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A STABLE FOUNDATION FOR GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
What we are trying to do is to set “A stable foundation for growth and development”.
We are half way through a four-year medium-term Extended Fund Facility with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This arrangement was necessary due to the state in which we found the economy when we took office.
With great discipline on the part of the Administration and the sacrifice and pain of the people of this country we have passed every test. We are now beginning to see a clearer path on which we can build on this stable foundation for growth and development which has been created.
So, Mr. Speaker, the Sectoral Presentations took place in light of the Minister of Finance reporting that:
Our inflation rate is at the lowest it has been since 1968 – that is before some of us were born.
Interest rates are trending down and Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) have rebounded to US$490 million – up from US$218 million in 2011.
Based on this economic performance investor confidence is at its highest since we started such surveys.
So, Mr. Speaker, this is why the theme of our sectoral presentations was a stable foundation for growth and development. But before we can realize this growth we must first take some other essential steps. We must have an educated populace. Our people must have adequate health care. We must ensure that our energy supply is stable and affordable and we must take care of the most vulnerable in our society.
We intend to put these things in place Mr. Speaker.
In light of the importance of education in achieving this outcome the Minister of Education in his presentation stated that an educated work force is a prerequisite for growth and development, hence the importance of a relevant education agenda and strategy.
We have seen improved results in Grade 4 and GSAT tests.
Last year we reduced the number of schools on the shift system by 12 and this year another 22 will be removed.
We are also focusing on those areas that will lead to more and better-paying jobs for our people. We have to train our people to perform in traditional sectors, the emerging sectors and for the global labour market.
We have just learnt of the introduction of the new programme which will see the transformation of selected high schools into the Science, Technology, Engineer and Mathematics (STEM) academies.
HEART/NTA is also being repositioned to focus on the creation of a comprehensive national training agency to drive workforce development.
As the Minister so eloquently puts it – having an educated and trained workforce is more valuable than bauxite in the ground and crops in the field. A good education is an essential tool for national development and personal achievement.
Another prerequisite for a stable foundation is a healthy populace. We readily acknowledge that we have been facing serious challenges in our health sector. That is why the Minister of Health announced yesterday that the Ministry has been allocated J$48 billion for this Financial Year up from last year’s J$40 billion – an increase of 18%. It is the largest increase in the non-debt expenditure in any area of this Budget.
We have doubled the pharmaceutical budget to J$8 billion; the equipment budget has been increased from J$80 million to over J$500 million and the Ministry is acquiring 19 new ambulances. It has also signed a contract for US$14 million to acquire two state-of-the-art linear accelerator machines to move the cost of radiology treatment for cancer to J$0 for the most vulnerable. The Ministry has now begun designing a Ten-Year Development Plan for the sector.
We must unite around the issue of national security. It has a profound and far-reaching social and economic impact. In his presentation the Minister made the point that murder and all serious crimes are down from its peak of 1692 in 2009 to just over 1005 last year – a decrease of over 40%. There is no disputing that this is still too high but we are trending in the right direction.
We continue to fight crime with all the tools that we can get our hands on. We continue to pass groundbreaking legislation aimed at assisting investigations and punishing serious offenders while at the same time removing oppressive consequences for minor offences.
The DNA bill tabled during the Minister’s presentation is an important advance in the fight against crime.
MOCA is making serious inroads in combating corruption and improving police accountability.
Mr. Speaker, we have adopted a partnership approach which focuses on building a foundation of trust between police and the citizens.
Mr. Speaker, we are going to continue to fight the scourge of crime as it is an important component for building a stable foundation.
PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE
But Mr. Speaker,
While the foregoing information served to underscore that the initiatives being adopted are designed to ensure that we have an educated work force; a functioning health sector and that energy costs are under control.
While focusing on their effective implementation we have not lost sight of the unwavering commitment of this Government to protect the most vulnerable in our society. This is why, as Minister of Social Security reported, we have increased spending on the PATH programme – a cumulative improvement of over 30% in the value of payments;.
There are other initiatives by the Ministry which include the provision of transportation for children who are on the PATH programme who are not attending school because they cannot afford the cost of transportation.
The Ministry has also developed a graduation strategy that provides a training grant and finances to train and equip young people to move from welfare to work.
Mr. Speaker, we intend to continue protecting the poor and vulnerable while building a stable foundation for growth and development. We are optimistic that we are going to have growth and this was embodied in the presentations in the sectoral debate.
The cost of energy affects all of us. The Minister stated for the record that to date, the price of electricity is 30% less than it was when we took office as a result of the decrease in oil prices. However, in an abundance of caution our government has taken steps to hedge against future sharp increases in the cost of oil to ensure stability by establishing a stabilization fund.
We plan also to increase the proportion of renewable energy mix; diversify the fossil fuel sources for the bulk of our electricity needs; and increase the efficiency of generating units through the replacement of old and inefficient units.
Mr. Speaker the Government has established the joint public/private Energy Sector Team (ESET) and has
accepted their recommendations which address the second and third strategies of diversifying our fuel mix and ensuring more efficient power generation.
As this plan unfolds, it will involve an investment of over US$1.5 billion in a three-year time-frame. On completion, Jamaica will be provided with adequate, stable and cheaper electricity.
