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State of the Natio Debate - Senator Dennis Meadows

Release Date: 
Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - 13:45

Protecting our Human Resource …Our Most Valuable Natural Asset

Introduction

Mr. President, members of this honourable Senate, I wish to use this opportunity to express my profound gratitude for the opportunity afforded me by the appointment to this Honorable Senate by the Prime Minister and Chief Servant, Hon. Orrett Bruce Golding.

Mr. President, I deemed it an honored and a privileged position as less than 300 persons since attaining universal adult suffrage, are appointed to sit in this Honorable Senate. Mr. President, we often take for granted the significance of our appointment and instead exude arrogance and snobbery by our utterances.

Mr. President, while my interest lies in representational politics, because I believe it is the most effective vehicle through which one can impact positively on the lives of the Jamaican people, however, since my appointment I have come to appreciate the upper house, the Senate. There are those who regard this august body as a mere review chamber, discounting its usefulness in the legislative process, this runs contrary to my view, that the Senate is the most important arm in the legislative process.

Mr. President, it is my hope that on the completion of this presentation in this State of the Nation Debate you will be assured that the “state of the nation” is in good hands, particularly as it relates to Tourism, Mining, Energy and Telecommunication, sectors I will briefly address today.

Mr. President, I am assured by the policy decisions taken to date since this Government took office some nine (9) months ago, of its competence, sincerity of governance and a genuine desire to improve the lives of the Jamaican people.

TOURISM

Mr. President, Tourism sector is critical to Jamaica’s economic viability, earning some provisionally estimated US$1.934 billion in 2007. I want to use this opportunity to commend the Minister of Tourism, Hon. Ed. Bartlett (Chief Salesman) on the energy, new vision he brings to the portfolio. He possesses an enviable knowledge of the industry and has hit the ground running, selling Jamaica to the world.

Mr. President, the global outlook for tourism continues to be one of steady growth. The World Tourism Organization (WTO) estimates that international tourist arrivals grew by about 5.6 percent during 2007 to reach 898 million. This follows on top of a 4.5% increase in 2006.

The challenge is that the Caribbean area as a whole is not participating in this growth, and could lose market share to other destinations.

In case of Jamaica, 2007 was equally challenging for the local industry.

    The impact of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) was strong, resulting in declines from the USA, Jamaica’s main market.
    The anticipated influx of visitors to the island as a result of Cricket World Cup 2007 did not materialize.
    Also as a result of CWC 2007, visitors form certain European countries had to purchase visas in order to enter Jamaica. That requirement had some negative impact on arrivals.
    Cancun and Cayman, which were devastated by hurricane Wilma in 2005 and from which Jamaica benefited as a result of v\diversion of some business throughout 2006, returned to the international market.
    In August hurricane Dean hit the island causing a significant decline in stopovers. Some cruise ships were diverted, resulting in declines in this category.

Mr. President, Jamaica’s performance has been in keeping with the regional trend, with a 1.2% growth against the regions averages of 1.5%. This indicates that the potential exists to expand the tourism industry and to make it a leading sector of the economy. This fact is all the more significant, given the resource constraints that the country now faces.

Mr. President, it is the tourism sector that holds the greatest potential for generating income, employment and economic growth in the short, medium and long term. As such the sector is destined to play a very critical role in the national development, going forward.

Tourism Performance 2007

    Stopover arrivals increased by 1.2% to reach 1,696,931• Cruise passengers arrivals of 1,179,504 showed a decline of 11.8 percent
    Gross foreign exchange earnings are provisionally estimated at US$1.934 billion, an increase of 3.4%
    The average hotel room occupancy rate was approximately 63.1% which represents a marginal increase of 3.4% over 2006 occupancy
    Total capacity in the accommodation sub-sector stands at 27,231 rooms, of which 20,106 are in hotels and another 7,125 in villas, guesthouses and apartments

The “New Tourism” Vision

Mr. President, against the background of a changing global environment that contains challenges as well as opportunities for Jamaica’s tourism industry, and given the resource constraints at the national level, the Ministry of Tourism is seeking to accelerate the expansion of the Tourism sector, thus stimulating economic growth, generating additional employment and contributing to poverty reduction.

