Robert Montague, Member of Parliament for Western St Mary, speaking during the State of the Constituency Debate at Gordon House on October 31, is proposing rural development as a ‘new path’ for Jamaica to consider.
See his address in full:
Madam Speaker, this year I intend to depart from the normal report on my constituency and speak about rural development. I intend to lay out a pathway, a road map a new deal, or even a big deal, for rural development.
Allow me to address four points before I speak to the new deal.
National Works Agency
Madam speaker, the NWA should consider allowing parish offices to procure works below $10 million, so that local projects in rural Jamaica can be advanced. Too many small projects have not been approved, for example the $40 million road patching programme, Prime Minister [Andrew Holness] approved months ago, cannot get started in many areas because we are waiting on the Procurement Department in Kingston.
Mason Hall water supply
I want to thank the Minister of Finance, for signing and approving the expanded Mason Hall water project for my constituency. This project, in its expanded form, will see some five million gallons of water being lifted from the White River, to solve the water problem of not only Mason Hall and Days Mountain, as was original proposed, but the issues in Tower Isle, Rio Nuevo, Charles Town, Three Hills, Valley Bush, Mango Valley, Fellowship Hall, Galina, Oracabessa, Spicy Grove, Boscobel, Hamilton Mountain, Huddersfield and Wentworth.
This expanded project will help St Ann also, as less water will be needed from the Bogue supply to come into St Mary.
Many housing projects will be able to start, including the NHT housing scheme for Galina, and the development of the Lighthouse road settlement upgrade.
Takyi High School
The Minister of Finance has also allocated enough funds to the Ministry of Education, in the recent supplementary budget, to purchase lands next to Tacky High School, so that we can remove that school from the shift system and have one campus. Currently, Tacky High has two campuses eight miles apart and is on shift. The Minister of Education, has decided to personally oversee this spending and has already instructed the Permanent Secretary to get the purchase completed without delay.
This has to be done this financial year, as the Minister of Finance has given his word, his solemn word and commitment, to allocate the needed funds to see to the construction of classrooms, labs and offices as soon as possible. Ministers of Finance and Education, on behalf of the students, teachers and parents, we thank you for your commitment in fast tracking this well-deserved project.
Madam, the Minister of Finance has been very kind and gracious to me and the constituency of late and we hope he will be just as gracious in this next matter. The contract workers from Western St. Mary, have asked me to help them to get an increase, to benefit under the compensation review policy. They have asked that you revisit the issue of not giving them an increase, because they are on contract and that they must wait until the end of their contract. Yet the people in big positions: CEOs, executive directors, managing director, commissioners, every single senior position, in government, in State agencies and public bodies, got their increase and they are all on contract.
My little people, those that work at the Parish Council, RADA, NWA, NSWMA, police stations, schools, cannot get a raise. Minister, the Executive Assistant of Ministers, the Consultants, the Constituency Secretaries, are telling me that they can’t get an increase because they are on contract but the head of every government agency, who are also on contract got an increase?
This is manifestly unfair minister.
But minister, I have good news for you. I checked and the law, the regulations and the Ministry of Finance circulars, they all allow, that contracts can be amended. Minister, my canvass shows that 347 contract workers are in my constituency and I am not ashamed to tell you, I am going to need every single one of them and their families when the local government election is called. I am going to need them and more
Minister, if I am to retain the five Parish Council Divisions and I intend to Minister, so Minister, please give the government contract workers the much desired increase, They need it and my councillors and I need it for them. Minister, amend the contracts and give the people an increase, carry a supplementary budget and do it, you have done it before.
Remember it is their votes that got us here and the people is the most important asset of any government. The contract workers and the people are watching you, my minister.
Don’t be irresponsible. Protect the economic gains, so 20 per cent increase from April 1 is a fair deal.
Additionally we need to have the FINSAC report completed and published. Too many tears, too many broken families, too many destroyed businesses, and with the SSL debacle it is now more important than ever to have this report. Although there are some who don’t want to see that report. The question must be asked in whose interest it is, not to have it published. We campaigned on it, we promised it, and in 2017 the Cabinet approved it. Publish it, minister! Publish It!
Many state agencies and public bodies seems to be misinterpreting the new law on board membership. They are writing board members indicating that they have served their three terms that cannot be so because the law was only pass last year. The law cannot be applied retroactively.
Only tax laws can be applied retroactively I am therefore calling on the Minister of Finance and the Public Service to issue a memo clarifying the situation.
