My fellow Jamaicans:
A year ago my administration assumed office, propelled by the hopes and aspirations of a nation that wanted a new type of governance characterized by humility, honesty, inclusiveness, respect and trust.
We came to office at a difficult time on the platform of people power, and I have never allowed that to escape my mind.
Our record over the year has not been perfect, but it has been persistent. We have restored trust; brought back respect and decency to governance while making important progress in some key areas.
Our mission of uplifting the Jamaican people and working toward economic independence was challenged during the past year by the slippage of the Jamaican dollar.
The Net International Reserves also dipped, but not our reserve of courage, determination and resilience in the face of the international economic environment and domestic challenges. Yet, our confidence in the Jamaican people has never been stronger.
Our ancestors did not fight so gallantly; did not shed their blood for us to now capitulate to gloom and doom. No. We know, as Jimmy Cliff assured us, that we can get it if we really want. All we have to do is to try, try and try, and we will succeed at last.
Despite the challenges, last year we made concrete achievements.
We successfully reduced the rate of murders, shootings, robberies and sexual offences. There was an 18% increase in the recovery of firearms and a 14% increase in the recovery of ammunition.
In relation to unemployment, the JEEP programme surpassed our original phase-one target of 5,000 persons, and employed over 17,000 persons by July of last year.
Some 6 billion dollars have been allocated to Phase Two of JEEP which is expected to employ over 40,000 persons. We have also partnered with the private sector to launch the Jamaica Employ Programme, aimed at creating more productive jobs for Jamaicans.
I congratulate and thank those employers who have heeded the call to employ at least one additional staff member, as part of this initiative and those who have expanded their businesses and created additional employment.
In terms of road rehabilitation we spent over 1.1 billion dollars repairing roads all over the country.
We also spent over 1.1 billion dollars on special projects including river training, repairing bridges and cleaning gullies.
In response to Hurricane Sandy, over 180 houses were constructed and handed over before the end of the year; 5000 persons received cheques ranging from 30 to 60 thousand dollars, and 200 million dollars was provided to assist farmers.
We also provided twenty million dollars to help fisher-folk who had lost fish pots and other equipment as a result of the Storm.
In health, 8 health centres were refurbished and work started on 4 centres of excellence in each health authority region at a cost of 100 million dollars.
Our agreement with Cuba will see that country providing us with almost 500 additional health professionals. This includes doctors, nurses, medical technologists and nursing tutors.
In tourism, the January to November figures reveal that Jamaica earned nearly 1.8 billion US dollars, a three per cent increase over the previous year. Tourist arrivals registered a 2.3% increase with 1.7 million stop-over visitors.
My fellow Jamaicans, I have always been firm that while we attempt to balance the books, we must also balance people’s lives. The most vulnerable must not be left behind on the track of economic development.
We reduced National Housing Trust interest rates last year so that persons earning under 10-thousand dollars per week could move toward owning their own homes.
The NHT also has provided home grants of 1.2 million dollars each to low-income contributors as well as to people with disabilities.
In collaboration with Food for the Poor and JEEP, the NHT launched First Step Homes, another initiative to help the most vulnerable own their houses and provide stability for their families.
On the labour front, the nation experienced one of the most stable periods in its industrial relations history. This is a credit to the maturity and understanding of our worker representatives, the unions and employers. I wish to commend all who have been involved for putting the interest of Jamaica first.
In education, which is one of the foundations of economic development, eight thousand teachers from the early childhood to the secondary levels received professional development training last year.
In agriculture, we provided housing for our sugar workers:-
* In Masemure, Westmoreland, 22 houses were constructed
* In Bahram, Wesmoreland, 11 houses
* St Thomas. Stokes Hall, 145 houses
* Hampton Court in St Thomas, 80 houses
* In Spicy Hill, Trelawny, 39 houses and
* In Springfield, Clarendon, 88 houses
We have rehabilitated 66 kilometres of roads in sugar dependent areas at a cost 765 million dollars
13 projects valued at 213 million dollars were implemented to upgrade sports facilities in sugar dependent areas in St Thomas, St Catherine, Hanover, St Elizabeth, Westmoreland, Clarendon and Trelawny.
This government remained true to its commitment to having discussions with the people. Through the Social Development Commission, a series of parish fora was launched with sessions already held in in St Catherine, St James and Clarendon.
