Thank you for the invitation to participate in the launch of this 20th anniversary celebration of your Lions Club of New Kingston. I always welcome the opportunity to be among fellow service men and women … people who are committed to enhancing the quality of life of the less fortunate.

I would also like to extend my sincere congratulations to you, Ambassador on your appointment as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. I am confident that the programmes of the Lions Club of New Kingston will be even more enhanced through your presence in the United Kingdom.

As you launch your 20th anniversary of service to the less fortunate in Kingston and St. Andrew, I commend the Club for the various projects it has undertaken and maintained over these years, including:

  • Provision of homes for indigent persons in inner-city communities;
  • Mentorship programmes and bursaries for students;
  • Counseling and social outreach sessions, and
  • Nutrition and skills training programmes

… which, as your theme states, is indicative of providing “Lion-hearted Service in Jamaica”.

As I reviewed your list of community care and involvement projects, I am forced to reflect on the period of time in Jamaica when the Club was established.

The period of the early 1990s was a significant time in our Jamaican landscape. The economy was booming with a growing financial sector; however there was a corresponding high level of poverty spurred by massive inflation, slow growth of income, devaluation and rising food prices. That massive financial bubble soon burst and resulted in the financial meltdown of the 1990s, and the largest increase in the national debt, which sapped a lot of resources from the country to support the debt financing programme.

And during this time, the needs of the society also grew significantly. Therefore, this Club must be commended for having started your operations in the face of such challenges, and achieving as much as you have done. Now as then, the need for clubs like the Lions Club is even more apparent, and perhaps more pressing when we consider that in 2009, 16.9% of Jamaicans lived below the poverty line.

But this year, with our celebration of 50 years of independence, Jamaica has an opportunity to hit the reset button. And a key element of hitting the reset button is being able to assess our experience and to move ahead with a positive focus.

Despite the significant size of the national debt, there seems to be great optimism about our economic future. During the past 12 months, there has been a revival in aspects of our financial sector as several companies have listed on the Main Market and the Junior Market of the Jamaica Stock Exchange. Just last week we heard about the emergence of a new financial company indicating confidence in the investment climate. And while Jamaica will have to make necessary fiscal adjustments, such as a cut in our budget, it is important that as a people we look forward to the opportunities ahead.

In recent times there has been much discussion about the similarities between Greece and Jamaica. The February issue of the Oppenheimer state that there is a fundamental difference in the response of Greeks and Jamaicans to their national debt issues. The Greeks have come to expect an enormous amount of subsidy support from their government, while Jamaicans anticipate relatively little in contrast. This is as a result of the stark difference in the primary budget surplus of the two countries. Jamaica has a surplus and Greece has a deficit. We have a central bank and Greece does not, so it is not fair to make the comparison between the two countries. The real outcome for the financial challenges is not to hit the brakes, but to seek out the opportunities to grow our economy.

In this vein, this year represents an enormous opportunity to reset Jamaica’s agenda and to even reset the agenda for the Lions Club. And this is even more significant as the eyes of the world will be watching us, not only how we perform on the economic world stage, but we are also recognized as the country with the greatest athletic talent going into also in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

As a country we cannot lose sight of this unique experience where it would appear that all the stars are aligned in Jamaica’s favour. To this end, the Private Sector and the Government of Jamaica have established an ambitious project called Meet Jamaica 2012 …to leverage the Olympic Games and the 50th Jubilee celebrations to showcase Jamaica’s export of goods and services, and culture to the rest of the world. If we think about we will have the largest concentration of Jamaicans in one place outside of Jamaica.

Meet Jamaica has the support of JAMPRO; the JTB; Ministry of Tourism; Ministry of Industry, Investment & Commerce; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade as well as several private sector companies such as GRACE, LIME, JNBS, Red Stripe, National Continental Corporation and J Wray & Nephew.

Meet Jamaica seeks to identify business opportunities for Jamaican companies through the hosting of marquee events in the UK and partnerships with entities such as the University of Birmingham and the Birmingham City Council to showcase Jamaica in a way that has never been done before.

