KINGSTON, JAMAICA – The Christmas Season has just past and our hearts are still warm from the family reunions and many expressions of love and kindness. The dawning of 2006 brings with it new prospects for growth and new opportunities which will demand that we take careful note of our achievements and strive to strengthen our weakest links.

Every country has its own set of challenges and no one can deny that during the past year, our mettle was well tested in the face of rising levels of crime and violence, rising gas prices, a long period of drought, flood rains and all of four hurricanes.

While we have been tested by the inconveniences, we have remained strong. And we are grateful that the vibrant spirit of community and volunteerism allowed us to bounce back within a relatively short time. The repair work still continues but we must admit that we have come a far way.

Most persons have held the concerns about the level of crime and violence at the centre of their thoughts. So far, we have seen some positive results such as an increase in the seizure of illegal weapons and ammunition, and more people are reporting crime to the relevant authorities. Over the coming months, we should see additional improvements as the police have acquired more technologically advanced equipment and there should be a noticeable rise in number of police personnel on the streets.

While the Government and the police are making an effort, I urge all Jamaicans to recognize that without the input of citizens we will not get very far. Without the evidence of witnesses, the police face insurmountable odds in bringing the criminals to justice. On the other hand, we all need the assurance of confidentiality of the information shared and the guarantee of personal safety.

As the Government works confidently to reduce the levels of crime and violence, I encourage additional private and public sector partnerships in the areas of job creation and the implementation of social support programmes within our communities.

Our efforts towards economic growth throughout the year were significantly enhanced by the ease in travel along the North Coast Highway and Highway 2000, the expansion of the sea and airport facilities, and the unveiling of plans to boost production in the bauxite industry.

In the area of tourism, we suffered a few setbacks and damage to some properties during the 2005 Hurricane Season. However, I am pleased to say that some growth has been recorded and a ten percent growth is projected for the 2005-2006 Winter Tourist Season. I believe that the future is looking bright for this sector, especially with the new resorts that are coming on stream and the continuous upgrade and range of the existing services we offer.

The change in leadership in the Jamaica Labour Party and the leadership succession campaign in the People’s National Party also signalled a new phase in the political landscape in Jamaica. Additionally, the response to the demands by the private sector and anti-corruption commission for greater inclusion of the public in decisions, and for transparency and accountability in the actions of politicians, should result in a new dynamism in the leadership of this country.

I pause to commend the work of two remarkable men who have served this country without fear or favour for many years. These men – former Opposition Leader the Most Hon. Edward Seaga and present Prime Minister the Most Hon. P. J. Patterson who is expected to demit office later this year, have used their creative and intellectual genius to advance the nation’s vision and place in the world. They have both done this country proud and I wish them well in their endeavours.

It must be obvious to all that there is a deliberate effort by Government to provide facilities that will give the empowerment of a good education. We admit that some private entities are also making a valuable contribution in this respect. No matter what Government does, parents and the wider society must make their contribution. To achieve the utmost in the path to growth and progress, and expansion in the various industries, it is absolutely essential that there must be an educated and empowered populace.

My fellow Jamaicans, we are living in exciting times and we cannot take lightly the many advantages we now have at our fingertips, especially with the promise of larger markets and opportunities when the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) comes into effect later this month. Also, the activities to prepare for World Cup Cricket 2007 are in high gear and I expect that many Jamaicans will benefit from the employment opportunities that will arise.

I challenge all Jamaicans to include in their New Year’s resolution a commitment to become more conversant with the changing technologies and empower themselves for personal development in order to contribute more meaningfully to their communities. We all would have realized by now that it is only through education and access to technology that Jamaica can maximize opportunities to express our brilliance and creativity in our unique range of high quality products and services.

I implore all Jamaicans to try and remain hopeful in spite of the challenges. We must applaud our successes in the fields of sports, education, infrastructural development, international diplomacy, health care and tourism, and capitalise on the rich pool of talent that has placed our small island nation in the forefront of global achievements.

As we step boldly into 2006, we must re-energise and become stronger in vision. We must exert more deliberate and definitive efforts towards nation building and pursue activities that will engender pride, peace, harmony and love among our people.

We are a resilient people and I have every confidence that we shall continue to do well. Let us move forward with vigour and enthusiasm, being ever mindful of the fact that this Jamaica is a land of hope and promise. I call us all to stand up for what is right with respect and love for one another and unite in purpose and vision to build Jamaica, land we love. Have a hope-filled and prosperous New Year!

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