Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness tempered his celebratory remarks about Cayman’s 60th anniversary of its constitution on Saturday by discussing some of the challenges faced by his country and of other Caribbean nations.
Holness spoke at a breakfast attended by top Cayman officials, as well as British Minister of State Lord Tariq Ahmad, at the Kimpton SeaFire resort. The event was part of a weekend celebration that included an exhibition football match later in the day and a Sunday church service followed by a commemoration of the signing of the Constitution at the George Town Town Hall. The town hall was renamed Constitution Hall at that ceremony (See page 7).
Before his Saturday morning address, Premier Alden McLaughlin provided a recap of the history that led to Cayman’s Constitution. Lord Ahmad also addressed the crowd, emphasising the relationship the UK has with Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
“What matters most?,” Lord Ahmad asked the crowded ballroom of guests. “I’ll tell you what matters most: People. People are who we serve. What is a constitution all about? It’s about how we protect our people, how we serve our people.”
In his remarks, Holness touched on the ongoing relationship between Cayman and Jamaica and the parallels between the two nations. Jamaica produced its own constitution three years after Cayman.
“You have a right to be proud and celebrate your achievement, and Jamaica celebrates with you,” he said.
Holness, who became Jamaica’s youngest prime minister in 2016 at 39, said his country has had a long road coming back from the 2008 global financial crisis.
“For two years now, we’ve been rated as the best performing stock market in the world. Great things are happening in our economy, but I’m not here saying we are out of crisis,” he said.
Crime and global climate change are the island’s main challenges, Holness said.
Jamaica has long had one of the highest per capita murder rates in the Caribbean.
“Much of crime in Jamaica is generated by poverty,” he said.
The numbers of murders in the country are declining, the prime minister said, noting that the next crime report the country produces will reflect this. He attributed part of the decrease to a crackdown on crime and a declaration of a state of public emergency, but said officials have tempered their response.
“There cannot be a trade-off of human rights in the fight against crime,” Holness said. “We have used force without violence. There have been no reports of violations of human rights.”
However, the most recent report by Amnesty International cites a problem with extrajudicial killings by police forces, noting that in 2017 police killings were up 51% over the previous year.
An April 2018 report by the US State Department noted that “the government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, although a general sense of impunity remained with respect to alleged unlawful killings by agents of state”.
Holness said Caribbean islands need to set mechanisms in place to better deal with more powerful and more frequent hurricanes that have been predicted as ocean temperatures warm. Noting that emergency responders were overwhelmed by hurricanes Maria and Irma, he suggested investing in catastrophe bonds and in equipment for dealing with disaster recovery.
“We have to start investing in our own assets to be able to respond,” he said.
“In celebrating our constitutions,” he added, “we should also be contemplating, ‘How do we protect this for the next 60 years?’”