My fellow Jamaicans…
Last Sunday, I advised my party’s central executive that I would not seek re-election at the annual general conference to be held next month and I would step down as Prime Minister as soon as a new leader had been elected. I had come to this position after deep contemplation and prayer, seeking to do what is best for the country and the party.
The timing of my announcement might appear to have been awkward since I was preparing for my mother’s funeral, but it was unavoidable and let me pause here to express thanks on behalf of my family for the outpouring of sympathy at her passing. Let me explain the timing.
The annual general conference of the JLP is scheduled to be held on November 19 & 20. As stipulated in the party’s constitution, the deadline for nominations is October 19. Sufficient time, therefore, had to be allowed for potential candidates to consider offering themselves and meet the October 19 nomination deadline. Sufficient time had to be allowed, as well, for the delegates to contemplate their choices since they would not have been anticipating that a vacancy would arise. But it was important not to have too long a period of uncertainty regarding the leadership and direction of the government.
In addition, the central executive which meets quarterly was, last Sunday, holding its last meeting before the annual general conference. I had to make my decision known then.
In the brief statement I issued on Sunday, I stated that the challenges of the last four years had taken their toll and it was appropriate now to step aside and make way for new leadership.
The last few years, perhaps, have been the most difficult period that any government has had to face. Like most other countries, we have taken a battering from the global recession and the recovery we are so anxious to see has been slow, the global environment still uncertain.
We have managed to avoid the kind of disaster we have witnessed in many other countries but the effects of the recession have still been painful for many Jamaicans.
I have worked hard these past four years, 16-18 hours a day most days, in navigating our way through these treacherous waters. We are beginning to see positive results: far-reaching macroeconomic reforms have been implemented; the economy has returned to a growth path, modest though it is; we are once again creating new jobs even though we have not yet restored the jobs that were lost; the rise in poverty has been cauterized.
While the worst may have passed, we are not yet out of the woods. There are challenges that remain on many fronts that will require strong leadership to overcome and absolute confidence in the authority of that leadership.
Questions about the role I played in the Coke/Manatt matter have remained a source of concern in the minds of many people. It was never about Coke’s guilt or innocence.
It was about a breach of our Constitution and had it been a person other than Coke it perhaps would never have become the cause célèbre that it turned out to be. We have since amended the Interception of Communications Act to permit in the future, the action that was taken in Coke’s case but which, at that time, was in violation of our Constitution.
However, the entire episode has affected me deeply and the perceptions that are held by some people have not been dispelled, notwithstanding the exhaustive deliberations of a Commission of Enquiry.
I cannot allow the challenges we face and the issues that we as a people must confront to be smothered or overpowered by this saga and the emotions that they ignite. It would not be fair to my country; it would not be fair to my party.
There are other considerations that led to my decision. It is time for my generation to make way for younger people whose time has come, who are more in sync with 21stcentury realities, whose vision can have a longer scope and who can bring new energy to the enormous tasks that confront us. The leaders of major countries around the world – for example, the United States, Britain, Canada, Mexico, Spain, the Netherlands, Finland, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Australia, and New Zealand – are all more than 10 years younger than I am. It is a worldwide trend and we in Jamaica should not resist it.
I was first elected to Parliament almost 40 years ago. In the next two months I will be 64. I feel it is time for me and people like me to make way and allow a new crop of leaders to step forward and unleash their energies and creativity. There are young people in my party, indeed in both parties, who are capable of providing the leadership that the country requires at this time. We must not, for the sake of personal ambition, block their emergence. My advice and counsel will always be available if and when required.
I told my central executive last Sunday that the next few weeks will be crucial not only for us as a party but for the country. The election of a new leader is a process that must be conducted in a mature, transparent and dignified manner. This is especially so since we form the government. In the past few days, I have been in contact with our major international partners and I have assured them that the direction of the government is firmly in place and that the transition will be smooth and seamless. The financial markets remain sober while they await the appointment of a new Prime Minister and confirmation that we will not deviate from the economic reforms on which we have embarked. In my remaining few weeks, I will continue to work as hard as I have ever done and hand over the reins of office gracefully to my successor.
The General Secretary of the party has already outlined the procedures for the election of a new leader. The Electoral Office of Jamaica has been asked to manage the voting process and everything will be done to ensure an orderly transition.
I have an abiding faith in my country and in the people of my country. Despite the formidable challenges we face, we can overcome; we will make it if we try and try hard enough, if we remain focused and committed not just to the next elections but to the future and the possibilities that are within our reach and must be placed securely within our grasp. This is not a time to be fearful or bewildered. It is a time for renewed hope and renewed effort.
I hope to address you one more time before I leave office and, as always, I pray God’s blessings on our nation and all its people.