Mr. President, the Ministry of Tourism has adopted the “New Tourism” as its long-term vision. This vision is based on the new and ever-changing environment facing Tourism today- an environment that contains tremendous opportunities as well as serious challenges.

Mr. President, the “New Tourism” vision has at its core the idea of a coherent partnership between the Public and Private sectors, working to ensure benefits for all Jamaica.

Mr. President, the Government, and the Ministry of Tourism has an overall vision of Tourism as a genuine “growth engine” for the Jamaican economy, providing through its extensive contribution to incomes, employment and linkages, the opportunity of sustainable livelihoods and a better quality of life for all Jamaicans.

Mr. President, the Private sector must embrace sustainable tourism, balancing economic gain with a healthy concern for people, culture and environment. The entire country needs to be part of this “new tourism” vision, building a genuine hospitality culture and fostering a commitment to high-quality service, excellence at every level.

Mr. President, in this context, the new mission of the Ministry of Tourism is to “transform Jamaica’s unique landscape, the talents of our people and our vibrant culture into tourism opportunities for a better Jamaica”.

Mr. President, the new thrust of the Ministry is to ensure that tourism performs as an engine of growth for the entire economy making optimal use of Jamaica’s land, people, heritage and culture and promoting strong linkages with other sectors across the economy, thus contributing to sustainable growth.

Mr. President, the Ministry seeks to strengthen the capabilities of the Ministry and its agencies to contribute more effectively to the effort to increase visitor arrivals and expenditures by ensuring enhanced visitor experience, increased marketing efforts in existing and new markets, increased investments in the tourism product and human resources. This will be achieved through the following strategies, which are to be executed in this fiscal year:

     Rationalizing and restructuring of tourism agencies and entities (including resuscitation of JAMVAC)
    Centralization of communications and Public Relations services
    Destination Marketing and promotion programmes
    Marketing of Cruise and Marine tourism and attractions
    Product development (including attractions development and the development of Devon House, Milk River Hotel and Spa and Bath Fountain Hotel and Spa).
    Craft Development – Artisan Village, Craft Institute (in collaboration with HEART/NTA)
    Coordinating the development of a Hospital School
    Developing a Pension Scheme for the Tourism industry
    Repositioning Tourism as an export sector
    Support for Small Properties
     “Spruce Up Jamaica” Programme Phase 2
    Improving safety and security in resort areas
    Supporting sustainable development of the natural and built environment of the tourism industry.
    Improving measurement of the performance and contribution of tourism through Tourism Satellite Accounts.

RESORT UPGRADING

Montego Bay Traffic Management

For a number of years the capital city of Tourism has suffered from major traffic congestion. This has served as a hazard to both visitors and residents. There are delays for workers going to work and there are delays for visitors heading to attractions.

Mr. President, this situation is not compatible with the new tourism that Jamaica is trying to develop. The contrast between the relatively smooth distribution of traffic on the highways and the crawl and bottleneck, which exists in the city, is now evident.

Mr. President, the Ministry of Tourism engaged in discussions with the National Works Agency (NWA) and provided $40 million through the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) to implement a new traffic system in downtown Montego Bay.

The Plan, Mr. President, calls for the introduction of one way roads, traffic lights and a traffic management system that will be automated and adjustable to various conditions. This system will be in place within three (3) months and will create an environment conducive to harmonious coexistence of vehicles and pedestrians.

Elegant Corridor

The “Elegant Corridor” has been so names, more out if aspiration than actuality. It defines the strip along the new lyu completed Rose Hall Highway and ti traverses an area which houses some of Jamaica’s finest properties among them being Ibero Star, Half Moon, Ritz Carlton and Sandals Royal.

Mr. President, the Ministry of Tourism aspires to make this corridor into an attraction making a ride through it an experience. In order to achieve this we must first make it safe then make it beautiful.

The Ministry has already allocated $50 million for the erection of eight (8) traffic lights along the corridor at critical intersection points. The next phase will focus on landscaping.

Mr. President, a beautification plan has been developed and shared with all stakeholders of the corridor through a series of consultations. It involves the planting of trees, establishing of sound barriers and berms where there are communities and the shrubs and flowering plants along the median. The maintenance will be done as a partnership, with various properties adopting sections of the highway and applying care based on pre-agreed standards.

