KINGSTON: Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, has reiterated her government’s commitment to improving macro-economic stability and economic growth, identifying the areas as most important to social protection.
“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,” Simpson-Miller said in a national broadcast on Sunday.
“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,” said Simpson-Miller, admitting that her administration’s record for the past year “has not been perfect”.
As a result, the administration will be moving expediently with tax, public sector and pension reforms. Improving the country’s macro-economic stability is not just a requirement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement, but is also a means of improving the country’s underdevelopment, she said.
Miller announced several economic initiatives, including the development of the Gordon Cay Container Transhipment Hub and a container terminal and logistics centre at Fort Augusta.
Many Jamaicans will be able to find employment this year due to the construction of a US$610 million North-South link of Highway 2000 being undertaken by the China Harbour Engineering Company, said Simpson Miller, who also promised an injection of some US$200 million in capital expenditure in tourism. There will also be a thrust in Russian and Latin American markets.
In addition, the Development Bank of Jamaica has earmarked US$20 million for on-lending to investors of finance and to support the construction of information and communication technology facilities. This has the potential to create some 10,000 new jobs, said Simpson-Miller.
At the same time, according to the prime minister, the Jamaica Public Service Company is slated to spend over US$630 million in a power plant and renewable energy projects.
Simpson-Miller said several plans are also in the works in the agriculture sector.
“We will create eight agro-parks through public private/private partnerships,” she said. “This will occupy over 8,000 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 U.S. dollar food import bill.”
Addressing the nation’s sugar industry, Simpson-Miller said 385 houses have been constructed for sugar workers, primarily in Westmoreland, St. Thomas, Trelawny and Clarendon. She said government has also rehabilitated 66 kilometres of roads in sugar-dependent areas at a cost of $765 million and that 13 projects, valued at $213 million, were implemented to upgrade sport facilities in sugar-dependent areas, namely in St. Thomas, St. Catherine, Hanover, St. Elizabeth, Westmoreland, Clarendon and Trelawny.
The prime minister urged teachers to be resilient, noting that 600 schools are slated to benefit from “master teacher” classes, which will be broadcast to the schools.
In addition, she said that 500 basic schools will be merged with primary schools in September and that construction has already started on 50 basic schools in conjunction with the Food for the Poor. All of the approximately 230,000 student beneficiaries on the Program of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) will receive breakfast supplements starting this year, said Simpson-Miller.
The Prime Minister said she was impressed with the number of persons who benefited from the Jamaica Emergency Employment Program (JEEP).
“The JEEP program surpassed our original phase-one target of 5,000 persons, and employed over 17,000 persons by July of last year,” she said. “Some six 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 Program, aimed at creating more productive jobs for Jamaicans.”
The government took credit for a reduction in murders, shootings, robberies and sexual offences. There was an 18 per cent increase in the recovery of firearms and a 14 per cent increase in the recovery of ammunition, she said.
“We must build on the efforts of those who went before,” said Simpson-Miller. “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.”