New deal for rural development
Madam Speaker, on to my New Deal for Rural Development, many of the thoughts and ideas are not new, but it’s the first time they have been packaged this way. For Jamaica to grow and meet the demands of climate change and external shocks, we must encourage more persons to stay in rural Jamaica.
So the benefits, bells and whistles must be brought and made available to the people in rural Jamaica. I must acknowledge, that this government is seized with urgency of the issue and that’s why rural development is placed with Local Government and it has been elevated into the name of the ministry. Rural Development, is not agricultural development. Let’s be very clear.
The new deal agenda
1) The first thing that’s needed for rural Jamaica, is a free high-speed internet network.
This should be delivered by a combination of fiber optics cable and satellite-based internet. The Universal Service Fund can pay for this.
a) Once this is done, an online polytechnic, should be launched and paid for by HEART/NTA. This will allow Jamaicans in rural Jamaica, to access training and certification at home. Partnerships with other online or open universities, will make programmes and modules available and accessible to rural Jamaica, short courses, diplomas, associate and first degrees can be had and, most importantly, on-the-job certification will be more available.
b) A build out of telemedicine capabilities into our clinic and hospitals, thus leveraging the specialized skills and knowledge to benefit more persons. This can be paid for by the National Health Fund.
c) Online business processing outsourcing centres, (BPOs), will allow more people to be employed online especially in rural Jamaica. Companies that sign up for this should be automatically granted Free Zone status.
d) A high-speed internet network, in rural Jamaica, will allow the government to build out its own Silicon Valley location, where business incubator services are offered, facilities for software development, coding, app and game designs, robotics and development and research of advance technologies. A suitable location would be on the Eden Park lands, which are close to the Ian Fleming International airport, the Oracabessa Marina, Tower Isle and its hundreds of hotel rooms but most importantly it is very close to where the undersea cables land, that bring internet into Jamaica.
2) Develop general aviation and yachting sector, ( I am happy to see the AAJ, finally acting on my suggestion to offer scholarships to children in the parishes that have airports for them to advance careers in aviation, this was announced from 2021.) We need to continue the discussions, that I started with the 350,000 strong American Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), to be our partners in aviation development and to be a site for membership fly ins. Madam, if you own a plane you need somewhere to fly to and if you are a pilot you need to fly in order to keep your licence. In addition, Jamaica has a reputation of producing the best pilots. Let’s leverage all of that. Madam, if 10 per cent of AOPA, membership fly into Jamaica annually for a fly in, that’s 35,000 planes, per year or 2,916 planes per month or 97 per day or 13 planes per day for each of our seven airports, we may not be able to currently park 13 planes at some of our aerodromes .The same applies for yachts. If you have a boat you’re going sail it and you need places to go. We were far advanced while I was there, let’s cut the talk and the red tape and get going, the Minister of Transport is a go-getter so I am confident he will get it done.
The landing and docking fees supplies, fuel, employment and accommodations will add to our revenue streams. The Airport Authority, Jamaica Civil Aviation, Port Authority and the Ship registry can and must jointly underwrite this.
3) The bed and breakfast sector, is the fastest growing sector worldwide and allows more dollars to be retained locally and gives the widest spread to more persons. This sector opens up more possibilities for growth and inclusion, of the ordinary Jamaican. But we must commend Minister [Edmund Bartlett] for the incredible job he is doing in the sector, he has not only steadied the ship but has surpass the pre COVID growth.
Equally he has been the only Minister of Tourism that spend so much on community and product development, in rural Jamaica. I am therefore calling on Minister Clarke to release more of the proceeds of the Tourism Enhancement Fund, so Minister Bartlett and his team can spend more to improve the product and advertise. We must ensure that every bed and breakfast is registered and do a program of advertising in the European market, as they are more likely to stay longer and spend time off the beaten track. This programme can be untaken by funding from the Tourism Enhancement fund.
b) I am also calling for a tiered minimum wage system. It should be that if you employ five or less one rate, six to 12 another rate and it goes on. A housewife or a small business should not be asked to pay like a hotel or gas station or BPO, as their earning is much better.
c) Give the option of allowing tourism entities to pay their staff in rural Jamaica in foreign exchange.
Rural Jamaica needs a better water distribution network. We do not have a shortage of water in Jamaica, even in the worst drought, we have a distribution problem. So collect from the Mines and Geology department, underground surveys that shows untapped bodies of water.
