Your Excellencies, the Governor General, the Most Honourable Sir Patrick Allen and Lady Allen, Leader of the Opposition the Most Honorable Portia Simpson Miller, the Most Honorable Edward Seaga and Mrs Seaga, the Most Honorable PJ Patterson, the Honorable Bruce Golding, my fellow Jamaicans, good afternoon.
It was with a deep sense of honour and humility that I took the oath of office moments ago, cognizant of the awesome responsibility that I have just assumed. I want to express appreciation to all those who have reposed confidence in me. I want to acknowledge my wife, my parents, my family, my colleagues, my constituency of West Central St. Andrew, the Ministry of Education, and the great number of Jamaicans who have supported me over the years, represented by that elderly lady who held on to my hands and said, “son I am praying for you”. Rest assured, I am totally focused on the task of helping the Jamaican people realize their hopes and aspirations. I pledge to serve the people of Jamaica faithfully, with all of my energies, all of my heart, mind and soul.
This is the pattern of service that has been established by my predecessors and at this moment I pay tribute to them all and thank them on behalf of all Jamaicans for their unselfish service to our great nation.
In particular, I pay special tribute to the Hon Bruce Golding who through hard work, commitment and selflessness inspired his cabinet and parliamentary colleagues to higher levels of service.
I was born to working class parents in Spanish Town on the 22nd of July 1972: · Ten years after Jamaica’s Independence in 1962 · Five months after Michael Manley won his first election, PJ Patterson was appointed Minister of Industry and Tourism and Bruce Golding entered parliament for the first time · Two years later in 1974, Edward Seaga would become Leader of the Opposition and Portia Simpson Miller entered the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation as a Councilor.
While I was not around when Jamaica took its independence, from all accounts it was a period of great excitement, great hopes and great expectation. Oh to have experienced the birth of a nation…a clean slate, endless horizons, greatness within sight and within grasp. It must have been a glorious time, an optimistic time a positive time. It was a time of political honour and mutual respect, where I am told, JLP and PNP supporters were welcomed at each other’s meetings and the only things thrown were words in good humour. The prospective spirit of the entrepreneurial sector was high. Statistics show that we had the fastest and highest levels of growth during that period.
However, as we moved to the 1970s impatience with inequality and unresolved social issues in the Jamaican society grew. Colonial institutions, three hundred years in the making, and the social structures, inequities and injustices they created, could not be reversed in one decade of Independence. Globally, Jamaica was very much intertwined in the growing struggle for human rights, civil rights, true freedom and respect for the Black Race, the oppressed and the poor underclasses of the world. Our intellectuals like Garvey inspired other leaders to continue the struggle, and Marley provided the medium of music to carry the message of true freedom, ‘upliftment’ and self-assertion worldwide. Another global struggle was in play at that time, the Cold War. Though of different origin, it was connected by the confluence of geopolitics and the desire for ideological hegemony by the superpowers of that time. Again, Jamaica would feature prominently and be caught up in this struggle.
With “So Much Trouble in the World” as Marley described it at that time, the decade of the 1970s must have been, and is generally agreed to be, the most turbulent and divisive time in Jamaica’s independent history. I was not a part of the ferment or foment of that era. As a student of politics and as a child exposed to politics, as I was, I understand and appreciate both sides of the debate and struggles of the time. As a result of the struggles of the 1970s it is clear that we have developed a more progressive social structure, we have secured more rights and respect for our people, we have become more assertive and expressive of who we are. Clearly this is positive for national pride, self-worth and esteem. All this is necessary in building a nation. However, we have also carried with us from the 1970s a polarized politics, a mean spirited politics, an uncooperative politics and a violent politics. The basis of the struggles of the 1970s was true freedom, however the politics then, created garrisons that have enslaved our own black people, created lines of demarcation dividing our people, created a free space in which crime can flourish and where the sovereignty and authority of the Jamaican State is challenged by gangs of criminals.
The struggles of the 1970s should have created a more equitable society. However, in those very struggles we lost the fundamental respect for law, order and public virtue, the basis on which more equitable societies are built. Without this healthy and universal respect for law, order and high public virtue, our institutions can be corrupted, and worse, corruption becomes acceptable. Where there is corruption there is inefficiency, there is injustice, inequity and inequality.
