Jamaica government outlines major initiatives for 2008

KINGSTON, Jamaica, March 28, 2008 – The Jamaica government says it will take decisive steps to diversify the country’s energy sources and reduce its reliance on crude oil, as part of a package of wide ranging initiatives it will put in place this year.

It has also promised fiscal prudence to help boost the country’s economy.

That word from Governor General, Professor Sir Kenneth as he delivered the Throne Speech on Thursday ahead of the tabling of the JA$489.52 billion (US$6.8 billion) 2008/2009 Estimates of Expenditure in parliament.

In an address that dealt with a number of social, economic and governance issues, he told those attending the opening of the parliament that improving Jamaica’s energy security has become a compelling necessity and the Bruce Golding administration government would therefore be implementing a number of changes.

“One important part of this change will involve greater use of renewable sources including bio-fuels which offer the added benefit of creating new jobs. The full realisation of these changes will, of necessity, take some time. In the meanwhile, therefore, the Government will be pursuing a number of initiatives to intensify energy efficiency and conservation efforts,” he said.

“Containing our energy consumption is not an option. It is a national imperative.”

Greater food security, fiscal management

He said the need for greater food security was also of equal importance, noting that the country needed to produce more food to feed citizens.

Sir Kenneth revealed that the government would be embarking on a new technologically-driven food production drive supported by improved marketing arrangements to transform significantly our agricultural and agro-processing sectors.

“The rising cost of imported food not only makes this a necessity but creates the opportunity to produce food which, previously, might not have been economically feasible to produce. This can only be done by improved efficiency and through the application of new technology,” he insisted.

Speaking a week after Prime Minister Golding cautioned Jamaicans that the time was coming for them to tighten their belts, Sir Kenneth indicated that government also planned to do the same.

“We must be resolute in eliminating within the shortest possible time, the persistent fiscal deficits which lead to inflation, erode confidence, drive up interest rates and hinder investment. The cost of government will be contained,” he said.

Heath, crime and corruption

In the area of health, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) said user fees at public hospitals and health facilities will be abolished from April 1st and the opening hours of selected health care centres will be extended.

Crime fighting efforts will also be intensified with government planning to implement recommendations from the strategic review of the Jamaica Constabulary Force due to be completed shortly.

“The country and in particular the members of the Police Force must be prepared for the far-reaching changes that are likely to occur,” Sir Kenneth said.

Among the other issues which received attention in the Throne Speech was government’s commitment to rooting out corruption by replacing the existing Corruption Prevention Act with new, stronger provisions including the establishment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute those engaging in corrupt practices which will be presented to parliament early in this new legislative year.

Economic Partnership Agreement

The Governor General also touched on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) the region has negotiated with the European Union (EU) which he suggested offered new opportunities for investment and growth in the Jamaican economy.

“Duty-free and quota-free access to the vast European market of more than 450 million people provides exciting possibilities for local and foreign investment. We must prepare ourselves to take advantage of these opportunities and our farmers, manufacturers and service providers must gear themselves to demonstrate the level of competitiveness that will enable them to penetrate this market,” he said.

“The government, in partnership with the private sector, will be launching a vigorous campaign to promote the marketing of local goods and services under the concept of Brand Jamaica, taking advantage of the strength of our name on the international scene.”