Safety and Security

Mr. President, safety and security for our residents and visitors are essential. Initiatives aimed at improving the safety and security of our residents (Jamaicans) and visitors in 2007 included the reintroduction of the Resort Courtesy Corps in Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios and acquisition of mobile command and control vehicle in Montego Bay.

Special Projects/Programmes

Mr. President, the Ministry of Tourism and its agencies have embarked on a number of special projects aimed at significantly improving and enhancing the tourism product and ensuring that the tourism dollars work for Jamaicans. These includes the following:

    The Tourism for Prosperity Entrepreneurship Drive: Reactivated in April 2007, the programme indentified 25 prospective entrepreneurs with projects that enhance Jamaica’s tourism product.
    Corporate Adopt-an-Area Programme: Under this Programme corporate sponsors are expected to beautify and maintain the respective areas with the benefit of obtaining branding and promotional mileage while playing a significant role in sustaining the tourism product. Over 30 corporate entities signaled interest in participating in the programme.
    National Signage Programme: TPDCo, in collaboration with the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and the National Works Agency (NWA), has been spearheading the installation of directional signs in order to improve visitor convenience under this programme. Eighty-nine (89) out of a scheduled 99 signs were erected in Kingston, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio and the South Coast.
    Comprehensive Resort Upgrading Programme: TPDCo commenced the engagement of consultants to provide resort planning services for the upgrading and improvement of the resort towns.
    Beautification Programme: The Beautification Programme implemented by TPDCo in support of the Department of Local Government was launched in May 2006 in time for CWC in March/April 2007 and continued thereafter. A total of $97.3 million were approved by the TEF for the implementation of the Beautification Programme.
    Spruce Up Jamaica: the new Minister of Tourism, Hon. Ed Bartlett, initiated this multi-legged programme. Phase I, Spruce Up Jamaica, ‘Nice Up Yuhself!’ dealt with the beautification of tourism resort areas: this included painting sidewalks and signs, trimming of tree, the removal of debris and other objects that created eyesore. This programme covered all the resorts areas from Kingston in the east to Negril in the west. The second phase of the programme has begun in earnest, aimed at cultivating “Values and Attitudes” and Service Excellence.
    Craft Upgrading Programme: TPDCo has embarked on a programme which seeks to transform craft markets into places of interest and first class shopping experience for visitors and locals. TEF funding of $119.4 million has been approved for the upgrading of the following craft markets, which are in various stages of implementation:
        Musgrave $25.7 million
        Harbour Street $19.5
        millionOld Forte $11.9 million
        Ocho Rios Craft $21.2 million
        Coconut Grove $6.2 million
        Victoria $14.6 million
        Negril $20.3 million

Mr. President, Finally, Tourism dollars working for Jamaicans. The state of the Country’s tourism sector is finally in goods hands.

MINING, ENERGY & TELECOMMUNICATION

Bridging the Digital Divide

Mr. President, the Government is committed to bridging the digital divide, which limits access to communication technologies by certain segments of the society. Information should not be restricted to those who can either determine its dissemination or to persons of a particular socio-economic status.

Mr. President, the Government has been focusing on a number of initiatives that would allow persons better and easier access to technology. The Government has signed off on the acquisition of 2.5 gigahertz of spectrum for the wirelesses broadband (which will) provide access right across the length and breadth of Jamaica without having to have wires.

Mr. President, the recent commissioning of a distribution centre by Flow in St. Thomas as further bridged the digital divide, what they have done, is that they have a cable going to Florida and one to Colombia, which means that we are covered all over. Jamaica can no longer be considered a small little dot, we are big because we are fully on the information highway, which will be accessible at one's fingertips.

Telecommunications provides an avenue for a number of individuals, including the disabled, to form critical communications links with the rest of the world.

Mr. President, one of the things about connecting is that everybody, no matter your station in life, whatever your physical challenge is, by virtue of the technology, can now connect," he pointed out, noting that every effort would be made to include and empower the disabled members of the society in this manner.

Information & Communications Technology (ICT)

Mr. President, Information technology can drive production and fast track nations like Jamaica to first world development.