The struggles of the 1970s should have given more power and rights to the people, but power and rights cannot be divorced from responsibility. Rights alone do not define sovereignty. Sovereignty requires responsibility. Responsibility embraces truth. Unfortunately a kind of social, economic and political irresponsibility has followed us throughout the decades. From men not taking responsibility for their children, to communities not taking responsibility for public spaces, to a lack of accountability in government.
The ferment of the 1970s aimed not only to give social and political voice to the poor but was also to have given economic empowerment to the poor. The inability of successive governments since the 1970’s to have a sincere, genuine and respectful discussion with the poor about a practical approach to economic development has led to a delaying of the inevitable confrontation of our national debt. We cannot continue to borrow more than we produce in value. This is the surest way to continue poverty. The lack of fiscal discipline is the greatest injustice visited on the working class masses of Jamaica. Historically, what we have given in overspending through borrowing on one hand, we have taken away with high inflation, interest, and exchange rates, with the other. The poor who we claim to love so much have not been better off for this. The notion that fiscal discipline and a human development agenda are mutually exclusive is a false dichotomy rooted in the rhetoric of the past which must be left there.
I entered representational politics approximately 35 years after Independence. My outlook and perspectives were not shaped by events of the 1970s which have cast a long shadow over our politics.
Rather I have been influenced and motivated by the frustration of the mass of well thinking Jamaicans who have been turned off by the politics of our country and who continue to be disillusioned but are still looking for a reason to believe. Like many Jamaicans I was frustrated with the political process that emerged out of the 1970’s. Some chose the path of pursuing change from without; I chose to pursue change from within.
This path has not been easy. It has required the ability to grapple with the issues and wrestle with the politics, as it is, without being compromised. Being in the system I have seen where genuine efforts have been made, under successive administrations, sometimes with the support of civil society and sometimes totally led by civil society, to transform Jamaica. Understanding the complexities, I am now in a position to continue the management of the change that Jamaicans want to see. And I want to give credit to those who have worked from within and without for change. As a result, we have made progress in many areas of national life and we must continue with them.
We have come a far way with our electoral system; it is not perfect but it is much better than what we had 30 years ago. This is a great example of politicians and members of civil society working together to build national institutions. I am committed to continuing the progress in this area. Legislation regarding party registration and financing, campaign financing and other electoral reform matters will have the support of the Government in Parliament.
We are making progress in fighting corruption. There are several pieces of legislation designed to bring greater transparency and oversight to public administration, including the new Anti Corruption Bill and Amendments to the Procurement Regulations which will have the support of the Government in Parliament.
We are making progress in modernizing the police force. Jamaica has benefited from the national security cooperation we have pursued with our bilateral partners. This cooperation must be continued and intensified. In parallel we are making progress in crime fighting. We cannot relax on crime at this point and we will bring to Parliament, very soon, Anti-gang Legislation to address the threat of organized crime.
We are making progress in transforming and modernizing our education system. All the gains we have made towards attaining universal literacy and numeracy must be consolidated and intensified. The new institutions we have built and the new programmes we have implemented must be given time to work. We will be taking to Parliament shortly Bills to enshrine the Jamaica Teaching Council into law and we are now working on laws for safety and security in schools, school improvement facilitation, and greater parental participation in education.
We have made some progress in the reform of the Justice System, both in terms of infrastructure and administration. We have passed the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. The work we are doing must be continued and accelerated.
We have developed a framework to reform the public sector. This is designed to improve the efficacy and efficiency of government. The recommendations from the taskforce must be implemented with as much consensus as possible, but as quickly as possible.
We have made progress generally in the economy. The Jamaica Debt Exchange shows how much we can accomplish if we are willing to cooperate and make sacrifices. Today we have the benefit of a stable dollar, the lowest levels of interest rates in decades, and low inflation. We have divested loss making entities that have been a burden on the National Budget and we have started work on reforming the tax system. Agriculture and tourism have shown growth despite the global environment. And we are now seeing signs of a resurgence of the productive sectors generally.
Additionally, we have developed a mechanism to facilitate sectoral discourse on national issues, through the Partnership for Transformation. Progress has been made in this area. No national debate of issues is truly complete without the input of the Opposition. I extend my hand to the Opposition to join us at the table once more. I believe that in areas where we have no disagreement we should be prepared to join hands for the national good. In areas of difference or disagreement there is no harm in continued dialogue for the national good.
