• Portia defends Government’s performance • Outlines ‘achievements’ at PNP annual conference
PRIME Minister and People's National Party (PNP) President Portia Simpson Miller gave herself the proverbial slap on the chest yesterday while basking in areas of achievement by her People's National Party's (PNP) first eight and a half months in office, while at the same time cautioning Jamaicans to be prepared for challenging economic times ahead.
Giving the main address that climaxed the three-day confab at the National Arena yesterday, Simpson Miller said that her administration had a major focus on providing more housing solutions for Jamaicans, giving them access to potable water, and creating new employment opportunities.
The revelations came after the first woman prime minister addressed the economically stressful issue of Jamaica securing a loan agreement from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under its Standby Arrangement.
"Despite the challenges we face, much work has been done in just nine months," Simpson Miller told cheering supporters in a presentation that was extended by the usual musical interventions from the party's deejays.
"Our focus has been on housing, water, creating employment and seeking investments. We are delivering these while ensuring that we keep pace with all other areas of governance, especially education, health, agriculture and national security.
"We have had to think... in addition to dealing with the debt and our other economic challenges; which are linked to the global economic situation; what can we do within our means, to advance economic activity while, at the same time improve the lives of our people?
"The PNP administration has taken a progressive approach to housing and I have instructed that there be new emphasis in six major areas," she said.
Highlighting the Nashville housing development on the outskirts of the bustling town of Highgate in St Mary, for which ground was broken last week, Simpson Miller said that it was one of several housing projects that the PNP intends to build in coming years.
"It (Nashville) has a value of $1 billion of new investment in rural Jamaica," she said, listing other housing solutions across Jamaica which have been completed since the start of the year.
"I have also instructed that we focus on developing complete communities rather than just housing schemes. Depending on the populations of the communities, we are including sports facilities, green spaces, community centres, and basic schools in the housing developments.
"During my budget presentation in June of this year, I spoke of a major housing initiative of providing housing units to poor households. The Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing has joined with Food for the Poor to erect 1,200 two-bedroom units. We are now in the process of selecting the persons who will benefit from these houses," she said.
Simpson Miller added that some housing developments that were not completed by the previous Jamaica Labour Party administration, which her party defeated in the December 29, 2011 general election, would also be done, including 48 houses in the Majesty Gardens section of her South West St Andrew constituency.
A fresh effort, Simpson Miller said, is also being made to provide more communities with water, a perennial complaint of Jamaicans, especially those in rural areas.
Describing the present economic situation as not good, but not "unredeemable", Simpson Miller said that efforts were being made to put matters on track for the island of 2.8 million inhabitants to attract foreign financial eyes.
"The global economic challenges and the mismanagement and squandering of our precious resources by the last administration left us with no choice but to return to the International Monetary Fund to negotiate a new agreement.
"Let me remind this country that when we came to office the IMF programme had broken down. We had to start all over again.
"Experience taught us that whenever we enter into a programme with the IMF, there will be some conditions that we have to comply with.
"The previous administration agreed to some preconditions for the IMF loan they signed in 2010. These preconditions included pension reform, tax reform and public sector transformation. These conditionalities should have been implemented by the former finance minister and his government. They are the ones who caused the IMF negotiations to break down. They are the ones who are denying Jamaica the ability to draw down on billions of dollars. They broke it. Now we have to fix it," she said.
Finance and planning minister Dr Peter Phillips told Parliament recently that Jamaica was working to complete a new deal with the IMF by December of this year, but Simpson Miller did not give a timeline as to when she expected talks to turn into action.
"We are pushing as hard as we can to complete negotiations on a new IMF Agreement as soon as possible.
"...Every negotiation is a process. It is a delicate give-and-take — and that takes time. It is difficult to provide a definitive date for an IMF agreement. What I can tell you is that an IMF agreement is critical to improving investor confidence.
"It is also important in unlocking hundreds of millions in foreign exchange inflows from a number of international agencies.
"The inflows of these funds are necessary to maintain our net international reserves, as well as to keep our dollar stable. That is why my administration, your government, is doing everything possible to secure an agreement with the IMF. We know that if we do not take some necessary steps now, our circumstances will only get worse. We know that we must make some difficult choices today in order to have a better tomorrow.
"Today, I say to Jamaica that we understand what needs to be done. We understand that it has to be done. We understand that it has to be done sensibly and responsibly.
"As I have always said we will be balancing the books while balancing people's lives. That is what we are trying to do now. We will not let you down. At the same time as we engage with the IMF we are embarking on measures within our limited resources to improve the lives of our people," Simpson Miller said.
A road-patching programme valued at over $1 billion was also underway, she said.