Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Getting industry out of park

Published:Wednesday | April 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM

This is an edited excerpt of Karl Samuda's Sectoral Debate presentation yesterday.

Anthony Hylton's stewardship of the industry portfolio is abysmal. He has not only failed to make any meaningful headway and deliver on key projects since assuming office, but is yet to present and implement in any coherent and compelling way policies and strategies that will make the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce (MIIC) the growth catalyst it ought to be, leveraging its investment promotions position, and spur growth across the various sectors.

The Opposition fully supports any sensible effort by the Government to develop our hard and soft infrastructure as a prelude to making Jamaica an attractive investment destination. What we are opposed to is the abject, tardy and inept manner in which important development has taken place. The Government has literally wasted more than three years feasting on its own rhetoric and propaganda while getting precious little done in real terms.

Two years ago, Minister Hylton announced in Parliament: "The Caymanas Economic Zone (CEZ) will begin construction in a matter of months, utilising the same joint-venture approach. Two hundred acres of lots and purpose-built space will be developed in an environment comparable to any First World special economic zone. The industries earmarked for the zone include ICT, manufacturing, incubator, creative industries, furniture, electronics and biomedical industries ... ."

n The only thing that has followed this announcement was the naming of two committees to manage and promote these projects. That is: i) Dr Vin Lawrence is to chair an enterprise team, and ii) Pat Francis is to chair the Policy Steering Committee. Neither seem to really know what is going on, or perhaps, have gotten fed up with the process and mindless chatter altogether.

It did not come as a surprise, therefore, when the permanent secretary in the MIIC advised the Public Accounts Committee just last week that this project as announced by the minister has been scrapped.

This project is valued at US$50m and is to end in 2020. It is designed to focus on four key areas:

Component 1: Enhancing competition in the business environment

Component 2: Facilitating strategic private investments

Component 3: Supporting small and medium-sized enterprises capabilities and finance

Component 4: Learning through project implementation and M&E.

It must be said that in its present state, the MIIC cannot handle a project of this magnitude and importance.

- For example, an essential agency in the management of the project is the Development Bank of Jamaica. To date, it has not been brought into the loop, despite the fact that the project was approved in July last year.

- But why should we be surprised when in the auditor general's report of 2013-14, she stated:

 "The MIIC lacks a comprehensive risk management plan that would help them to better manage the risks to which the ministry is exposed."

 "The MIIC is not meeting the MSMEs' policy to achieve its stated objective."

 "The MIIC is not conducting follow-up to ensure proper implementation of policies and adherence to guidelines."

 "... The ministry did not carry out any significant amount of monitoring, neither did they evaluate policies after implementation"

- "We found that we were unable to ascertain the number of policies monitored over the three-year period 2011-2014, as no reports was produced. Without this evaluation process, MIIC would not be able to determine the extent to which the policies were impacting the respective sectors in accordance with the stated objectives."

The MIIC is starved of funds. As a result, investment promotion is compromised. Virtually nothing is taking place that would qualify the MIIC to be referred to as the growth ministry.

Recommendations:

1. Increase budgetary allocation to the MIIC in order to enable JAMPRO to expand its reach in investment promotions.

2. Divest Factories Corporation and utilise the money to stimulate the BPO sector.

3. Proceed with the development project at Naggo Head and accelerate the development of Caymanas lands to local investors and/or China Harbour.

4. Introduce specific incentives dedicated to the creation of jobs, particularly through the services sector.

5. Reorient our focus as a nation to place emphasis on not just domestic, but foreign trade; strengthening the institutional structures geared to the development and expansion of exports, including the tourism sector as an exporter of services.

6. Retrofit empty factory spaces and convert them to skills-training centres.

7. Finance and strengthen the collaboration between our embassies/consulates and JAMPRO in order to facilitate a drive for foreign direct investments - New York, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago could be the start.

8. Establish a talent hunt programme within our primary and secondary school system to identify for specialised training our most talented students, especially in the fields of science and mathematics.

9. Establish a science academy at Caymanas that is dedicated to the enrolment of our brightest and most talented minds in the sciences.

10. Establish a Science Education and Training Fund utilising the recently announced Obama Initiative.

- Karl Samuda is opposition spokesman on industry, investment and commerce. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.