Heritage hope from PM
As we celebrate another National Heritage season, it is hoped that Prime Minister (PM) Portia Simpson-Miller will continue the example she established during the Independence celebrations of offering 'presents' to the people of Jamaica. During the celebrations, she offered the issuance of land titles to deserving sugar workers; the turning on of lights at Sabina Park, and the opening of the toll road linking Linstead to Moneague.
It appears that the prime minister wanted to use celebrations as a time to mark the completion of projects. This is important. In fact, those projects were significant for many reasons. These projects were signs of South-South cooperation among Jamaicans, the Venezuelans, the Indians and the Chinese. Our economic growth future lies in strengthening our South-South ties.
Land security can lead to family stability and a source of collateral for capital formation. The lights can help in the regeneration of downtown Kingston. Sadly, the lights were not used for the T20 cricket competition, but, hopefully, they will not become a white elephant. The toll road is important for economic growth and development.
The prime minister should continue this trend of marking celebrations with projects completed. During this Heroes Week, there needs to be an update on the arrangement with Chinese Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and the toll road.
The arrangement was that CHEC would pay the people of Jamaica the US$120 million it had spent on the toll during the French agreement. This money is well needed to pay down the debt on the South Coast Highway, which was not a good deal when compared with the deal made with CHEC. The nation needs more information about the lands that will be given to CHEC to generate toll activity via the building of a resort. The terms and conditions should not give the level of tax concessions the Chinese got from the purchase of the sugar factories.
The prime minister should also use the Heritage celebrations to announce an increase in the benefits of the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education (PATH), because the cost of living has increased significantly and the most vulnerable have been adversely affected. In 2012, when there was the idea of removing GCT exemptions from all food items, the Private Sector Working Group estimated an increase of six per cent on basic food prices and an additional $2 billion to the PATH programme. The PM needs to double the benefits to PATH beneficiaries, which is usually a cash grant given every two months at a value of about $3,000. This will ease the pressure on the most vulnerable and stimulate consumption and economic growth.
In 2010, PATH spent $2.9 billion and gave 120,000 persons cash transfers as of December 2011. This additional $3 billion can be secured by charging user fees at hospitals and also with help from international donor agencies.
The PM should also use the opportunity to bring closure to the FINSAC inquiry. It is sad when Jamaicans cannot settle issues like the production of even a draft FINSAC report. There are legitimate arguments why there is no FINSAC report, but as an independent nation, we have the capacity to settle this matter, which is not rocket science. The PM can call on the governor general in getting this matter resolved or civil society should put it on the Agenda of the Partnership Council.
National Heritage Week is an occasion to develop loyalty to and love for country, and give hope to the people.
Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.