MAY 20, 2013

My first introduction to the Caribbean Council was by way of David Jessop’s weekly columns in Jamaica’s oldest newspaper “The Gleaner”. For several years I have monitored and learned much from those columns, but soon came to appreciate the wider scope and the value of the Council’s work for, and on behalf of the Caribbean.  Attending this reception gives me this opportunity to publicly thank the Council’s President, Lord Foulkes and the Management and Staff of the Caribbean Council for the quality service they render to the small states of the Caribbean.

Last October, one of Jessop’s recent columns made me aware of the deleterious impact of the Air Passenger Duty on the tourism sector of every Caribbean State.  For the first time I was reading statistics which proved that the fears which Caribbean Governments had voiced more than four years ago were justifiable.  Both the UK’s Civil Aviation Department and the Caribbean Tourism Organization found that travel from the United Kingdom to the Caribbean has fallen by ten percent since the imposition of the APD. British Airways which has been the major air link with our countries, has reduced the number of its flights to the Caribbean, citing the impact of the APD.

Our Caribbean states are the most tourism dependent economies in the world, so when that sector suffers, especially during these globally challenging times, the wellbeing of our people is at stake.  We therefore laud the work of the Caribbean Council in building awareness in the UK about the negative impact of this trade-distorting measure.  We urge the Honourable Members of Parliament to respond positively to the call of all the Caribbean states, echoed by the Caribbean Council, to place our region on the same band as the United States of America and so give a welcome boost to our struggling economies.

Sadly, at a time when Jamaica is focusing on strengthening Diaspora engagement with our development thrust, the APD is also compromising the linkage between our Diaspora families and their homeland.  We know that our Diaspora has not been silent on this matter and that thousands have been lobbying their respective Members of Parliament.

Let me say, too, that the weight of the Diaspora is not felt merely in their contributions to Caribbean development.  Many have been outstanding in their service to this great country and have been recognized by Her Majesty the Queen.  Others have proudly demonstrated the indomitable Jamaican spirit which impels us to forge opportunities out of challenges.  The list is long, but I hope you will forgive me if I mention only four individuals from completely different fields: the Rev. Rose Hudson Wilkin, Professor Carol Baxter CBE, Levi “Dragon Slayer” Roots and Dwayne Fields, that young man who walked to the North Pole and was recently awarded the Freedom of the City of London.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Lady Allen and I have come to the United Kingdom to celebrate another Jamaican success story: the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the Jamaica National Building Society’s Offices in the UK.  This company, beyond its financial success and the fact that it is the largest of its kind in Jamaica, is a fine example of good corporate governance and social responsibility.  I am pleased that the JNBS and several other corporate entities share my conviction that there is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica.  As active supporters of my “I Believe” Initiative, they share my vision of a Jamaica in which our people focus their creative genius on the building of a prosperous and peaceful nation.

One of Jamaica’s National Heroes, the Rt. Excellent Norman Washington Manley, in his final public statement in 1969, said that his generation had accomplished its mission to win political independence for Jamaica.  The next mission, he said, would be “reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica”.  Our nation confronts several issues which delay our attainment of that objective.  We are determined to resolve them and to achieve the targets of our development plan.  We believe that by 2030 Jamaica will be a place of choice for living, working, raising families and doing business.  Like Manley did, the next generation of Jamaicans must declare “Mission accomplished!”

Thank you!