The introduction of new and updated technologies increases both physical and economic productivity. Computer technologies impact all aspects of our lives and are critical to the process of development and efficiency in all productive industries and sectors of all societies.

Mr. President, it must be noted that the National Development Plan's Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Taskforce highlights strategies that are imperative to furthering the development of the sector that will establish a globally competitive ICT industry in Jamaica.

This is the best time for an emerging economy such as ours because it is information; it is brainpower that is going to propel us to first world development.

Energy

Mr. President, as we review the state of the nation’s affairs we cannot escape the harsh realities of the global community, particularly, world oil prices. It is imperative that we reduce our dependence on oil.

Mr. President, it is estimated that last year we spent US$2.2 billion to import oil into the country. That is valuable hard currency that could be better used on health and education to create the quality of life we deserve. So, if we reduce our individual pattern of consumption, we helping to reduce the national pattern and the significant savings realized from the reduction can go to transform other sectors in the economy and give us the kind of growth that shows the prosperity of a country.

Mr. President, it is against this background the Government has established an Energy Conservation Unit in the Cabinet Office so as to coordinate an effort across all ministries and agencies to reduce energy consumption by 15 per cent this year.

The Government has instructed Permanent Secretaries to ensure that an Energy Coordinator is identified in every ministry, department and agency to be responsible for energy conservation and to ensure that we achieve the target.

Mr. President, other initiatives being undertaken to reduce energy consumption include a decision to apply a lower rate of duty on diesel-engine vehicles, and this differential will be expanded as more energy-efficient diesel-engine vehicles come onto the market.

Mr. President, the Minister of Finance will be undertaking a review of the tax regime as it applies to energy-consuming devices. The government intends to reduce the duties on energy-efficient devices and penalize those that are energy-inefficient. Duties on solar and photovoltaic devices have already been reduced.

The National Building Code, which will be promulgated this year, will include mandatory stipulations for energy efficiency. New hotels, for example, will be required to incorporate in their design a provision whereby lights and air-conditioning have to be activated by swipe-card room keys so that when you leave the room the lights and air-conditioning are automatically switched off.

In addition, Mr. President, the Minister of Transport and Works, Mike Henry is holding discussions with investors and stakeholders in the transport sector toward converting taxis to use LPG which can save up to 30 per cent in fuel costs. This has been done successfully in many countries.

Mr. President, the Ministry of Energy, Mining and Telecommunications has also developed as an addendum to the National Energy Policy - a National Energy Conservation and Efficiency Policy - which is now before Cabinet and will be tabled in Parliament shortly.

E-Learning

Mr. President, in an effort to enhance the standard of education in secondary schools, the Ministries of Energy, Mining and Telecommunications, and Education have jointly embarked on an e-Learning Project.

The project seeks to utilize current state-of-the-art technology in Jamaican high schools to improve the quality of education delivered to students, enhancing their learning experience in the process, thereby improving the level of passes in the CXC/CSEC external exams.

This initiative is being co-ordinated by e-Learning Jamaica Company Limited, commonly referred to as e-Ljam, an agency of the Energy, Mining and Telecommunications Ministry.
Mr. President, the project will provide information and communications technology (ICT) skills training for some 11,000 teachers and lecturers in 186 learning institutions, comprising 166 government high schools, six public special schools, eight teacher training colleges, five community colleges, and one independent high school.

The training regiment is being undertaken by the HEART Trust/NTA, which has partnered with e-Ljam. On completion of training, participants who have attained the required competences will receive HEART's National Council on Technical and Vocational Education and Training/National Vocational Qualification of Jamaica (NCTVET/NVQ-J) certification.

Mr. President, Teachers gaining certification will then be invited to attend technology integration residential workshops that will take them through areas such as blending and utilizing advanced teaching methodologies with their new competencies, the material, equipment, and web-based resources to transform the learning experience into an exciting one for the youngsters.

A pilot project involving some 31 institutions across the island is currently underway. The participating institutions include 26 high schools, one special school, two teacher's colleges, and one independent high school, which will focus on five subject areas for students in grades 10 and 11. These are: English Language, Mathematics, Information Technology, Biology, and Chemistry.

