Hylton has lots to account for
The move to make the annual Sectoral Debate more relevant and interesting will be tested as of tomorrow when Dr Wykeham McNeill and then Anthony Hylton step up to the crease, both seeking to make runs for an unpopular government which is three years into its five-year term.
Hylton, the industry and commerce minister, is in need of some runs under his belt. Pretty much like Richard Staple in the middle order for Jamaica during the 1990s, Hylton, despite some good innings, has not quite gone on to post many big scores just yet.
When he bats tomorrow, Hylton, though a laborious speaker, has several critical issues he must address in the short time he has been allocated to speak. The top of the list must be the so-called logistics-centred economy.
Last year, Hylton used the debate to announce that critical policy shift to create a logistics-centred economy.
"The principal thrust of this new policy will be weighted towards research and development, as well as financing for technology platforms and networks, to support the commercialisation of innovative ideas and systems to protect and develop intellectual property and to encourage commercialisation," Hylton said.
One year has passed, and Hylton will appreciate that a report on the policy is now due. Failure to achieve anything substantial in that regard could underscore the view that the ministry has not been firing on all cylinders.
Last year, the minister said that out of high-level and targeted investment missions undertaken over the last year and a half to Europe, Kuwait, Dubai, Singapore, China, the USA, Canada, India, and Panama, several discussions are now taking place with prospective investors around large-scale manufacturing investments in a range of sectors.
Those investments include energy, the extractive industries, as well as in ICT, medical devices, distribution and logistics.
"We are receiving high investor interest in projects to improve and expand our existing seaport, airport, industrial/commercial, and ICT infrastructure through joined-up governance," the minister of announcements said last year.
Hylton will agree that an update on whether these initiatives have been fruitful is necessary at this time.
At the same time, it would be good if Hylton, for the first time at last, provides further and better particulars on the memorandum of understanding which he said has been inked with an investor group that has expressed "solid interest" in investing US$5 billion in a series of logistics-related infrastructure projects.
In addition, Jamaica needs an update on the registry for the National Security Interest in Personal Property. Well do we recall how it was shut down after certain personal information ended up in the public domain by way of the registry's website. The minister subsequently ordered a review but is yet to report the details to the country.
Another area which is in need of urgent attention is that of the film lot which Hylton announced would be constructed at the old Goodyear factory in St Thomas. Although a private venture, the project took on life because of the announcement made in Parliament. Hylton owns the country a follow-up.
Answers from McNeill, too
But it is not just Hylton who needs to provide answers. McNeil has announced the roll out of a "Shovel-Ready" Project Initiative that, by pre-packaging a number of investment opportunities, will streamline and expedite the process of investment in Jamaica.
Much has not been heard of it since.
The Gavel also finds it strange that a portion of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's budget presentation this year appears to be a carbon copy of McNeill's sectoral debate from last year.
Of note, there was a repeat of the beach access programme that was aimed at ensuring that the Jamaican people are able to enjoy their patrimony through access to our beaches.
"We are now implementing a programme where at least one beach in every parish will be transformed to make quality recreational spaces available to the public -
residents and visitors alike," McNeill said.
An update is needed.
Simpson Miller also announced last month that there will be a rest-stop programme to allow Jamaicans to enjoy the blessings of our country.
McNeill said the same thing last year. While I don't share the view that the two ministers should not make the same announcement, we should not allow ourselves to continue along the journey of being a nation of announcements. For this reason, McNeill should indicate what has been achieved since he spoke a year ago, and clearly outline the programme of work for this year.
The country should also be told whether China is putting in place any specific programme to drive traffic to Jamaica. We have been told that China Harbour is to construct three hotels on the North Coast on lands it will get for building the North South highway. The country needs to know the model to be pursued and the time line for construction of the hotel.
And if McNeill has not yet thought about it, the Ian Fleming Airport in St Mary could be a critical link in getting Chinese tourists here.
In this new format for the debate, the minister will speak on a specific theme for 45 minutes, and the opposition spokesperson would be given 30 minutes.
Two new clocks have been have been placed on the walls in the chambers of Gordon House. The days of long-winded, scattershot presentations are numbered. Let's see which side can put the most runs on the board.