In foreign affairs, we have been strategic and conscientious in rebuilding Jamaica’s international image.
We have strengthened cooperation with emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa, while maintaining vibrant relationships with our partners in the developed world, including Russia.
Our ‘Open Door and Good Neighbour’ foreign policy framework will continue to guide us in 2013 and beyond.
My Government is fully cognizant of the fact that social protection has to be anchored on a foundation of macroeconomic stability and economic growth.
That is why we are moving apace with tax reform, public sector reform and pension reform. That is why we are making determined efforts to reduce our debt burden.
We are committed to pursuing sound macroeconomic policies, not as a condition imposed by the International Monetary Fund, but as the only way out of our economic underdevelopment.
We know that economic growth requires economic discipline, and we are prepared to exercise that discipline in the interest of our people.
My fellow Jamaicans, as we look to 2013, there are a number of exciting economic initiatives coming on stream.
There is the development of the Gordon Cay Container Trans-shipment Hub, as well as the development of the Fort Augusta Container Terminal and a logistics centre.
Cabinet has also approved the establishment of an enterprise team for the privatization of the Kingston Container Terminal.
There is also the North-South link of Highway 2000 which is under construction at a cost of 610 million US dollars. This project will be undertaken by China Harbour Engineering Company and will create a number of jobs as there will be major development projects along the corridor between St. Catherine and St Ann.
In tourism, there will be an injection of over 200 million US dollars in capital expenditure with projects including leisure hotels Riu Palace and Fiesta Phase Two as well as Shanghai and Marriott business hotels.
There will also be an increased thrust into the Russian and Latin American markets.
The Development Bank of Jamaica has put aside 20 million US Dollars for on-lending to investors to finance and support the construction of information and communications technology (ICT) facilities. This has the potential to create between 7 and 10 thousand new jobs.
The Factories Corporation of Jamaica will be building out 300,000 square feet of space for ICT and logistics-related activities over the next three years.
In energy, we will continue to pursue diversification and conservation strategies.
The Jamaica Public Service Company is slated to spend over 630 million US Dollars in power plant and renewable energy projects.
In education, master teacher classes will begin broadcasting to schools with 600 schools expected to benefit from this initiative over the next two years.
Five hundred basic schools will be merged with primary schools beginning in the 2013/2014 school term and we have begun building 50 basic schools in conjunction with Food for the Poor.
Starting this school year, all students on PATH will receive a breakfast supplement, with approximately 230,000 students being fed daily. Creative ways will be found to enable more of the children of the poor to attend tertiary institutions this year.
In agriculture, we will create eight agro parks through public private/private partnerships. This will occupy over 8000 acres of land and the project will be completed over the next three years.
The agro-parks will go a significant way to deepening linkages in the economy, increasing domestic food production and help to reduce our one billion US Dollar food import bill.
With the formulation of the Cultural and Creative Industries Commission, we will be examining new, real and practical ways of fostering the growth and development of those industries.
We must recommit ourselves to the highest levels of productivity and excellence. We must insist on the best from ourselves. Most of all, we must never give in to even the whisper of cynicism or hopelessness, but instead be agents of hope.
It was from the soil of hope that our ancestors nurtured dreams of freedom from bondage and the vision of emancipation and independence. We must continue to till that soil, never letting it be overwhelmed by the flood of despair.
I call especially on our parents to live up to their responsibility to their children.
Love them cherish them and nurture them. They are our future. We cannot build a successful, quality society without a strong family network.
We cannot build strong families by abusing our children or neglecting them. Let us all as a people develop a greater sense of personal responsibility toward one another.
I say to you, let us unite and build. In doing so
I commit to do everything to make our economy stronger
I commit to be bold in working to solve the various problems facing our society
I commit to protecting the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, the marginalized, and
I commit to dialogue, not monologue; to conversation, not confrontation; to inclusiveness, not inequality.
My fellow Jamaicans, this is a time for us to unite and build.
I am reminded of the people of God in the book of Nehemiah who had a desire to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but who were being discouraged by naysayers who said they couldn’t do it; and that they were too feeble. They refused to be seduced by the chants of the detractors, but continued instead to arise and build.
We must build on the efforts of those who went before. We must build on the institutions that exist so they can better work for us.
We must build our nation to be what we want it to be. We can, we must, and indeed, we will.
May God bless us all as we continue this journey together.