MINISTER of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke says that the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ), without prompting, had raised his interest in upgrading the local banknotes.
“The Bank of Jamaica, in its independent view and without prompting, wrote to me about the need to upgrade Jamaica's banknotes,” he told the House of Representatives during the budget debate on Tuesday.
“When the BOJ makes technically sound recommendations to the minister of finance on challenges with banknotes, it is advice that the minister ought to take seriously,” he added.
He said that the problems the BOJ cited in its memo to him were: a higher-than-necessary cost of producing the existing suite of notes; the higher-than-tolerable incidence of counterfeiting of existing suite of notes; the challenges of the visually impaired with distinguishing between denominations; and the BOJ's independent assessment that Jamaica needs a $2,000 denomination among its banknotes.
“The latter may seem inconvenient. However, the BOJ's independent and unprompted technical assessment demonstrated the need for a $2,000 note. The $5,000 note is the least-used note. It is often rejected in street-level transactions as, without a denomination in-between the $1,000 and the $5,000, the $5,000 absorbs too much change,” Dr Clarke explained.
“So, while the $5,000 note is very much appreciated by professional groups and many others, it's not a preferred note for the taximan and corner shop. The introduction of a $2,000 banknote will offer the consumer and the corner shop greater flexibility,” he further reasoned.
The minister said that the introduction of the $2,000 banknote will allow for some reduction in costs. He said, too, that a lot of $1,000 notes are printed, and the $2,000 note and the $1,000 note cost about the same to print, but now there will be less need and much fewer of both notes combined, reducing overall costs.
“We, therefore, accepted the BOJ's technical advice to upgrade the suite of banknotes, using the latest advances in material science to produce notes that last between 50 per cent and 100 per cent longer, thereby reducing costs. And to leverage the latest security features available for banknotes, we had to place images on the front and back of the banknotes,” he pointed out.
The minister said there has also been no policy change with respect to what category of people should appear on banknotes.
“The existing policy, with an origin well before my time, is that national heroes and deceased premiers and prime ministers appear on Jamaica's banknotes. Neither has there been a change in the images of Jamaica and the Jamaican people that appear on the reverse side of the new banknotes. These images appear on either current or past banknotes,” he said.
He stated that if the Government had taken the path suggested by the leader of the Opposition in his budget presentation, which was to place Edward Seaga on one banknote with Michael Manley remaining on the banknote on which he is currently, without any pairing, this would have produced upgraded banknotes but yet left no place for Marcus Garvey, Paul Bogle or George William Gordon, all national heroes.
“In that sense, I consider his view very short-sighted because his view would again mean that some of our national heroes would continue to be excluded from our banknotes,” he added.
Clarke also pointed out the need to retain notes with Paul Bogle and George William, who “paid with their lives and their sacrifice”, in terms of recalling “those who were hung on the gallows with them, which led to the emergence of representative government in Jamaica”.
“Madam Speaker, there would be no us without them. We are proud that we will restore the Right Excellent Paul Bogle and the Right Excellent George William Gordon to our banknotes. When you consider the Right Excellent Marcus Garvey and his legacy, his influence on our consciousness, his influence on civil rights, he is not only an important figure of our past, he is also important to our future,” he said.
He said that the Government is proud that Garvey will be restored to the banknotes, standing alone, as well as Norman Washington Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante.
“The only way to accommodate this restoration would be for more than one image to appear together on a banknote, and we are proud to have taken the bold decision to restore all of our national heroes to our banknotes,” he said.
He added that with respect to the co-location of Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, “all I will add to what I have already contributed is that, this is about the future”.
“The unique legacies and contributions of Michael Manley and Edward Seaga cannot be contained, or influenced, by their joint placement on a note. Therefore, our reaction to the placement is not about them, it's about putting focus on us.
“So if you are upset, remember, this is not about you. This is about the youth, the young Jamaicans, who are the future. We desire that they not grow up perpetuating hate and division. This is about symbolising the unity and political maturity we wish to see in our society,” he added.