On Saturday night last, we concluded three days of intense deliberations at the special meeting of the Cabinet.
Mindful of our responsibility as a Cabinet facing one of the most challenging periods in our history, we focused on major areas of critical importance to our nation.
· The IMF negotiations
· Advancing the growth and development agenda
· Public/Private Partnerships
· Job creation and social protection
In the course of discussing these issues we were very conscious of our commitment to strengthening the social contract with all Jamaicans. This social contract is about building trust, being equitable in our decisions and facilitating the growth of national confidence.
The purpose of this morning’s press briefing is to provide a synopsis of the special meeting of the Cabinet.
In the weeks ahead, we will be providing regular updates to the nation on the progress of the programme to reposition the economy and the society as a whole. This morning, the Minister of Finance will provide further details on the status of the IMF negotiations. However, at the outset, let me use this opportunity to make three points:
Firstly, the negotiations with the IMF have been protracted for three specific reasons:
· The recent country record which saw an Administration failing to honour their commitments to the IMF so the Fund now wants to be absolutely certain of the viability of our commitments and our willingness and capacity to see them through
· There have been changing ‘dynamics’ following exhaustive reviews of the best configuration of the fiscal consolidation process to achieve the specific targets, and
· Both sides have taken the time to agree on all the elements of the fiscal consolidation. The Cabinet signed off on these elements over the weekend.
Secondly, the Minister and our negotiating team have the full support of the Cabinet.
Thirdly, whilst we accept that an agreement with the IMF is necessary, at this point in time to support our macro-economic programme, this is not an end in, and of itself.
Every Jamaican recognizes that, there is a need for us to develop a complementary programme geared at:
· encouraging investment
· stimulating employment and, in general
· creating a more equitable society for the majority of the population.
The Cabinet is united in its commitment to take bold actions and do whatever is necessary and prudent to arrive at an agreement that is in the best interest of Jamaica, given our particular circumstances. We had the opportunity to receive updates on every aspect of the broad package of measures and programmes to restructure the economy and create jobs.
In three areas alone, investment commitments are at the level of US $650 million. In the last quarter, approximately 12,000 permanent jobs were created. We received status reports on several of the projects designed to breathe new life into the economy.
I am happy to report that:
· Steady progress is being made towards the creation of Agro Parks which will protect and boost urban and rural food production;
· Work is proceeding satisfactorily on the Mt. Rosser Leg of the North Coast Highway and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. At the same time, once the requirements of the environmental agencies are satisfied, work will begin on Section 1 (Ferry to Linstead) and Section 3 (Moneague to Ocho Rios);
· As I outlined in the national broadcast two weeks ago, a package of tourism projects is coming on stream which will greatly expand room capacity, provide hundreds of jobs, deepen inter-sectoral linkages and increase foreign exchange earnings;
· Government’s commitment to the establishment of the world’s fourth
Logistics Hub in Jamaica, has attracted substantial international interest with good investment prospects;
· There is a US$30 Million dollar private/public sector development initiative – The Downtown Kingston Lifestyle Centre – that will accelerate the re-development of Downtown Kingston. Serious commitments have been given by the local private sector to this exciting venture;
· Later this month, we will be indicating to the nation the final position on the JPSCO’s expansion project for 360 megawatts of load capacity.
· We encourage the local private sector to participate and respond to the Request For Proposals for the 115 Megawatts of renewable energy that is being added to the grid. This is an opportunity available to both local and overseas investors. While we have had interest from overseas, we are also seeking local partners in this process.
Ladies and gentlemen of the media: At the heart of the Cabinet’s discussions was the concern to ensure a proper relationship between laying the foundation for sustainable growth on the one hand, and making fiscal adjustments on the other. We were of one accord in facing the sobering reality, that, as was accomplished in the last budget, we would have to curtail expenditure and increase revenue while still providing the critical services required by our people. In addition to the difficult ‘consolidation’ efforts, we are:
· Making sure that we achieve the specific economic targets and aggressively pursuing major development projects;
· Seeing to the protection of the vulnerable; and · We are also making a renewed effort not only to make the Public Service more efficient and effective but also to make it far more customer-friendly.
The Budget for the Fiscal Year 2013/2014 will present for the country what the Cabinet believes will be, within the context of our financial constraints, the best combination of:
(i) A coherent and credible macro-economic framework;
(ii) A programme of increased public and private sector investment in a range of economic sectors; and
(iii) An enhanced and coordinated programme to address the needs of the most vulnerable among us.
Our country is recognized by the world as one with people of extraordinary talents, who that can achieve what some would consider unachievable. The first quality that we need is confidence. The economy of a country is not just about goods, services, facts and figures. At the heart of the matter are the people and the intangibles, such as our confidence and the ability to stand united in the face of common threats, such as the economic difficulties that face us today.
The Cabinet I lead is very clear that when our team members are around the negotiating table, they are negotiating for all of us, Jamaicans, as one people. We are right there with them along with all our hopes and dreams for self development and country, for present generations and for those to come. It is in our interest, therefore, to stand together as a nation and give support to every genuine attempt to put Jamaica firmly on the path of sustainable growth and development.
Of course, we will have disagreements and arguments, but such engagement is positive, because healthy debate will ensure that we arrive at the best solutions. However, what we must avoid, is talking down our country and our abilities, and spreading rumours that cause undue anxiety and possibly weaken our negotiating position as a country. While there are heartening signs on the path of the growth and development agenda, we cannot make light of the sacrifices we will all have to make. In that regard, Cabinet is very much aware of the special role which the workers (in both the public and private sectors) will need to play at this critical point in our history. Let me assure them that my Administration will not overlook your contribution and your leadership will be consulted at each step of the way.
We must keep focused on the gains that we will make along the way, the development goals that we will reach. There is no virtue in making any kind of sacrifice unless it is going to take us further than where we are at this time and it will bring about substantial improvements in quality of life.
We all came away from the special meeting of the Cabinet with an even stronger resolve to pursue the imperative of economic growth, the means for a prosperous future. Getting there requires that we enable and protect the most vulnerable, so that they are fully included in the growth process.
On this there can be no compromise. For all of us, efficiency, responsibility, hard work and discipline, self-reliance and creativity will have to be at the highest level we can achieve.
I am heartened by the prospects for Jamaica’s future. We must do it together. I thank you.