We have just completed the first Cabinet retreat of the new Government and it was originally scheduled to last over three days. We had to extend it to a fourth because of the volume of matters that had to be dealt with and the weightiness of the issues we had to grapple with.
58 Policy SubmissionsIndeed, in the course of the retreat we had to deal with some 58 policy submissions dealing with government policy in a whole range of areas, some of them of course being very critical for the present and for the immediate future. The retreat, of course, started off with a review of the current fiscal year which comes to an end at the end of March. We examined the experiences that we have had, the fact that in the course of this year the economy has had to wrestle with both external and domestic shocks. External, in terms of the international environment; domestic in terms of the hurricane and the damage that that did and the extent to which the combination of these two had caused some dislocation in terms of the overall macro-economic targets that had been set for the year.
Cost of EnergyWe examined the immediate challenges that faced the country, the most important of which is the cost of energy. The cost of importing oil into the country increased last year by US$540 million over above what it cost us in the previous year. And we know the impact that this has right throughout the economy on consumers, on the cost of transportation and the cost of electricity.
Rising Commodity PricesWe have also had to deal with the impact of rising commodity prices occasioned by a variety of factors, one of which, of course, is that we are now entering upon an era in which food is competing with fuel, or food is now in demand to be converted into fuel which has put significant pressure on commodity prices. In addition to which there were serious climatic problems that affected the production of major staple crops throughout the world last year.
US EconomyThen too, we have had to look at the implications of the economic situation in the US. What is now being alleged by some, confirmed by others or perhaps denied by a few is the onset of a recession in the US economy and the implications that that has for our own domestic economy, both in terms of our own external accounts as well as in terms of the financial arrangements that we have to work with in order to support the financing of the country’s budget.
Measures to Reduce CrimeAs you will appreciate, a major issue of focus during the retreat was the question of crime and the measures that were being taken, additional measures that have to be taken to reduce the level of crime to bring the level of crime under greater control.
All of these issues, of course, help to shape the parameters of the new Budget which will be presented towards the end of March. We are committed to delivering the new Budget before the end of the current fiscal year. The tentative date for the Throne Speech and the laying of the new Estimates for 2008/2009 is the 27th of March which would then facilitate examination by the Standing Finance Committee the following week with the Budget Debate commencing the week after that.
The retreat also spent a considerable amount of time looking at the medium and long term strategic objectives that the government has set itself. Because while this current fiscal year and the new fiscal year will involve significant fiscal challenges within the fiscal containment that we are committed to maintaining, it is absolutely necessary that we shape our priorities in such a way that we can still provide the stimulus for economic growth. In those long term strategic objectives, medium and long term, I want to indicate the highlights and then to spend some time on each of them to explain the thinking and the direction in which the government is going.
Our PrioritiesFirst, we have attached absolute importance to maintaining macro economic stability and setting realistic macro economic targets that we are committing ourselves to, working hard and doing everything possible to achieve. Principal among those targets will be the deficit, the level of public debt, and the rate of economic growth.
Second, we are focused on a new investment thrust that will encourage, induce and attract significant levels of investment to create new output to provide new jobs; to ensure that two blades of grass can grow where one grew before and to expand the output of the country. This is one of the major problems that we have faced in the past, where the country’s output has not been growing and therefore the country has not been able to respond in providing the kind of public services, fixing the roads, providing the school places, strengthening our health care delivery system, simply because the economy is not growing and because it is not growing the resources are not there to do the things that governments are required to do.
Third, and I mentioned it in passing a while ago, in terms of our strategic objectives must be job creation. We said before the elections, and we maintain, that seeking investment is one thing, but we have to particularize, we have to seek the kind of investments that create jobs, because there is no point in Jamaica being a turnaround point where money comes in and money spins around two times and then goes back out. The greatest impact of investment to Jamaica must be the jobs that it creates, the income that it provides and the basis on which persons who secure jobs can improve their standard of living.
Fourth, in terms of strategic objectives is the question of energy security and I am going to return to that in a moment.
Fifth, and what has been happening in the world has made this a far more urgent priority than it may have been in the past, the question of food security.
Sixth, the question of human resource development with particular emphasis on our education system and what needs to be done to ensure that our people are capable of productive effort and are equipped to fill the jobs that we hope through an aggressive investment drive to secure.
Macro EconomyLet me spend a little time with each of these. In so far as the macro economic targets are concerned we have had to revise the (deficit) target for this fiscal year as you already know. The original target set by the previous government was 4

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