To date the project has achieved some success such as participation in the International Food and Drink Expo –the largest food and beverage trade event in the UK; and i must commend JPS that while they are not direct exporters, they put up the funds to allow 11 small and micro enterprises to showcase their goods in the UK. And we followed that up with Taste of London, Europe’s greatest food and drink festival.

In addition, the City of Birmingham is all set to welcome our Jamaican athletes, who will be housed at an Olympic Village in Birmingham prior to the start of the Games. In fact, Birmingham City Council representative Mike Whitby will visit Jamaica again next month to cement these significant partnerships which have developed between Jamaica and Birmingham.

This opportunity must be seized by all Jamaicans as through these activities we can strengthen our international foreign relationships, and support our foreign policy strategy by encouraging nation states to continue to support Jamaica and its objectives. Embassies here in Jamaica and High Commissions and Embassies abroad have embraced the Meet Jamaica concept.

Through this window of opportunity the Lions Movement can be regarded as an important part of ensuring a strong and robust foreign policy. Your Lions Club movement has some 46,000 clubs around the world, and through that membership, the Lions Club has been able to increase international support for Jamaica through the Sight Programme and in building goodwill between citizens from around the world and Jamaica.

2012 also represents a great opportunity to promote Jamaica as one of the best tourist destinations in the world. Through your movement we can encourage more Lions to visit the island…to continue good works of Lions through what we call “Lion Tourism” as well as to simply come and enjoy some of the newest tourism destinations in the Caribbean such as Dolphin Cove, Mystic Mountain, Outameni and the attractive Falmouth Pier.

By pursuing your objective of promoting friendship, you can encourage Lions around the world to begin to appreciate Jamaican goods, particularly Jamaican food. It would be a wonderful experience if the Lions Movement could have its international convention at the ultramodern Convention centre in Montego Bay in the next 3 to 5 years. I’ve learnt one thing from the powerful… everything is possible if we understand what we want to do and work towards to achieving it.

And of course through the Lions Movement, one can create opportunities for Jamaican professionals to offer their services around the world by helping to create linkages between first class Jamaican professionals and the network of over one billion Lions worldwide. And I say first class Jamaican professionals because that is who we are. As a country we’ve allowed others to define, and we need to reinforce within ourselves that we are worldclass persons.

I point to these achievements because, over the years, Jamaicans in general have become accustomed to highlighting the negatives and to recognizing what is not happening. Typically when you meet a Jamaican and ask, “How are you?” you get a response like: “Nutten nah gwan”; but the reality is that “a whole heap a gwan”, but many of us are not seeing it; we don’t want to see it; or we only see what others tell us to see.

And at this point I’d like to go back to the issue of the national debt which many persons are concerned about, and rightly so, as it is not sustainable in the long term. But the solution will not only emerge from the contraction in budget, and stabilizing everything. As a country, we must also look for opportunities to grow. And the Lions movement and its membership in Jamaica, and as part of its wider membership, can not only pursue the social objectives of improving the quality of life of our people, but also be integrally involved in the economic growth and expansion of Jamaica.

I commend to you Meet Jamaica 2012 as a project that should be embraced and used as an opportunity to help Jamaica to maximize its potential. I would suggest that you use our logo in your correspondence so we can get the saturation and the exposure that the programme needs.

I once again acknowledge the presence of High Commissioner designate Aloun Assamba, who will soon be the Lion in St James Court. Through her, the club can begin to embrace a closer relationship with the Jamaican Diaspora and to align itself more closely to the Lion movement in the UK… to change the outcome for the people of our island, and for the people in the Diaspora.

As one of the largest service organisation which provides humanitarian service, I congratulate you on your programmes to care for the less fortunate, using your time, talent and resources.

I challenge you to continue to grow and share your positive energy with those around you. Much has been accomplished through your vision and hard work. I encourage you to share your objectives with others; and to continue to lead by example. By becoming models of service, you will encourage others to embrace the tenets of the Lions Movement.  And, by setting examples, other clubs will follow and experience success similar to that which you have enjoyed over the past 20 years.

Congratulations, once again on this milestone achievement in the Club, and I wish for you another 20 years service and of being effective in changing Jamaica.

Thank you.

Courtleigh Hotel Monday
February 27, 2012 at 6 pm

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