One mining outfit, Geophysics, has made an offer to give up this information for free. They are Jamaicans and should be commended. I made this announcement years ago and we now needs to not only collect the information but act on it.
b) The government needs to allocate J$800 million to $1 billion, to the Rural Water Company, to provide solar pumps and develop small springs in rural communities. This will provide water to communities until the NWC can fix their distribution network. This can be funded from the consolidated fund.
5) We need to sit down with the US government and reach an agreement to lease a recently retired nuclear vessel, to provide cheaper electricity. This vessel can or should be parked at their naval base in Guantanamo Bay, for security and maintenance reasons, and via underground cable deliver the electricity here. These vessels can provide about 350 MW of power, at about US$0.04, if you add US$0.02 for transmission and US$0.02, for loan repay and lease, that’s US$0.08 cents. This is far cheaper than what JPS can produce electricity even with the most efficient production technology.
This would be a game changer for our manufacturers, mining and tourism operators.
You need a loan to fund this project, to lease and build out the required infrastructure. This would be repaid over time from a US$0.01/2, cess on the electricity.
b) A properly funded programme for rural electrification over two years, approximately $1.5 billion is needed for this. A combination of pole lines and solar generators, in hard to reach places or where it would be most economical. These solar generator can also be provided for extremely poor households and some form of sweat equity be developed for person in urban like inner city areas in rural Jamaica, for example they could volunteer to do community service until an agreed portion or all is paid off. Nothing in life is free.
7) Land titling, almost 50 per cent of our lands are not titled, and it is worse in rural Jamaica. The government has announced the provision of 70,000 titles in three years. This is most commendable. We need to accelerate this project. While I was briefly at the Ministry of Housing, I discovered that some 15,000, title were in the Ministry not collected yet people were in possession of the land. So we employed three lawyers to review the files and found that a large amount of titles were being held because small amounts were owed. I instructed that sums less than J$60,000, should be cleared and a total arrived at so that Cabinet can write off the amounts, in celebration of our 60th year as [an independent] nation. The rough check then showed that there were 9,000 titles in that category, but 3,000 had other issues.
So approximately 6,000 titles can be released if the Cabinet or the Ministry of Finance, agrees to write off these small amounts, which came out to be at J$48 million for the remaining 6,000 titles or $8,000 on average per title.
This is an average of 95 titles per constituency or 428 per parish.
Whatever is the issue if we give out the 15,000 titles with three years property taxes from them alone would repay the funds that were written off. Economic improvements to these properties would help boost tax revenues and create employment.
b) The NLA, must be given enough resources from the Consolidated Fund, so as to accelerate the Adjudication process and systematic land titling.
c) A search must be made by all government entities that have land titles for people and a programme of giving out the title to the current occupant, after suitable checks and verification is done.
This is a low hanging fruit, with serious cultural and inter-generational economic gains for families, communities and the country.
d) The government must fund a program of house repairs. Many persons in rural Jamaica already own their homes, whether by building inheritance or gift. They however, need assistance with repairs. We must fill that need. This can be funded from the uncollected NHT returns. The New Social Housing Programme of the government is a worthwhile programme that fills a need and must be commended. But, if the government cannot fund the social housing programme and house repairs, give MPs the option of taking all five house allocated per constituency, or allow us to convert at least 40 to 50 per cent of the cost of construction, into the purchase of building materials for repairs from an approved hardware and after the necessary checks and approvals. I am asking for a balanced option to this housing issue, if both can’t be fully funded.
8) For rural Jamaica to really grow we need to continue the excellent work on crime, The Hon Minister and his team, the JCF, Department of Corrections, MOCA, JDF and all players in national security must be congratulated. Equally the citizens who daily provide support and intelligence must also be commended. The government must continue to provide and increase its national security budget. Lest we forget, let me remind all that this government has annually from 2016, has been the government to consistently outspend all other governments in our history on national security.
a) We need to get the SDC, to place a community development officer in all communities. These persons, were the point of contact for social services. They taught social graces, conflict resolution, heathy cooking and eating, invited the various social agencies in and organised community groups, sporting events, career development, family planning and mentorship. They gave direction to communities.
b) We need to study and adopt the El Salavador model of dealing with gangs. We must include under the Enhance Security Act, the provisions of declaring a State of Emergency on the violence producer and not on the community. I am confident that the work, I started along with Minister Charles, on that Act, will continue, the monitoring and reporting orders for example will remain. Take the DNA and fingerprints of persons who are subjected to monitoring orders but minister, please do not build a big detention facility. Do one for every parish. Place them near or in JDF camps, build them so that they can be used as youth training centres. So that when someone is detained we can teach a skill and some soft life skills too. There must sections that some are just locked away, install cell phone jammers and a courtroom at each, so there is no need to move them. They must be small so you reduce the opportunity for gang members to network, with others and then you have a bigger problem when they are released.
c) Revamp the Ananda Alert system that I started and go back to partnering with municipal corporations. The system was designed to utilise community groups, citizens and institutions, Let us go back there.
