The New Year is always a time for reflection and contemplation as we give thanks to God for sparing our lives to commence another year.
It is also a time for renewed hope when we make resolutions in our efforts to make our good better and our better best.
2004 was a year of mixed fortunes for Jamaica.
We continued the long and hard struggle against crime and violence. Many families including children are still grieving over the loss of loved ones. We mourn with them. Hurricane Ivan dealt a heavy blow to all of us. Many suffered severe destruction.
Yet, Jamaicans again showed to the world our remarkable qualities of resilience and courage.
Despite the painful moments, we had many good reasons to rejoice.
* The outstanding performance of our athletes in Athens;
* The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and public sector workers,
* The many investment projects that have started and
* The encouraging performance of the economy
These have all combined to make the year a good one for Jamaica. No one can deny that the feeling of optimism and hope in the country is unprecedented. It came about through years of patient planning, persistence and hard work.
We never lost sight of the vision of creating a country “of opportunity where every Jamaican is a shareholder in a modern, prosperous and truly enlightened Jamaica.”
We are well on the way to realising this vision.
Our Net International Reserves stand at an unprecedented $1.8b;
Inflation for the month of November shows a welcome drop after Hurricane Ivan. It was 2.4%.
The current account deficit is improving and rating agencies have upgraded their outlook on the country’s debt from negative to stable. Interest rates are now trending downwards.
These are the critical planks on which we are confident that we can build a strong economy.
These and other indicators are boosting investor confidence in the economy. The tourism, mining, transport and communications sectors continue to expand. Every Jamaican stands to benefit either directly or indirectly.
For the first time in our history, alumina production exceeded 4 million tones for the year.
In tourism, stop-over arrivals are projected to grow by 5.4%.
It is clear, that we have begun to reap from the work that we have done over the last decade in building a modern infrastructure for the country.
And what of the new year?
The tourism sector is expected to continue growing. Many Jamaicans will find jobs in this sector as over 1,000 hotel rooms will be added.
Alumina production is expected to grow by 7.6%.
The US$800M expansion of JAMALCO will open up more employment opportunities for Jamaicans. Breadnut Valley in Clarendon will open in mid-January to train and certify an initial 2,500 workers for this expansion.
During February, The Prime Ministers of Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and I will sign an agreement at CARICOM Headquarters to officially commence the Single Market and Economy (CSME).
This single market will provide a bigger market for Jamaican businesses. Our labour market will also benefit, as Jamaicans will have greater access to employment opportunities in these countries.
Another significant development involves the transformation of our education system.
For this, I will need the participation of all of you.
I am pleased that the Task Force on Education has completed its work and presented an excellent, comprehensive Report which contains a clear set of bold recommendations.
Within a few weeks, I will be appointing a special team to drive the transformation process. This will allow the Ministry of Education Youth and Culture to concentrate on discharging its roles and functions which include the upgrading of school plants and the rationalization of all our educational facilities.
I have every confidence that this reform will go a long way to advancing the economic prospects of our country and academic aspect of our children’s education and better equip our graduates to fulfill their potential on a personal level, and as productive, ethical and socially committed citizens who can function in the global economy.
We will not achieve our vision of a prosperous country without a quality education system. We cannot achieve a gentler and more tolerant society if our people are not educated to cope in a global village.
The Report of the Task Force made a number of recommendations to address the phenomenon of anti-social and violent behaviour among our young people which often leads to the aggression and violence that are reflected in the high murder rate and the high level of domestic violence.
My fellow Jamaicans:
As we move forward with our economic and social development programmes, I want to remind every citizen of the national appeal that I made some time ago for the inclusion of positive values and attitudes in our society. I said then that with the changes to our traditional lifestyles, there had been a deep erosion of social values.
I said then that this problem had negative repercussions on inter-personal relationships, productivity at the work place and increased anti-social behaviour.
For this year, let us increase our efforts to change how we relate to each other.
I want all of us to resolve to treat each other in a mild and gentle manner this year. Let us demonstrate this quality in how we speak to each other, even in how we disagree, in how we drive on our roads and in the service that we provide whether in the public or private sector.
Let us work with the Dispute Resolution Foundation, the Peace Management Initiative and the many community based and non-governmental organizations in order to build a great and better Jamaica.
Their good work is already bearing fruits in Communities such as August Town, Mountain View, Payne Avenue and Grants Pen. Crime is down in all of these communities. This year we must include more communities to widen the circle of participants.
In 2005 let all Jamaicans join hands and hearts to walk the road of prosperity and progress.
I wish for you everything that is good in 2005.
Happy New Year Jamaica.