JAMAICA’s ninth prime minister, Andrew Michael Holness, yesterday offered new hope to many Jamaicans as he pledged to lead the country on a path to prosperity through partnership with various stakeholders, including the private sector and the Opposition.
Holness, delivering his inaugural speech at his swearing-in ceremony at King’s House in St Andrew, said now more than ever the Government must lead, activate, empower and build real partnerships in order to achieve the vision of shared prosperity through inclusive economic growth and meaningful job creation.
“My dream is to fulfil your dream,” he told his audience, including the wider Jamaica watching on television. “We must create a Jamaica where there is hope and opportunity. Where we can encourage our children to dream big and be optimistic about their life chances.”
The solutions to Jamaica’s problems, he said, do not rest with government alone.
“The sum total of our potential exceeds our problems; our collective capabilities are greater than our challenges, but it is only through partnership that these capabilities and this potential can be seized, harnessed and realised for the good of Jamaica,” said Holness whose Jamaica Labour Party won the February 25 General Election with a wafer-thin one-seat majority in the 63-member Parliament.
The 43-year-old Holness, who was given his own mandate for the first time, having first taken the reins of power in 2011 when Bruce Golding stepped aside, said he was under no illusion as to the meaning of the mandate.
“We have not won a prize. Instead, the people are giving us a test. There is no absolute agency of power. This means that the winner cannot take all, or believe we can do it alone,” he told the large audience which included four former prime ministers — Edward Seaga, Golding, PJ Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller.
In what is viewed by many as one of his shortest speeches, Holness told the rapt audience that he is fully conscious of the magnitude of expectations and responsibility he has assumed, but is equally energised and optimistic about a prosperous future for Jamaica.
Recounting an incident on election day when he saw a young man carrying an obviously bed-ridden elderly man from a polling station where he had just cast his vote, Holness said the elderly man urged him to do the right thing.
“I stand here humbled by the awesome power of you, the people, and I commit to doing right by you,” he said.
Noting that the people of Jamaica did not vote in vain, Holness said they expect a Government that works for them and an Opposition that is constructive. This historic election, he said, delivered the smallest majority but also the clearest mandate – “fix Government!”
“With this mandate there is no majority for arrogance; there is no space for selfishness; there is no place for pettiness; there is no room for complacency and there is no margin for error,” he said.
Holness used the spotlight to acknowledge Simpson Miller, whom he referred to as the former prime minister instead of opposition leader as some had expected.
“Portia Simpson Miller has given long and dedicated service to the country and I believe the mandate is saying, we may not be on the same side of the road, but as much as possible we should hold hands in co-operation to overcome obstacles for the good of the country,” he said.
“I still believe it is a useful symbol of national unity for the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition to appear together in zones of political exclusions. I again extend the invitation,” he said, repeating an invitation he extended to Simpson Miller when he was first sworn in as prime minister in 2011.
Holness said he understands that the Jamaican people now want to see action in building trust and this is part of fixing Government. Everyone who will form the next Government, he said, must be seized of this expectation.
“From the politician making policy to the civil servant processing an application, we must act dutifully to fulfil our responsibilities. Trust requires the actualisation of our commitments,” he said.
Holness said he is energised by the expressions of willingness to work with the new Government in the interest of Jamaica. Noting that there is more hope than despair in the country, he said this creates a great opportunity to form partnerships for prosperity.
The new prime minister, who pointed to the fact that his wife Juliet will be joining him in Parliament, having won a seat in the election, said family is the ultimate partnership and his Government will focus resources on supporting families.
“By increasing the income tax threshold we will restore the economic power of households to participate in not only growing our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but more importantly growing the general well-being of the society,” he said to rousing applause.
To enable this partnership to work, Holness said the Government will ease the tax burden, but urged Jamaicans to spend and invest wisely, and use the additional money to acquire a house for their family, or improve on an existing one and buy Jamaican-made goods.
“This is how we will increase local effective demand in housing, manufacturing and agriculture,” he said, adding that this is how Jamaicans can play a part in creating jobs while satisfying their well-being.
Meanwhile, Holness said his Government will continue its policy of tuition-free education and no user fee access to health care, which will enable Jamaicans to save in an education bond for their children’s schooling and in a national health insurance scheme.
He also committed to enhancing the social safety net for vulnerable families, and provide support for parents in crisis. However, he urged parents to be responsible and send their children to school.
“Our men must take care of their children, and couples must be responsible in having the children they can afford,” he urged.
According to Holness, his Government is committed to creating an environment in which families can flourish and form communities of social mobility from which “every ghetto youth can be star”. However, every family member must do his or her part by being personally, socially and economically responsible,” he said.
Speaking to the issue of partnership for growth, Holness said a priority of his Government will be to grow the economy and create meaningful jobs to rapidly and sustainably reduce debt.
Going forward, Holness said Jamaica’s development must rest on its ability to create propositions of value and attract investments to convert the value into wealth.
In this model, he said it is the private sector, whether large enterprises or small businesses, who are the main investors.
In such an economic partnership with the private sector, Holness said Government’s role, among others, is to ensure the rule of law, create a safe, secure, and fair environment for business, make markets where none exist, ensure transparency and access to information, and create an efficient and supportive public sector bureaucracy.
“In exchange, we want the private sector to unleash investments in the local economy. We want to see the return of the pioneering drive to create new industries, the entrepreneurial willingness to take risk, and the innovative insight to do things better,” he said, adding, “I am heartened by the signals coming from the private sector.”
Holness said he is not naive about the debt challenges the country faces and the need to maintain fiscal discipline, hence his Government will continue with the principle of joint oversight of the economic programme and performance.
“We recognise the importance of, and value our relationship with our bilateral and multilateral friends. These relationships have been critical in securing stability. We believe in preserving stability, but we must now build upon this in a productive partnership with them to achieve inclusive growth and job creation,” he said.
There are many more areas of partnerships, he said, which must be formally pursued for national development, but those would be evident as the Government is installed over the coming days.
In all these partnerships for prosperity, there must be co-ordinated effort and, Holness said, his role will be to ensure that Government is co-ordinated and strategically directed, decisions are taken quickly, targets are set, the nation is informed and everyone under his appointment be held to account for their actions.
Holness also spoke to the need for institutional reform and for government to improve its business processes and become more efficient as a regulator and a service provider.
“There is need for us to have a say in the fundamental institutions that define Jamaica, the rights we secure for our citizens and how we want Jamaica to be. We will give form to that voice in a referendum to decide on the constitutional matters and social matters,” he said.
Independent Jamaica, he said, must remove the culture of dependency from its midst.
“We must teach our children that there is no wealth without work, and no success without sacrifice. We must remove the belief from the psyche of our children that the only way they can step up in life is not by how hard they work, but by who they know,” he said.
He noted that Jamaica has to be more active in promoting civic responsibility, volunteerism and ‘giving back’, particularly among the youth.
“And we have to integrate the incredible talents and assets of the Jamaican Diaspora in local development. Too often I hear complaints from the Diaspora that they experience difficulty in giving to Jamaica. Giving should be easy. As part of our Partnership for Prosperity which includes the Diaspora, we will make it easier for you to contribute to the development of your homeland,” he said.
Source: Jamaica Observer