We are able to celebrate our emancipation because our great forefathers struggled for justice and human rights. In this period, we come to terms with our past and define our future unchained. We recall the boldness of Nanny of the Maroons; the defiance of Paul Bogle; the strength and moral fortitude of Sam Sharpe who chose the gallows over slavery. We must hold true to the proud heritage they and others have given us.
“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery … others may free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.” Those are the words of Marcus Garvey; immortalized in song by Bob Marley.
Emancipation was NOT a gift. The end of slavery was an economic imperative but more so it was hastened by the unity of the oppressed in rebellion and supported by people of conscience. Slavery could only persist because the oppressors were able to divide us. Once there was unity and consensus emerged, freedom was inevitable.
In 2009, we embarked on a formal process of consensus building called the partnership for transformation. The 2011 Partnership Code of Conduct and two (2) successive social partnership agreements provided a framework for deepening the process of participatory decision-making and engendering trust and confidence through dialogue on the critical challenges facing us as a nation.
The Partnership Agreement is between the Government, Opposition, Private Sector, Trade Unions and Civil Society. This is a mechanism in which the Opposition participates. It has been a very effective tool that we must NOT destroy.
It is noteworthy that the previous Partnership Agreement focused on four areas of national importance: the country‟s debt and fiscal challenges, modernizing Jamaica‟s electricity infrastructure, improving the country‟s “Doing Business” climate, and; Improving public order, with a particular focus on reducing the murder rate.
In the first three areas, debt, energy, and doing business; institutions in the form of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET) and the National Competitiveness Council (NCC), were established or modified to coordinate and monitor the national efforts associated with resolving these challenges.
Each of these institutions transcended the change of administration in 2016 and the establishment of a new Partnership Agreement that takes us through to 2020. Jamaica has seen unprecedented success that has spanned the electoral cycle in these areas of national development.
The one area that has seen the least sustained success is that of enhanced public order. This is the area on which we must now seek to build consensus through partnership.
We must build consensus on comprehensive measures to fight crime, address our at risk youth and improve conditions in our communities. There must be national support for increased, targeted government spending on these areas. The interventions made through Zones of Special Operations (ZOSOs) have contributed to a reduction in crime. The ZOSO modality is working and now it is the goal of the government to scale this up as rapidly as possible so that we can reclaim communities that are at risk and make Jamaica the safe place we know it can be.
Just over two (2) years ago we launched the Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment Programme (HOPE). In this short period HOPE has impacted the lives of nearly 28,000 youth across Jamaica through direct engagement in the National Service Corps. HOPE is present and active within the ZOSOs and as well within areas with heightened security measures working with the security forces to find opportunities for youth.
We have established a new Social Housing Programme under the housing component of HOPE which will see to the provision of indigent housing with special emphasis on the physically challenged and other vulnerable persons in selected communities. Relocation of communities which are located in areas unsuitable for living and which are susceptible to natural disasters will also be addressed under this component of HOPE. This Programme will also enhance the impact of ZOSOs in targeted areas including tenements or „Big Yards‟, where the physical infrastructure will be upgraded, and the status of residents regularized.
Where there is life, there is hope. The HOPE programme seeks to empower and is indeed “helping our people to excel”.
I believe there is general agreement around the social intervention aspects of addressing issues of law and order, public safety and security. However, we have not been able to develop consensus on the crime fighting aspects of law, order and security. I am confident however that it is within our collective will to use the institutions we have established such as the National Partnership Council, and which have shown results, in building consensus around national issues. In recent discussions with the National Partnership Council, there is agreement that there should be established an articulated and dedicated monitoring and reporting mechanism on law, order and public safety rooted in the Council.
In unity, we find strength. Those who struggled for our emancipation knew that it was important to pull together, not apart.
This is the essence of our theme for the Emancipendence period, “One Nation, One People” united under God.
Have a safe, peaceful and blessed Emancipation Day!