Master of Ceremonies, Ministers of Government – Hon Phillip Paulwell, Senator Colin Campbell, and State Minister Victor Cummings, Consul General Dr. Bryan and Mrs. Bryan, Members of the Diplomatic and CARICOM Consular Corps, Assemblyman and Councilwoman of the State Legislature
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of Jamaica.
What a delight it is for me to share this wonderful occasion with you, my fellow Jamaicans and friends. Tonight is a night of celebration as we come together to observe the 44th anniversary of Jamaica’s nationhood, but not forgetting our 168th anniversary of emancipation.
I am honoured to be your special guest on this joyous occasion. I am fully aware that you who are living outside the Rock are no less committed to Jamaica, your homeland, than those of us who reside there.
We know that patriotism is not defined by residence in a country, but by commitment and devotion to country, which you certainly demonstrate.
Earlier this week, we laid to rest in magnificent style and as one newspaper headline said ‘a farewell befitting a queen’, someone who embodied the spirit of independent Jamaica; a spirit that was very much manifest even before August 6, 1962.
I refer to our cultural icon and mother of culture, Dr. the Hon Louise Bennett-Coverley, OM, ‘Miss Lou’, to all of us. I was proud that the family agreed and we were able to bring home the body of Ms. Lou and her dear Coverley to be buried at National Heroes Park. Outstanding Jamaicans who help change the psyche I feel should be buried on the rock.
Ms Lou embodied the virtues which make us great as a people: creativity, inventiveness, resourcefulness, resilience, generosity of spirit and humour.
Distinguished Jamaicans and friends of Jamaica, as we celebrate our independence, in a true sense of loyalty and patriotism, in the words of that famous American President, I say to you “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for Jamaica”.
Tonight I should remind all of us of our struggles; where we are coming from; where we are and where we want to go. In doing so, I want to quote from our first National Hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who in 1928 said:
“Out of slavery we have come with our tears and our sorrows. We are strangers in a strange land. We cannot sing. We cannot play our harps, for our hearts are sad.
“We are sad because of the tears of our mothers and the cry of our fathers. Have you not heard the plaintive wail? It is your father and my father, burning at the stake.
“Little boys and little girls, Do you know the hell your father has passed through to be here?
“90 years ago you could not be at a meeting like this, because your master or your mistress would not allow you. You would not be privileged to go down to work for pay. There was no pay for you.
“Your grand fathers and mothers, like mine, were slaves. Their bodies were like the cows and the mules; they were belongings to nobody; owned by people who used them as you use a mule and a cow today.”
This is a sad reminder of the sufferings and struggles of our ancestors so that we can sit here tonight as freed men and women; as proud Americans; as proud peoples from the Caribbean, and as proud Jamaicans.
They suffered the indignity and trauma of slavery; some never made it across the Middle Passage. They were packed tight like sardines in a can, in ships not worthy to be sailing so far.
And so tonight we should be grateful as we honour their memory and be grateful that they left us a strong history, culture and heritage that cannot be allowed to die. And I can assure you from Jamaica’s end that I will never allow the history, culture and heritage bequeathed by our ancestors to be killed by us or anyone.
We are a strong people; we come from a strong blood line of Nanny of the Maroons, Sam Sharpe, Gordon and Bogle, Garvey Manley and Bustamante.
And so as we celebrate, 44 years is a short time in the life of a nation. But we can feel proud here tonight of the accomplishments and achievements we have made as a people.
And we must be grateful to God that we have been blessed with 44 years of unbroken democratic rule, despite our challenges. Tonight I invite you to celebrate with me the contributions of all our leaders, whether they be from the JLP or PNP.
They have made their fair share of contribution to the development of our nation and the shaping of our Jamaican society.
We can celebrate our democracy. When we look back at our electoral system and the reforms which have taken place, we can be proud as a country of the progress in ensuring ‘one person one vote’ so we can have confidence in the political process. The system is by no means perfect, but it is internationally certifiable and has earned the respect of international observers. That is an achievement for us.
On the economic policy side of the equation, there is renewed confidence in country and foreign investors are coming in and investing in our country. We are expanding the bauxite/alumina operations: you will see toll roads and highways when you come to visit and investments are also taking place in hotel construction. We must now turn our attention to farm and rural community and housing scheme roads.
After 44 years, we can truly say that our motto, “out of many one people” is more than just a cliché. Jamaica is a model of racial harmony and cooperation. We treasure the richness and texture of Jamaica’s racial and cultural diversity.
And I look at the entertainment line up tonight –I know indeed that we are all God’s children.
Our musical heritage also reflects that texture and richness. Our indigenous music forms, whether mento, ska, blue beat, rock steady, reggae or dancehall have come from the bowels of the people, and all ethnic groups have contributed.
Among them, I mention a few. Byron Lee, a true musical legend took ska to this city of New York at the World’s Fair in the mid-1960s. I mention too Randy’s Record, another pioneer, and how pleased we were to announce on Independence Day that the Order of Distinction was awarded to Pat Chin from the Randy’s family and founder of VP Records. Pat is in the audience tonight. Cheers Pat and congratulations.
Another stalwart in the music business is here too, Junior Lincoln, who will also receive the Order of Distinction on National Heroes Day. Congratulations Junior.
So our music has given the world reggae and Bob Marley. The influences and impact of the music on our cultural field is one of our biggest achievements since independence. Anywhere in the world you go and mention Jamaica, the response is a simple one –Bob Marley.
There is no question we are a great people and wherever you go you and in whichever field –medicine, engineering, entertainment, health care, you will find a Jamaican doing well. We are excellent at anything we do. We are even good at being bad! Anything we put ourselves to. And now you have a female Prime Minister.