As we stand on the eve of the next 50 years of our independence and we commit to building on the achievements of the last 50 years, we must also commit to correct the errors of the past that follow us, and develop the courage and energy to chart new pathways to success. Today I take responsibility for the direction of this country. Today my generation must take responsibility for charting new pathways to fulfilling our destiny. Today, let us start a new ethos of responsibility in all Jamaicans for Jamaica.
Let us start with fathers taking responsibility for their children, and parents deciding only to have children they can afford to maintain and educate. Let us be responsible for the education of our children, there is no reason why in modern Jamaica a child should leave school illiterate; each parent and teacher must work together to take responsibility for the literacy of our children. Let us take responsibility for how we dispose of our waste and the impact it is having on our natural and built environment. We must take pride in where we live and take responsibility for public space though we may not own it individually. Music is a powerful tool in influencing the youth; our artistes must take responsibility for their lyrics lest we lead our youth astray. One of the most difficult questions I was faced with as Minister of Education and Leader of Government Business is “how can I ask teachers and students to maintain a certain decorum in school when our Parliamentarians do not maintain that decorum in Parliament?” Parliamentarians must lead in this national call for responsibility; it is our moral duty. The pathway to responsibility is not one that can be legislated or enforced. It is about a conscious decision to act rightly. That is the essence of public virtue. The ancients saw politics as the highest calling of man. It is what men do in the interest of the public good without thought for their personal benefit or threat of sanction; it is what we do because it is right, not because it is expedient. In this regard our leaders must lead.
Jamaica is yearning for a new politics to emerge. How can we be fully free when some of us are not even free to express our conscience? How can we be fully free when some of us are not even free to make our own choices on a ballot? How can we be fully free when some of us are not free to walk around the block for fear of “crossing the line”? Zones of political exclusion are incompatible with freedom and aspects of our politics are an affront to liberty. It is time to end garrison politics.
This will not happen overnight, and it should not happen by force. There must be consensus on the way in which this is done. Both political parties have it within them to mutually agree to end the social construct of the garrison. Outside of a national consensus the parliament can pass and enforce specific laws to ensure and protect the free movement and campaign of political representatives in opposing garrison communities. The parliament can also provide sanctions for breaches of the Political Code of Conduct, to which both Parties have already signed. It is important that people living in these areas get to see other political representatives without the objection of enforcers. Let us start the process by getting the leaders to walk together in these areas of exclusion. I am willing to walk with the Leader of the Opposition in Tower Hill, and I may just turn up in Whitfield Town. I will be writing to the Leader of the Opposition to invite her to discuss this important measure of coordinating access to closed communities for representatives of differing political persuasions. Hopefully this small step will lead to other steps that will eventually remove garrisons from our political landscape.
It is not only that the rest of Jamaica is locked out of these communities; I am concerned that the residents of these closed communities are locked off from the rest of Jamaica. They don’t necessarily get the same level of service from the state as other citizens and many persons in need in these communities are left to survive by their own devices. Neither do they necessarily share the national outlook on important issues such as crime. We must seek to integrate all our citizens into the Jamaican society; they must share a common vision. We must guarantee them equal treatment and respect from the state and they too will be emboldened to support our national stance against crime, corruption, and injustice. Criminals must never be seen by the community as protectors. Once there is this integrated and shared national vision, garrisons will no longer be havens for criminals.
There are other casualties to the politics of exclusion. Independent minded persons who form an increasingly large percentage of our population exclude themselves from a process they consider tribal and un-thoughtful as a result some of our best talent avoid public service out of fear of being tainted by association.
We must change that. It will not happen overnight but we must commit ourselves to the emergence of a new political culture that will endear our best talent. A culture:
Today, I make an appeal to all well thinking Jamaicans both here and in our beloved Diaspora who would want to see this new culture emerge to join the process. If talented people make themselves available I will make space for you in this government. Jamaica needs her talented sons and daughters in the service of the public good now more than ever. Your contribution does not have to be in the political domain; civil society, service clubs, chambers of commerce, school boards, citizens associations, community watch groups, community development councils, charities, sports clubs, youth and church groups are all important to building a strong fabric of participatory governance.(Page 1 of 2)Next