development that will make Jamaica a country which offers all its people equality of opportunity and social justice and which is guided by the principles of good governance.
It is a programme that offers equal opportunity to every student for a good education and which will eradicate once and for all the “apartheid” system of unequal education in Jamaica.
The national development project that we are committed to will broaden the base of ownership in land and housing and incorporate all, especially workers, farmers and small business people, providing them with an opportunity to earn a good living from the Jamaican economy.
Despite all the challenges that we face our hope rests on the resilience, tenacity, courage and good sense of the Jamaican people.
As Leader of the Opposition, I pledge the continued vigilance and moral courage of the Party that I lead to hold the government accountable as we advocate for a better Jamaican that offers opportunity for all the people and not just a few.
We will continue to demand higher standards of transparency and integrity in governance and an end to corruption.
As I ask all of us to embrace this urgent and essential mission for national development, I extend to you all heartfelt wishes for a safe, productive, happy and prosperous New Year.
May God bless you all and May God bless this great country, Jamaica.