Mr. President, a total of 334 teachers drawn from these institutions, who successfully participated in the training programme over the past four weeks, received their certificates during a graduation ceremony at the Mico College University on April 4.

The e-learning project's resources for the 2008/09 fiscal year have been further strengthened through the allocation of $1.5 billion, set aside in this year's Estimates of Expenditure, to facilitate its activities. This allocation will be channeled through the Universal Access Fund.

Mr. President, in closing I wish to use this privileged opportunity to speak to some issues that concerns me and affects the Jamaican people we are sworn to serve.

Mr. President, I want to applaud this government for its bold move to invest in our human resource by the abolishment of tuition fees at secondary schools and user fees at public hospitals thereby giving further access to education and healthcare to the Jamaican people, our best natural resource.

I believe an educated and healthy population will accrue immeasurable benefit to the country. Mr. President, there are certain things a country cant afford not to afford; education and healthcare are two such things. What we as a country is now expensively paying for in terms of the high crime rate and violent crimes is a direct consequence of the ignorance that has pervade the country since independence. Someone said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Mr. President, if the government does nothing else during its tenure, they would have done Jamaica a great service by the implementation of these two far-reaching policies. I have no doubt Mr. President, that it will be sustained, providing this government retains power.

Monster of Crime

The Government and people of Jamaica are being challenged by a pandemic of crime, particularly murder, and the society demands of the Government tough measures to fight the monster of crime.

It is my humble view, Mr. President, that crime is a consequence not a cause. It may be a consequence of degenerated value system, it may be the consequence of a sense of injustice, it may be a consequence of a nah live fi nutten mind set, it just may be that people don’t see a vested interest in abiding by the law. Whatever the cause(s), it begs serious study and analysis by criminologists and sociologists. While we get tough on crime it must be the subject of serious analysis and study.

Mr. President, I think the time has come for a habitual offenders law to be enacted to protect the society from “career criminals” in addition to currently pursued by Government. Popularly called the Three Strikes Law in the United States, particularly California, which require the courts to hand down mandatory and extended period of imprisonment to persons who have been convicted of serious criminal offence on three or more occasions.

Mr. President, the stated rationale for these laws is that the automatic and lengthy imprisonment of individuals who commit three or more felonies is justified on the basis that recidivists are incorrigible and chronically criminal, and must be imprisoned as a matter of public safety.

Mr. President, The police will tell you that 80 percent of arrests are repeat offenders. It is against this background Mr. President; I am proposing to Government that such legislation be adopted to deal with repeat gun offenders. Mr. President, if a man (or woman) is convicted of three (3) or more gun crimes in a two (2) to three (3) year period, he/she must rot in jail. Three Strikes and you are Out! Life imprisonment.

Mr. President, I am convinced that this “3 strikes law”, will reduce gun crimes. In fact, according to the CA Dept. of Justice and the CA Dept. of Corrections, for the ten (10) years prior to the enactment of the “3 strikes law”, Homicide, Rape, Robbery, Assault, Burglary totaled 8,825,353 crimes, but after the ten years after the enactment of the law, these crimes dropped to 6,780,964 a 23 percent reduction.

Mr. President, there are those who will argue that the “3 strikes law” will put a strain on an already overcrowded prison system. However, Mr. President, in CA, for the ten (10) years prior to the enactment of the 3 strikes law, the California prison population expanded by 400 percent and for the ten years after there was an overall increase of only 25.5 percent, a massive decrease in prison population expansion.

Mr. President, in addition to the 3 strikes law we must implement stricter bail terms and conditions. Mr. President, I find difficult to understand, a man with three (3) charges remains on the road on bail on all three charges. Something is fundamentally wrong with that Mr. President. Therefore, the exigency of the times demands urgent actions
Finsac

Mr. President, I wish to commend this government for its decision to convene a Commission of Enquiry in the financial meltdown of the 1990’s and the subsequent operation of FINSAC. This Enquiry, if nothing else, will facilitate a cathartic process of healing and closure and more importantly, will inform us and possibly prevent a reoccurrence.

Mr. President, Jamaica’s growth and development are affected by the debt overhang from its enormous financial crisis of the 1990’s, one of the largest in the world (in terms of GDP), was resolved relatively quickly and has led to a significant improvement in regulation and supervision of the financial system, but also to a huge increase in an already large public sector debt.