In sports, the fastest man and the fastest woman in the world today are Jamaicans— Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson. What an achievement for a country of our size!
If we look at you here in the diaspora, we can thing of Colin Channer, author and novelist; Ray Goulbourne, Executive Vice President of BET; Vincent HoSang, entrepreneur; Dennis Hawthorne and Lowell Hawthorne, businessmen; Gary Foster, Vice President RUSH Communications, just name a few.
What I ask of us to do is just to unite. That is the message I have been spreading back home and which I bring to you tonight. I have made it clear at home that I am Prime Minister for all Jamaica. For too long we have been divided and we must bring that to an end. The political tribalism must go! When we look at our passports, you do not see JLP, PNP or NDM. It says Jamaican!
And you are to watch us too as politicians. Anyone of us who spew divisiveness and division you are to shun them; it does not matter who they are and from whichever party. It is time we unite to build. And I know that if we unite, we will get it right.
And I know we can. Our ancestors were able to do it at a time when they had no telephone, no cell phones, no internet, no fax machines or email. They used the coconut brush and the abeng to send the message! Can you imagine if they had the opportunities that we now have? I don’t know what would have happened. Because if they had the opportunities we have a lot of them would have been doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and I am saying to you, let us protect our freedom and ensure justice for all our people.
I know you are all concerned about crime and violence back home and we are trying our best to tame this monster, once and for all. It is something both opposition and government are committed to, and you know what, I am calling on you to help.
We do not make guns in Jamaica. The guns on the streets in Jamaica are not made in Jamaica and we must unite to do something about it. We must unite against drug traffickers. We must protect Jamaica and the name of Jamaica.
But there is some good news. For the period January to July the Police recovered 407 illegal guns from the streets compared to 374 last year.
4681 rounds of ammunition were also recovered — a thousand more rounds than was recovered in the same period last year. And while crime is trending down, I do not want to say much about it as one murder in Jamaica is one too many. People keep asking what is the strategy, what is the plan. And everytime we announce details of a crime plan, I get a little bit nervous. I do not believe you should let the criminals know the plan you have to fight crime.
Let us forge a genuine national consensus on the issue of national security and crime. The security of the nation, the security of our people, is primary. We must unite against the criminals. We must unite against the drug traffickers.
Jamaicans in the Diaspora can be of tremendous help in this fight. From right here, you can help build the awareness to help stem the flow of guns and ammunition in our country.
Another critical area is education, the foundation of all successful and great nations. My distinguished predecessor, PJ Patterson started the education transformation process and put a considerable into that pogramme from the National Housing Trust, NHT.
We were not successful in getting consensus on the matter, which is unfortunate because if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. We cannot expect to compete in this globalised world without an educated people.
So there should not be any quarrel about the using some of the interest accumulated over the years in the NHT, to fund education, as long as we are not affecting the housing benefits which the Trust was set up to provide. Show me a progressive nation; show me a successful country and I will show you an educated people.
As Prime Minister, I have decided to treat early childhood education as a major point of focus this year and we are providing the largest ever allocation to early childhood education, over $1.7 billion. We are also engaged in a pilot nutrition programme for the little ones.
The Early Childhood Commission has been charged with some significant responsibilities to upgrade the system. I know that this will be good news to you, as so many of you in the Diaspora have contributed to basic school projects, our hospitals and community development in Jamaica.
My fellow Jamaicans, if we could just forge a unity of purpose, and strength of will to work together; to support one another; to always cherish a generosity of spirit, Jamaica could be even greater.
As we move into our 45th year, there are some areas that we need to work on to achieve this added greatness.
I am deeply committed, fellow Jamaicans, to building our country as a place of which every Jamaican can be proud. And I have a clear vision for Jamaica; a vision I invite you to partner with me in making a reailty.
I want to build a kind of Jamaica that you would be proud to come back to any day. A safe, secure and prosperous Jamaica; a Jamaica with vibrant, involved and engaged communities; a Jamaica where the grassroots influence policy; a Jamaica where our differences are cherished and celebrated rather than denounced and denigrated; a Jamaica where our children are loved and our old are protected; a Jamaica in which the poor and powerless are uplifted and empowered; where the specially abled are respected; a Jamaica where the human rights of every citizen is ensured and made sacrosanct, and a Jamaica where corruption is both scorned and punished.
This is the Jamaica I want to build and to which I want to enlist your support.
As we celebrate our 44th independence, let us cherish our achievements while working together to build an even greater Jamaica. As Jamaicans living abroad you have an equal and vital role in achieving this vision of which I speak.
I salute you for all you have done in the past and the contributions you continue to make as we forge a new partnership.
In closing, there is a joint and compelling project to which the Government of Jamaica would like to enlist your support.
This cause, simply put, is to ensure the name of our first national hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey is cleared by the United States Government. The movement has been ongoing for some time, by his family, the organisation he founded and led – the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), members of the US Congress, ably led by New York Congressman the Hon. Charles Rangel and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Government of Jamaica under my leadership intends to join this worthy cause and I ask you Fellow Jamaicans in the diaspora to become involved in that process by lobbying your elected officials for the name of Marcus Mosiah Garvey to be cleared. I know I can count on you.
Fellow Jamaicans and friends,
I know you would like to get on with the rest of this evening’s festivities, and so in closing, I extend my congratulations on continuing this fine tradition. I look forward to working closely with you to develop further the partnership between us as we move forward in building the social, economic and political structures necessary to realize our shared vision of peace and prosperity for our people and our country.
May God bless you with good heath and much prosperity, and may God continue to bless our beloved country, Jamaica.