It not only takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to protect a child.
d) expand the Jamaica Eyes system, again started by me, into every rural community and road way, introduce drones into monitoring the island and parish borders and the drone footage fed into the Jamaica Eye, an internet network would be in existence and we can use solar Wi-Fi cameras as well.
e) Speed up the deployment of NIDS. Every Jamaican must have an ID on them at all times.
f) Increase the JCF intake, by using the existing MOU in the Ministry that was established with community colleges, to provide one semester of police theory and foundation subjects and then these persons could be sent to the National Police College of Jamaica for two months to do the practical aspects of training. We used it on one batch of 600, using excess space at the UWI.
We need 2.000 trained officers per year for two years to get to full strength and compensate for retirement and resignations.
g) Schools should ask the police to vet persons who present to be vendors and a space be created on the school compound for vendors, No one who is not vetted and trained should not be allowed to sell to our children. Plus we would be restoring dignity to school vending.
9) Train for export;
a) Sit down with the US departments of education and labor, and identify gaps in their economic programme and negotiate an agreement, so that they can pay or contribute to the training of specific skills and make the persons available to them on a contracted basis. Teachers, nurses, medical support staff, police, skilled tradesmen and women. For example, our Ministry of Labour should be asking [the Ministry of] Foreign Affairs to talk to US Homeland Security, so that we can provide the 2,000 masons and 1,500 welders and 500 truck drivers that will be needed to help build the new wall on sections of the southern border. This is an opportunity worth pursuing.
a) A programme of teaching hydroponics in our schools. This will be the basis of home gardening in the future.
b) Pick and promote crops that we have distinct comparative advantage, such as turmeric, ginger, lychee, pimento and coconuts. Plant an economic amount and have RADA, teach person basic agro processing.
c) Start a programme to improve the pig and goat herd and production by having artificial insemination centers and graded rams stationed across Jamaica. This will improve the herd quality and quantity. Then work with processors so there will be no need to import any bacon or pork by products. We should within three years stop the importation of goat meat and will be able produce and process at least 20 per cent of our milk needs from goats.
d) With the internet network, chips can be introduced into our animals to reduce theft. Issue registered farms with shot gun licenses, if they meet the basic requirement and are mentally sound.
e) Use drone technology in planting, monitoring, security and crop care. Including insecticide, water and fertilizer application. This will reduce costs and over application of chemicals.
f) Increase research in targeted areas.
g) Increase soil conservation.
h) Encourage organic farming
i) Create a clearing house for farmers using the People’s Cooperative bank network.
Farmers would sell to a hotel for example, then take the invoice to the 14 PC banks, who would charge a small fee and pay out the farmer. The PC bank would now be owed by the hotel. The PC bank would charge normal overdraft fees on that account after the payment due date. So farmers would quickly get working capital and the hotel could smooth out their cash flow and the PC bank would make a small commission.
A rural road improvement program is desperately needed. Plus a rural maintenance programme of patching and drain cleaning. The roll out of the length man programme must be done without delay.
b) The NHT should spend 25 to 30 per cent of their budget on maintenance of housing schemes.
c) The NWA should have more training programmes with contractors, so that new technologies and methodology in road and drain maintenance can be introduced.
d) A research programme to design and find more suitable ways of treating and building our roads.
e) Contractors, who underperform or do not complete their tasks should be suspended from undertaking new contracts for a stipulated period.
f) We need a programe for bridge maintenance and river training.
The third term is loading, the third term of this Government will depend on rural Jamaica. I am confident that the Government will accept some or all of these recommendation because Kingston is not Jamaica. It is rural Jamaica’s time now this Government knows it, this Government is prepared for it, this Government has already started to deliver for rural Jamaica.
Rural Jamaica is where you can work, raise your family, and retire in prosperity.
Madam Speaker the third term is loading, if it so pleases you. Thank you.