We continue to push in the important sector of bauxite and alumina. Tomorrow (Thursday) the Minister will tour the new mining operations at RUSAL, which are now in progress. When this opens fully it will create new jobs in the area.
Another area with exciting growth potential is the BPO. This exciting service industry has been making a significant contribution to the IT sector. It continues to fuel investment and job creation. The sector is expected to add at least another 6400 jobs in the 2015/2016 financial year. The Government is developing the framework to harness the full potential of this cutting edge industry.
Our strategic objective is to move Jamaica up in the value chain in the BPO industry from simple call centres to knowledge processing centre. The focus is on outsourcing more professional services such as legal and accounting support as well as software development.
A number of the sectoral presentations by my colleague Ministers signal a very exciting period in the coming 24 months in terms of growth projections.
With regard to infrastructure, the Minister of Transport and Housing reported that:
Other important road works are moving ahead under the Major Infrastructure Development Programme. $1.5 Billion dollars has been earmarked to finance the rehabilitation of approximately 60 kilometres of roadways, and $127 million for repairs and reconstruction of six bridges.
Among some of the notable achievements was the successful implementation of the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).
Of note, the Minister also announced that bids are in for the divestment of the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) and are being considered.
With the opening of the highway this airport will become a more attractive gateway for passengers traveling to destinations such as Ocho Rios as the time to travel from Kingston to that area will be almost the same as traveling by way of the Sangster International Airport.
Another major achievement was the signing of the Agreement with TerminalLink/CMA CGM Consortium for the privatization of the Kingston Container Terminal. The arrangement is a long-term concession, which will include the expansion, financing, operation, maintenance, and transformation of the terminal.
This project will do a lot to enhance Jamaica’s efficiency and competitiveness as a country.
Interestingly, the Minister also spoke of the 1400 new rooms to come on stream to be developed by China Harbour. This will have a positive impact on our tourism product.
The tourism sector, with our exemplary partnership with stakeholders, continues to hold its own as the country’s chief source of foreign exchange earnings. For the 2014 calendar year, earnings were in excess of US$2.2 billion – a 5.8% increase over the previous year. In the healthy investment climate created by this Government we attracted investment of J$54 billion with the building, renovation and upgrading of several resort properties.
We achieved another major milestone when we welcomed over 2 million stopover visitors and our cruise passenger arrivals were the best ever. We saw an increase of 12%, with over 1.4 million arrivals.
In total, Jamaica welcomed over 3.5 million visitors to the island in 2014.
Construction on the books to begin now will add 1500 to our room stock and several other new hotel projects at the planning and design stages will add another 1600 rooms. With the addition to the 1400 over the next three to five years projections are that we will have in excess of 4000 new rooms all told.
The Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) has undertaken significant rehabilitation and upgrading across the country. These developments represent expenditure by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) of over J$1.5 Billion. Further significant upgrading work will continue throughout the current year which will be an infusion into the economy and will help develop our tourism industry.
The Agro Park programme continues. There are now nine Agro Parks with an output of 1.7 million kilograms of produce and employing 1428 people.
We will continue to expand this programme. Also, for the first six months of this year we have had a 2.6% increase in domestic agricultural production. We understand that driving agriculture is important. We will continue to do so as it is not only an important area for growth in the economy and also because of its potential for foreign exchange earnings.
DECRIMINALISATION & POTENTIAL ECONOMIC BENEFIT
The landmark legislation that made amendments to the Drug Enforcement Act which decriminalized the use of small amounts of ganja understandably attracted great public interest both here and overseas.
It makes legal practices which have been long held by our people both in its use as a sacrament and for its medicinal benefits. In addition to this validation of traditional belief and practice various Ministers examined its implications in reference to their own portfolio responsibilities. Ministers Paulwell and Hylton looked at it from the perspective of benefits to business and my own interest is in its potential for health tourism.
The Cannabis Licensing Authority has been established to monitor its cultivation and distribution for medical, scientific and therapeutic purposes.
I want to stress again that the smoking of ganja by children and youths under 18 years old is strictly forbidden. It is illegal. The National Council on Drug Abuse will receive increased funding to ensure early intervention in treating any young person caught smoking weed or who show symptoms of addiction.
A public education programme is being developed to explain the amendments to the law.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, we have made significant steps towards stabilization by putting in place various economic initiatives. Based on these projects that are now on the books across all sectors we are already seeing progress.
At this time, Mr. Speaker, l must pay tribute to you; my fellow parliamentarians for their vigorous participation; and to the staff of Parliament for their customary efficiency and hard work that has facilitated these sectoral presentations. Thanks to the media for their extensive coverage that kept the people informed.
I close this chapter in our parliamentary history with a sense of real optimism which is shared by our local investors as the survey indicates that we have built a stable foundation for growth and development. All that is left for us is to seize the moment. Take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.
My final words are to the parents and caregivers of our nation’s children. We can and must do better to protect them. We have long passed the days of slavery when having children was a benefit to our slave masters who regarded us as goods and chattel. I appeal to everyone, especially to our men to own, to love and care for their children. On this we can and surely must all unite as a people.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.