Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has stymied significant progress in the country’s economic independence, through macro-economic stability, reduction in high levels of public debt, poverty alleviation, human capital formation and increased employment opportunities, while protecting the vulnerable in society.
“However, our economy now faces the triple challenges of reduced revenues, increased health and social expenditures, and an ongoing climate crisis, which threatens to undo years of hard-won development gains,” said Holness in his address to the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) debate.
“The pandemic has highlighted pre-existing vulnerabilities and multiple structural weaknesses within our economies – large and small, rich and poor – and clearly demonstrated the systemic nature of risk worldwide.
“The great differences lie however, in our respective abilities to mitigate the development reversals arising from the multi-faceted impact of the pandemic, and to recover stronger,” Holness said, noting that developing countries must, therefore, devise strategies to respond effectively.
“We must rebalance our economies and rethink the nature of global cooperation so that we not only recover stronger but position ourselves to become more resilient to future systemic shocks,” he said.
Holness said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the “interconnectedness and interdependence” of the world, and underscored the need for strengthened and renewed multilateralism.
“As we strive to respond and recover stronger, we must re-imagine the way nations cooperate,” he said, stating that persistent global problems require consistent cooperation to achieve strategic global solutions.
He said small Caribbean states, which are designated as middle-income countries, but whose small economies are largely dependent on one or just a few industries, are most deeply affected by this crisis.
Holness said they urgently need increased access to concessional and non-concessional financing, given their limited fiscal space, reduced availability of public resources for investment and the struggle to attract private investment.
“We see access to international development finance and the establishment of special funds to complement our response, as an imperative.” he said, endorsing the UN Secretary-General’s call for solidarity.
Holness expressed Jamaica’s “sincere appreciation” to the United Nations for establishing its COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, urging donor countries to contribute.
He said the Fund represents “an excellent example of the effectiveness of multilateralism at work” and that its inclusion of vulnerable middle-income countries recognizes the reality that if one member of the global community fails, the potential exists for all others to be impacted.
“The entire international community will, therefore, reap benefits from the support provided,” Holness said, noting an area which requires particular support from such a fund or similar cooperation mechanism is the “digital divide”.
He said the pandemic has forced schools and workplaces to close and people to practice social distancing, and that the internet has become “our public square to meet and access critical information”.
But, he said, about half of the world’s population is still not connected to the internet.
With school, work, healthcare, commerce and religious worship going online, Holness said persons without access to a reliable internet connection may be marginalized and disconnected entirely.
“Now, more than ever before, it is imperative that the ‘digital divide’ not only be closed but that countries are enabled to provide universal access to connectivity, as well as the tools to allow their societies and economies to capture the power of digital technologies,” the prime minister said, adding that “universal, secure and affordable connectivity is essential for greater participation in the global digital economy and for the attainment of inclusive and sustainable development”.
He said the pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of digital technologies and has provided developing countries, in particular, with an opportunity to “leapfrog to a more digital economy.”
Holness called on the global community to respond with increased bi-lateral and multi-lateral cooperation in this area, which promises exponential increase in human capacity and economic dividends.
He said Jamaica is “heartened by the understanding, cohesion and clarity for action” displayed by the G20 Digital Economy Ministers in their July 2020 Declaration, the United Nations Sustainable Goals’ High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation and last month’s Report of the Task Force on Digital Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“All hands and ideas must be on deck for our national and collective digital resilience,” Holness urged.
As co-convener of the High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond, along with UN Secretary-General Guterres and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Holness said they “remain committed to facilitate the process of developing concrete global solutions and actions to enable countries to respond and recover better” from what the Secretary-General refers to as the world’s first “development emergency”.
“On September 29, when we convene the Second High Level Event, leaders will have an opportunity to highlight the collective measures they deem most effective for resolving the crisis and to also put forward recommendations for United Nations support.
“We look forward to hearing the actions proposed, including, those related to the closure of the ‘digital divide’ with a view to enabling robust and resilient recovery.”
Holness noted “with grave concern”, UN reports that women and girls continue to face discrimination globally, and that there are persistent gaps in their participation in economic activity, decision-making and political leadership.
“We have seen that the pandemic has deepened socio-economic inequalities and disproportionately impacted women and girls, leading to increased exposure to domestic violence and loss of livelihoods.
“We are taking measures to ensure that our national recovery efforts include a gender perspective and harness the full potential of all members of society as leaders, innovators and agents of economic, social and environmental change.”
Holness said that Jamaica is committed to furthering its engagement with the UN and its international partners to implement the “Spotlight Initiative” and to increase its advocacy through mechanisms such as the Groups of Friends on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Gender Parity, and Women, Peace and Security.
“There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has propelled the United Nations to a critical crossroads. It has exposed and exacerbated the gross inequalities that still exist. It has further reinforced the need for the international community to scale-up cooperation to respond to the growing and deepening health crisis.”
He said the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus is exerting immense pressure on health-care systems globally, many of which were already under stress.
“It has compounded existing disparities in health, and increased the risks for the vulnerable, particularly the elderly and persons requiring medical care for non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” Holness said.
He said given Jamaica’s limited fiscal space, his administration has adopted “a whole of government approach” to the pandemic, while mobilizing the support of all our citizens and that the pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of investing in NCDs prevention and care.
“Bridging the investment gap for prevention and treatment of NCDs must, therefore, be an essential pillar for our response to the pandemic and health security,” he said, thanking bilateral and international partners, including Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) for its “invaluable support and advice in our efforts to address this health crisis and its socio-economic impact.
“We believe that the ambition to expedite development of these tools must be matched with a determination to ensure that they are safe, effective and accessible to all,” he said.
In keeping with Jamaica’s commitment to the full realization of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Holness said his government is “deeply invested in finding solutions at the national, regional and multilateral levels to respond effectively and decisively to this pandemic.
“The immense challenges demand that, as a global community, we combine our efforts in a sustained and coordinated manner to identify opportunities for effective remedial action,” he said. “As we seek to create the future we want, we must summon our energies, talent and resources, to combat this global crisis with fortitude.
“We must act collectively, decisively and immediately. Our decisions now will determine the kind of future we create. Let us, together, do the right thing,” Holness said.