Despite heavy showers of rain and gloomy skies that define a typical fall day in Vancouver, Jamaican Vancouverites and friends of Jamaicans turned out in their numbers to a Town Hall meeting with Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, The Honourable Edmund Bartlett on September 23, 2010.
The meeting which was being hosted by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and the Jamaican Canadian Cultural Association of British Columbia (JCCAB) represented the JTB’s efforts to kick off the Winter Tourist season with direct flights between Vancouver and Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Scheduled flight services will begin on November 1, 2010 and will run through to April 30, 2011 with participating partners being West Jet Vacations – West Jest Airlines, Air Canada Vacations – Air Canada Flight, and Air Transat, Canada. While encouraging persons to take advantage of this service, JTB’s Sandra A. Scott emphasized that the message that she wishes to get across, is that Jamaica is open for business and that Jamaica welcomes visitors.
Presentation from The Honourable Edmund Bartlett
In a bout of confession, the Minister admitted that he had not expected to see such a wonderful show of persons and that he was indeed pleased that persons felt moved to brave the weather and be out in their numbers.
As the Minister addressed the audience, he explained that the Canadian market is very important to Jamaica, being the 2nd largest market for tourism as far as Jamaica is concerned. But while this is so and the island has done well in terms of increasing its arrivals, it is significantly far behind some of its competitors in the market, one of which is Cuba – Cuba is still the largest beneficiary market for Canadian tourists in the region and arguably in the world, followed by the Dominican Republic. Cuba, he explained attracted close to 1 million arrivals from Canada alone, the Dominican Republic approximately 650,000 and Jamaica 300,000. The task that therefore lies ahead is to get more of those persons going on vacation, to vacation in Jamaica, for clearly, there is “a lot of juice in the market”. On that note, he challenged his audience to be good ambassadors and marketers for Jamaica, “for no one can market Jamaica better than a Jamaican”. He also reminded the Jamaicans present that they are not to be led to believe that they are not important to the growth and development of their country as when they return home to visit, whether it is to see family, friends alumni or to attend funerals, celebrations or other festivities, they form part of the tourism statistics and likewise, the money that they spend is part of the tourism earnings.
Recognizing the key role that remittance plays, the Minister pointed out that unfortunately since the recession, remittance inflows have fallen below tourism earnings but he is hopeful that in the near future remittances will again become a vibrant part of the country’s income inflows. It is however important that steps be taken to boost the country’s investments and to attract foreign exchange, as this is a key area of development for any country. Without these, the country cannot buy pharmaceutical drugs, source vehicles and vehicle parts, purchase clothes and certainly some kinds of food, and even more importantly, serve as a source of job creation for its citizens.
The minister noted that though the economy was ravaged by the recession, they have been able to successfully establish a debt exchange programme – The Jamaica Debt Exchange Programme (JDX), the first of its kind, and is to be credited to the hard work and insight of Minister Shaw. This programme allows the country’s creditors to accept a lower rate of interest without the relationship between them turning sour. Additionally, with this in place, the government is able to request that the country’s banks reduce their rates and in turn allow entrepreneurs to competitively participate in the market place.
The Minister reported that though the extradition issue had challenged the country to the point where it tested their capability as a people to fight organized crimes, the country has since June experienced a reduction in crime by 42%. He expressed that it is indeed a good feeling to know that the police, the army, the government and the people are at one about the need to recover Jamaica and restore the country to one in which people will feel free to come to visit and live and raise their families in peace, harmony and contentment.
Education has become a matter of priority for the government, the Minister emphasized, as an “educated society is in charge of itself, understands itself, is able to manipulate the environment to its own advantage and more importantly, convert creativity into material goods that have pecuniary rewards”. The aim he says is to have every basic school licensed – that is, the teachers must be university or college trained, the schools must possess the required instructional and early childhood materials, security and safety gadgets, and a good building. He stressed that “every child can learn and must learn” and that no longer is “education for all a political talk” but that Jamaica is serious about education and they the government are doing it right this time. “For the first time, we are sustaining it – free tuition at the primary and the secondary level.” This means that the government is committed to providing a solid educational foundation for each child up to the secondary level, after which the responsibility rests with them and their parents/guardians. He pointed out that it would be too great an expense, one that the country could not afford at this time, to provide free tertiary education for everyone. He further noted that this year provided the best out turn for external exams that Jamaica has seen for a number of years, with mathematics and English having the best results.
Where health is concerned, the Minister indicated that they are upholding their policy of free health care at the primary level – no person must be turned away or refused care at any hospital, as the government believes that a healthy society is a productive society.
Infrastructure, Governance and Corruption
The Minister also addressed the areas of infrastructure and governance and corruption, stating that where infrastructure is concerned, work is being done and that they received a loan of US$400m from the Chinese government to repair roads – the most comprehensive road repair programme that Jamaica has ever seen to date.
He indicated that the intention is to do an overhaul of the whole political system to get rid of “pork-barrel politics, nepotism and corruption”, as more and more, lending agencies are requesting that governance must reflect transparency. One of the plans, for instance is to require political parties to register. In this way, they will be subjected to audits and surveillance, meaning that they must disclose their sources of income and how the money is spent. They will also be addressing the troublesome issue of the number of terms that a Prime Minister has in office and along with that enabling a separation of powers and removing the almost dictatorial power that the Prime Minister has. The objective is to allow for greater input from the wider Jamaican public as well as Jamaicans overseas. In line with that, the trends that he envisages are: (1) an open government with greater transparency and more inclusiveness, (2) work towards creating an economy that is freer and more open to private entrepreneurship – significantly trimming the public sector (public sector restructuring programme), removing overlaps and duplications, thus making it more streamlined, and (3) ensuring that there is more fiscal space for the private sector to grow – rationalizing tariffs, e-services, etc. The Minister charged that at the end of the day, they wish to create a Jamaica that in time will have residents wanting to return home to a place where they can live, make a living, grow their families and retire.