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JAMAICA | Sustainable Economic Development - Is Jamaica on the right path?

KINGSTON,  September 24, 2019 - In spite of all the positive economic fundamentals for Jamaica and the activity in Tourism, Agriculture, Construction and Bauxite Alumina, in particular, our GDP growth rate remains anemic in the 1-2% range.

I suggest that the real reason for this continuing situation is that we fail to approach development planning and implementation from a Sustainable perspective. Let us look at each of the above four areas and do some simple analysis of our approaches.


Robert Stephens 300
The Author, Robert Stephens is president of Pragma Concultants Ltd; a Former Director of Tourism in Jamaica; A Director of the Port Royal Development Company and the main protagonist in the push to develop historic pirate city of Port Royal in Kingston as a major heritage tourism destination and a cruise ship port of call.

Tourism

This is where we are weakest in terms of sustainable planning and development.

We keep on making the same mistakes of selling off our prime real estate on our coastline to mainly major international hotel developers without ensuring that these investments really benefit and improve the lives of our local population, other than providing mostly lower paying jobs in all-inclusive resorts.

Sustainable planning and development must look at the needs of our people and how we can move them from poverty to true prosperity.

Selling land to developers to put in hotel rooms without any provision for worker housing, infrastructure for the surrounding areas and the social services improvement including health facilities, police stations and recreational facilities is perpetuating underdevelopment and encouraging squatting.

Furthermore, most of the earnings from these major foreign investors are the subject of Tax-free concessions and in many cases do not even reach Jamaica as they only report a portion of their earnings to provide sufficient funding for the payment of their staff and to buy some local supplies.

The name of the game for major Multinational investors is to reduce their tax liabilities internationally, so we do not benefit significantly from these investments other than the employment and local supplies they buy.

Cruise Shipping

We should have learned from the strategies adopted in Port Antonio and Falmouth where we developed fancy gated areas for the visitors while neglecting the basic infrastructure and development needs of the towns and we did not, therefore, reap the expected outcomes for our people.

Falmouth is now having massive declines of visitors and Port Antonio really never got out of one or two visits of Cruise ships per year but we spent massive amounts of capital on these facilities.

Now we are doing the same thing in Port Royal, spending over US$40 million on establishing a Cruise Pier and an area for buses to take visitors to Kingston without making the necessary investment in developing the basic infrastructure and facilities in the town of Port Royal.

We need our heads examined.

Agriculture

To have any major development of the agricultural products to make a major dent to substitute for imports or expend exports requires doing the research and having local investors attracted to invest in well organized and sustainably developed agricultural plans for specific crops. We can develop major exports in agriculture but this must be strategically approached with sustainable planning and implementation.

Sustainable planning and implementation will likely point to a strategy where we develop hubs and spokes in Agriculture where you have major producers, distributors and marketers organizing key areas as the "Hubs" and the GOJ facilitating and regulating the particular area to assist with their growth and development and in particular protect the small farmers.

The above simple approach can be rolled out islandwide with each sub agricultural area whether it be Bananas, Sugar, Coffee, Orchard Crops, etc. having major producers/distributors/exporters being the hubs and the small farmers either feeding into the export market via the hubs or feeding the local market via direct selling through the local markets and supermarkets.

Furthermore, the current approach of selling prime agricultural land for housing and commercial development is totally wrong and must be stopped before all our best agricultural land is covered with concrete.
Construction

There is undoubtedly a lot of activity in construction but are we properly planning and implementing our activities? I have some observations which suggest that we often do construction which is very inefficient and here are a few examples of things we need to seriously improve.

Major Infrastructure

We have numerous roads, drains, water and sewage projects being implemented but why do we have such chaos in planning and implementation?

Planning and implementation weaknesses leading to traffic bottlenecks and redoing of work several times is not efficient and really needs serious attention. Are we just throwing amateurs at the jobs of planning and supervision or are we using trained professionals?

It seems to me that if we were to stop and assess all the mistakes and start with a fresh approach, we would be far more efficient and we would all be full of praise for the work being done but the scant regard for the safety and convenience of the traveling public is very disconcerting and has shown very little sign of improvement.

Building Construction

Our buildings are also not keeping pace with the need to be more efficient in terms of energy and water in particular.

All our buildings should be looking at using insulated concrete to keep cooler temperatures inside, solar and or wind to supply energy for lights and air conditioners and we should be installing Rainwater Harvesting Systems and Greywater Recycling as an integral part of their design and development.

Housing Construction

Of particular concern is the housing densities and building heights throughout most of Kingston and St Andrew which were formerly restricted to 30 habitable rooms per Acre (HRA) and two storeys in height but were increased to 100 HRA and six storeys in height based on the provisional development order of 2017 published by NEPA.

What provisions are we making to accommodate these high rise buildings in terms of water, sewage and most importantly Fire Equipment that can service these buildings?

Furthermore, once quiet residential areas are now seeing the infiltration of high rise apartments which totally change the structure and privacy of these areas.

High rise apartments downtown Kingston or in new Kingston near to places of work are perfectly acceptable but in neighbourhoods that have at most two-storey buildings, this is most undesirable.

Bauxite Alumina

Having been a General Manager of Clarendon Alumina Production Ltd. in the 1980’s I really should not speak of the industry in a negative way but then again I do have knowledge of the intricacies of the industry and should speak my mind.

Bauxite Alumina today for Jamaica, in my opinion, is not an industry with a future for our fragile island state.

The permanent environmental damage to our beautiful country is just too heartbreaking to allow this industry to continue.

There are also some very foreboding signs on the immediate horizon which make the industry as a future major plank in our economy very questionable.

Prices for the commodity are down and most of our plants are either very inefficient and need major investment to overhaul or are downright ready for the scrap metal market.

The current demand for all of the Cockpit Country to be protected from Mining is something the GOJ should consider as critical given the enormous negative community and natural environmental impact.

The fact is, we are now providing such major concessions to the mining companies re their payments of the Bauxite Levy that I do believe an economic, social and environmental impact assessment would show that the negatives far outweigh the positives and protecting the entire Cockpit Country from mining would be a no brainer decision.

In the final analysis, if we wish to have meaningful and sustainable economic, social, environmental and I daresay political development and maturity as a country we need to seriously consider the issues above and let us look forward to true prosperity instead of samfi-ism and popularity approaches as we have had in the past from our political leaders.

  • Countries: Jamaica

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