The Prime Minister was delivering the keynote address at the Jamaica Stock Exchange Regional Investments & Capital Markets Conference 2016 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel on Monday (January 18). The conference theme was: “Reaching Beyond Traditional Boundaries – Exploring and Partnering for Growth for all” and the Prime Minister presented on the topic: “The Growth Agenda – Moving Beyond Debt Management and Growing the Economy.”
Prime Minister Simpson Miller stressed that the fact that the Government is now moving beyond debt management in no way underestimates the critical role of debt reduction in overall economic management and the growth agenda. She said while Jamaica’s debt history is well known, her Administration is rewriting the course of that history through new legislation and strategies to ensure effective management and lowering of the debt.
This was necessary, she said, to release the strangle-hold which unsustainably high levels of debt had on the Jamaican economy for several decades.
Ensuring that the social agenda is not neglected, the Prime Minister said, called for major investments by the Government in social programmes for vulnerable groups, as well as in areas such as Health and Education. This included important expansions in the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).
She added that over the four years, allocations to the Ministry of Education for education, training and human resource development have consistently accounted for the largest share of the national budget after provisions for Debt payments and public sector salaries. This amounted to $81 billion in the current fiscal year.
Likewise, she noted, the budget for the Health Sector for the current financial year, is also significant with a total investment of $51.9 billion, $8 billion more than the allocation for that sector in the 2014-2015 financial year.
The Prime Minister made it clear that the Government is now focused actively pursuing the growth agenda to ensure job creation, business expansion and accelerated economic growth.
“With the constraint on Government spending – the central strategy for achieving this, has been an aggressive programme of private sector-led investments,” Prime Minister Simpson Miller said. These investments are targeted at the areas of physical infrastructure development, expansion of Tourism, transformation of the Energy Sector, expansion in Agriculture, and a significant increase in manufacturing activities.
She reminded the audience of local and international business persons and other professionals that a competitive and enabling business environment is essential to attract those vital investments required to support the country’s long-term goal of strong economic growth and sustained development.
Accordingly, she said, the Government has implemented reforms to address policy and structural deficiencies which hind competitiveness in the business environment. The success of these measures, she reminded, is evidenced by successive upward movements by Jamaica in the ease of doing business index published in the World Bank Doing Business Report for 2015 and 2016.
In the aggressive pursuit of investments, physical and economic infrastructure development has been the centre-piece of the Government investment strategy, Prime Minister Simpson Miller announced. One such signature investment is the North-South Highway which is on track for completion by March this year.
She listed the many tourism development projects recently completed, now underway or about to commence as evidence of the economic expansion and return of growth. The Hyatt Ziva/Zilara, Moon Palace, Marriott and Melia Braco hotels have all all opened their doors recently as part of what the Prime Minister said was a J$64 billion total investment in the tourism sector since her Administration took office in January 2012.
Other hotels, she said, are in the process of planning refurbishments, expansions or constructing new properties. This includes the Karisma Resort Group which is starting construction of its US$900 million mega development at Llandovery in St. Ann this year; as well as the development of two new hotels in Trelawny, which Ocean By H-TEN, is also expected to start this year.
Further unfolding the Government’s growth strategy, The Prime Minister said her Administration’s active encouragement of investments in transhipment port facilities is a deliberate part of our growth agenda.
“The Port of Kingston development remains high on the growth agenda to capitalize on opportunities arising from global developments specifically the Panama Canal expansion,” she explained.
In response to opportunities in logistics to make room for additional cargo after the Panama Canal expansion is complete, the Prime Minister indicated, Kingston Wharves Limited has also embarked on an expansion plan involving investments of $50 million US Dollars.
The Government is also said to be pursuing connected opportunities in logistics through the establishment of Special Economic Zones. “By later this year, for example, phase one of new manufacturing activities in the Spanish Town Special Economic Zone, is expected to be up and running,” the Prime Minister said, noting that Special Economic Zones will facilitate strategic investments that will serve as a catalyst for driving economic growth and facilitate linkages between global and domestic markets.
In all of this, a platform is also being provided for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises to participate in global supply-chain networks and overseas markets. Mrs. Simpson Miller said her Government is focusing on a framework through which to continue supporting the development of the MSME sector as an avenue to stimulate growth. New initiatives include increased funding through the Development Bank of Jamaica in the amount of $4.1 billion for 2015/16.
In the investment push of the Government, the Business Process Outsourcing industry is already poised to be a game-changer with the prospect for significant job creation, she Prime Minister noted. The country, she said, has seen noteworthy growth in the industry with the introduction and expansion of several BPOs across Jamaica, including Xerox Commercial Solutions, Sutherland Global Services, Bioprist, Barnett Tech Park and IBEX, which relocated part of its operations from India to Jamaica.
Additional operating space is being built by the Factories Corporation of Jamaica in the Montego Bay Freezone and the Portmore Technology Park.
Another vital plank of the growth agenda as outlined by the Prime Minister is the reduction of energy costs to residential and industrial users, as well as the widening of Jamaica’s options for cheaper fuel from renewable energy sources. This initiative is being led actively by the Government through the Energy Sector Enterprise Team. Several private sector and Government led projects in this regard will come on stream this year, the Prime Minister announced.