KINGSTON, Jamaica – 2006 was an eventful year. It was a year in which, thank God, we were spared any major natural disaster although some people in Port Maria are still trying to recover from the recent flood rains.
Sadly, we ended the year with an outbreak of malaria, a terrible disease which we had eliminated 50 years ago. This should not have been allowed to happen and we must spare no effort to contain it, treat it and get rid of it once again.
2006 was a year in which we witnessed a change in the leadership of the government with all its hopes and expectations. It was a year in which many people expected that things were going to change, that with the emergence of new leadership we would have seen a new kind of governance, a new relationship between the people and their government, a new covenant of trust, a new vision that all Jamaicans could share and a mobilization of the national will and an engagement of the national spirit toward achieving common goals.
But nothing has really changed. It has been pretty much “business as usual”. It was Albert Einstein who said you can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. He described it as insanity. A more charitable description is stagnation. And stagnation is what has characterized the daily lives of so many Jamaican people who wake up every morning with no job to go to, with bills they can’t pay, basic things they can’t buy and sick family members they can’t take care of, who cling desperately to hopes that are fading before their very eyes.
I recently met a young man from a rural district in Clarendon. He is 26 years old, went to high school and came out with two CXC passes. He does not know what it is like to have a job. Yet, he used to have such high hopes for himself. He told me that as a child his ambition was to become an engineer but toward the end of his school years he concluded that that was not going to be possible. So, he decided to settle for being a mechanic. That, too, didn’t materialize so he decided he wanted to become a truck driver. That would at least enable him to earn a living. But despite getting his driver’s licence he has never been able to get a job. As he said to me “Even a sideman work I woulda glad fi get it”. So this young man, excited about his own possibilities, starts out with the ambition to become an engineer but has had continuously to lower his own expectations to the point where he would be satisfied with any kind of work.
Our greatest asset as a nation is not the bauxite we mine or the beaches which lure so many tourist visitors. Our greatest asset is our people because our people have the potential to be productive, to create and do things to provide a better life for themselves, their families and the entire nation. But it is an asset that is wasting away because we lack the means to develop that potential and to put that asset to work.
No, it can’t be business as usual because business as usual means stagnation as usual. We must rekindle hope in the minds of the Jamaican people. And we must find new directions, new strategies, new leadership that will keep those hopes alive by charting a course to enable our people to better achieve their potential..to provide for themselves a better life.
We can make Jamaica a much better place than it is. We can make Jamaica a land where people can feel safe and secure, where their rights are protected, where they have a government that they can trust and a Parliament in which they are effectively represented.
We can place Jamaica on the road to real development where every child can go to a good school and every adult to a decent job. We can transform Jamaica into a nation in which everyone might not be rich but no one has to be poor.
That must be our challenge for 2007, a year in which the people will have the opportunity to choose and to decide. And we must all become involved, especially those who have hitherto refused to be involved. For Jamaica belongs to all of us and all of us must rise to the occasion to restore hope, to chart a new course, to build a better Jamaica to provide a better life.
2007 is the year of decision. May God grant us the wisdom to make the right decision and may he gird our efforts to face the challenges of 2007 and beyond.
MP Leader of the Opposition