Wed | Jan 20, 2021

Asif Ahmad | Enduring partners in a time of adversity and hope

Published:Sunday | December 27, 2020 | 12:06 AM
British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad.
British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad.

Asif Ahmad, British high commissioner, salutes with the Mona Preparatory School Brownies at the second annual UK in Jamaica Fair in 2019.
Asif Ahmad, British high commissioner, salutes with the Mona Preparatory School Brownies at the second annual UK in Jamaica Fair in 2019.
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This has been a year that has tested each and every person on our planet. 2020 will be recalled as a time of tragedy for those among us who have lost a loved one or have endured illness brought about by the coronavirus. People have lost livelihoods and face uncertainty. Our children, even the quiet ones, have missed parts of their education and social interaction with each other. How they wish they could be dragged away from their homeschooling tablets and chase each other in the schoolyard. Parenting has been tough. Managing people in any organisation has drawn on the deepest wells of resilience, and for many, working from home is not a realistic or indeed an easy option. Our front-line carers have been heroic.

In the months of despair, there have been moments of inspiration. Many have risen to the challenges and have given us reasons to face 2021 with renewed resolve and hope. In the UK, Jamaica has a partner in adversity and a vision of a better future.

For Jamaica, 2020 started with real vitality. The sacrifices made by Jamaicans through the tough years of economic adjustment had paid off. Employment was rising. Inflation was under control and the fiscal position of the country was more robust. COVID-19 and the heavy rains have undoubtedly been a setback, but the fundamental direction can still be one of greater prosperity. The elections validated Jamaica’s credentials as a mature democracy.

The United Kingdom has also faced difficulties of our own. Even as the new variant of the virus has led to much stronger control measures, we have not lost sight of our global role and our willingness to help our friends. We plan to devote £10bn to international aid, that is one of the largest donor programmes in the world. In Jamaica, we diverted funds into COVID priorities – test kits, respirators, welfare of prisoners, action on domestic violence and new border protocols. As one of the founders of COVAX, we have paved the way for Jamaica to secure supply of vaccines as they become available. It is most likely that once the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine is approved for use, it will be chosen by Jamaica as it is both cheaper to buy and easier to store. We will refurbish 12 health centres in Jamaica so that the public is treated in a safer and more efficient environment.

The financial arrangements Jamaica has been able to make to mitigate risk has already proven its worth. We, together with the World Bank, have put into place a catastrophe risk insurance facility. Jamaica, with better risk ratings, is able also to access international funds at a more favourable rate.

CARBON FOOTPRINT

As the UK prepares for the next UN Climate Change Conference in Scotland in 2021, we are impressed with Jamaica’s leadership in setting ambitious targets to reduce the country’s carbon footprint and to help design the Global Climate Fund. One lesson from the slowdown in human activity during the pandemic has been the opportunity Mother Nature has taken to heal the planet.

Our £53m investment in solar-powered irrigation in Jamaica will gather pace in 2021. More wells will be drilled and pipes laid in areas suffering from drought. Farmers will be able to plan ahead and grow crops for consumers in Jamaica as well as in export markets like the UK. From January 1, Jamaica will be included in the Economic Partnership Agreement that allows preferential tariffs for exports to Britain. All businesses, be it in food, beverages, fashion, cosmetics or music, can reboot their trading links with the UK. It is up to the private sector to find the courage to explore international markets. Government has a role in facilitating investment. One great example is the British-inspired idea of cultivating bamboo in Jamaica and producing pulp for global markets. The missing link is allocation of arable land currently lying idle.

The opening of Jamaica National Bank and the expansion of Victoria Mutual Building Society in the UK have sent a signal of confidence to Jamaicans here and in Britain. Going forward, JN Bank in London will be able to serve Caribbean businesses and banks. We will continue to work with the Ministry of Finance to get Jamaica off the grey list as money-laundering measures are tightened.

The National Consensus on Crime has encouraged us to continue with our significant support to Jamaica. We will redouble our efforts on violence prevention. We will strengthen institutions that are fighting crime and corruption. The Integrity Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Ministry of Justice will be able to continue with transformative programmes with our engagement. Trust in the law- enforcement agencies is important and our commitment to INDECOM remains firm.

The UK is committed to righting the wrongs that have blighted the lives of the Windrush generation. The compensation scheme is now getting financial support out to more people more quickly. The new points-based system for visas means that the criteria for granting a visa will be the same for a Jamaican or an Australian for work or settlement. We will continue to nurture students who want to study in our world-leading institutions. That will include our fully funded master’s degree programme for Chevening Scholars.

There are, indeed, many good reasons to think that 2021 will be a much better year.

- Asif Ahmad CMG, is British High Commissioner to Jamaica. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.