PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller yesterday reiterated Government's commitment to improving macroeconomics stability and economic growth, identifying the areas as most important to social protection.
"Our mission of uplifting the Jamaican people and working toward economic independence was challenged during the past year by the slippage of the Jamaican dollar," said Simpson Miller, in a national broadcast, apparently in response to mounting criticism about the administration's performance since it took over office in 2012.
"The Net International Reserves also dipped, but not our reserve of courage, determination and resilience in the face of the international economic environment and domestic challenges. Yet, our confidence in the Jamaican people has never been stronger," said Miller, admitting that her administration's record for the past year "has not been perfect".
In that regard, said Miller, the administration will be moving expediently with the much-anticipated tax, public sector, and pension reforms. Improving the country's macroeconomic stability is not just a requirement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement, said Miller, it is also a means of improving the country's underdevelopment, she said.
In the meantime, Miller, downplaying harsh media criticism in recent times, announced several economic initiatives, including the development of the Gordon Cay Container Transhipment Hub, and a container terminal and logistics centre at Fort Augusta.
Come 2013, many Jamaicans will be able to find employment by way of the construction of a US $610-million North-South link of Highway 2000 being undertaken by the China Harbour Engineering Company, said Simpson Miller, who also promised an injection of some US$200 million in capital expenditure in tourism. There will also be a thrust in Russian and Latin American markets, she said.
In addition, the Development Bank of Jamaica has earmarked some US$20 million for on-lending to investors of finance and to support the construction of information and communication technology facilities. This has the potential to create some 10,000 new jobs, she said.
At the same time, according to the prime minister, the Jamaica Public Service Company is slated to spend over US $630 million in a power plant and renewable energy projects.
For agriculture, many plans are afoot, the prime minister said.
"We will create eight agro-parks through public private/private partnerships. This will occupy over 8,000 acres of land and the project will be completed over the next three years," she said. "The agro-parks will go a significant way to deepening linkages in the economy, increasing domestic food production and help to reduce our one-billion US dollar food import bill."
She made specific mention of the sugar industry, noting that 385 houses have been constructed for sugar workers, primarily in Westmoreland, St Thomas, Trelawny and Clarendon. The Government has also rehabilitated 66 kilometres of roads in sugar-dependent areas at a cost of $765 million, she said, and that 13 projects, valued at $213 million were implemented to upgrade sport facilities in sugar-dependent areas, namely in St Thomas, St Catherine, Hanover, St Elizabeth, Westmoreland, Clarendon, and Trelawny.
The prime minister also urged teachers to be resilient, noting that 600 schools are slated to benefit from "master teacher" classes, which will be broadcast to the schools.
In addition, she said that 500 basic schools will be merged with primary schools come September, and that construction has already started on 50 basic schools in conjunction with the Food for the Poor. All of the approximately 230,000 student beneficiaries on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) will receive breakfast supplements starting this year, said Miller.
According to the prime minister, more than 180 houses were constructed and handed over to victims of Hurricane Sandy, which lashed the island in October. Five thousand persons received cheques ranging from $30,000 to $60,000; while $200 million was provided to assist farmers. Twenty million dollars was also given to fish farmers who had lost fishing pots and other equipment during the hurricane.
Meanwhile, the prime minister said that the Government has spent some $2.2 billion on islandwide road repairs and on projects including river training, repairing bridges and cleaning gullies.
Prime Minister Miller said that last year the Government reduced National Housing Trust interest rates, better enabling persons earning under $10,000 monthly to own a home. That move was in tandem with the awarding of home grants valued at $1.2 million each to low-income contributors and the disabled. The Government also launched a First Step Homes initiative, which is also geared at bolstering home ownership in the island.
Miller also said she was impressed with the number of persons who benefited from the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP).
"The JEEP programme surpassed our original phase-one target of 5,000 persons, and employed over 17,000 persons by July of last year," she said. "Some six billion dollars have been allocated to Phase Two of JEEP which is expected to employ over 40,000 persons. We have also partnered with the private sector to launch the Jamaica Employ Programme, aimed at creating more productive jobs for Jamaicans."
The Government also took credit for a reduction in murders, shootings, robberies and sexual offences. There was also an 18 per cent increase in the recovery of firearms and a 14 per cent increase in the recovery of ammunition, she said.
"We must build on the efforts of those who went before. We must build on the institutions that exist so they can better work for us. We must build our nation to be what we want it to be. We can, we must, and indeed, we will," she said.