Mr. President, there are some of us who suffers from “finsac anxiety” when the call for a commission of enquiry was made, labeling it as a waste of time and accusing the government of “witch-hunting”. These accusations Mr. President, reveals a sinister motive for them not wanting to find the truth. Mr. President, my position is very simple, if in the hunt for truth witches are found, let truth abound. Again, the Government must be commended for commissioning a Commission of Enquiry.

Casino Gambling

Mr. President, on the sensitive issue of casino gambling, the Government must be commended for its open, honest, and decisive decision in introducing casino gambling in the Tourism product. This is the shot-in-the-arm the product needed to make it competitive with the world tourism market and will no doubt provide well-needed jobs and spur economic growth.

Mr. President, my youthfully exuberant colleague Senator on the opposite side of the isle, recently suggested that the exhibited arrogance by the introduction of casino gambling with consulting the Churches.

Mr. President, I not only find this remarks hypocrite but also self-serving, because it was the previous administration who sought to stealthily introduce casino gambling through the back door by way of a letter of commitment to a group of foreign investors for Jamaica’s first casino license. This letter of commitment binds this Government because reneging on such a commitment would put the country’s credibility at risk in the international business arena. We don’t operate a banana republic here.

Mr. President, let me make it clear, this Government recognizes the role of the Churches that of the moral conscience and compass of the society, this Government will consult with all stakeholders in arriving at any policy decisions. However, Mr. President, consultation is not synonymous with consensus. After consultation with any stakeholder, including the churches, the Government has a responsibility to the people who democratically elected them to lead and serve. That responsibility is to provide jobs and spur the economy; casino gambling will no doubt facilitate that objective. The Churches will tell you, faith without works it dead.

Mr. President, the Churches’ primary concern is the fear of casino furthering the moral decay of the already threatened society and they are those who argue that Jamaicans (locals) should be restricted from casino gambling.

On, the contrary, Mr. President, a Government must not legislate against its people. Mr. President, casino gambling is not cash pot, the cost of casino gambling is prohibitive and the properties where casino gaming will be operated are high-end, reserved for the filthy rich and the famous. If a Jamaican (local) possesses the means by which he/she can afford such a indulgence let them make that decision.

Mr. President, the exuberant Senator also asserted that casino gambling would negatively impact our already high crime rate ignorantly associating casino gambling and organized crime. This is the main argument that creates the distinction between casino and other forms of gambling. It is thought that the existence of casinos introduces greater levels of corruption and crime than any other form of gambling. This general perception is derived from Hollywood, as persons have been exposed to mafia movies, in which crime is affiliated with casinos. The reality is that casinos have been flourishing all over the United States and in other countries yet there is no corresponding increase in crime.

Mr. President, the people elect a government, which it feels, has the competence to make prudent decisions on its behalf. There is no expectation from the majority that the Government will seek permission to introduce programmes, which will redound to the national good. The Government has a moral duty to lift its citizens out of the mire of poverty and provide them with opportunities to access education and health and enjoy a safe environment. If the Government makes poor decisions then the people can vote them out of office.

Finally, Mr. President, this Government has the misfortune of assuming power at a time when food prices are soaring and world oil prices are at an unprecedented high. There is arguable a recession in the United States and the growing sense of unease about the state of world's economy is reinforced by sudden fluctuations in the international financial markets. A global economic slow down with prospects of a possible recession is forecasted in the wake of growing global imbalances, falling commodity prices and a weakened dollar. As a developing country, we are not immune from these imbalances as economic prosperity in developing and developed countries is interdependent.

Mr. President, challenging times demand a Government with the intellectual capacity, grasp of international issues and sincerity of governance. This Government is so equipped, led by the Hon. Prime Minisiter who has a sincere desire to see every Jamaican (our best natural resource), regardless of their social standing, is able to by the sweat of the their brow can realize there goals and dreams enjoying this piece of paradise called Jamaica.

Mr. President, I am please to report you that the State of This Nation, Jamaica Land We Love is finally in goods hands. God Bless Jamaica and may he grant us the wisdom to survive these global challenges.

Thank you Mr. President.

 

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