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Chickens come home to roost! - Samuda charges that some members of the local private sector lack courage, and are myopic and uncooperative

Published:Sunday | September 7, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Former Industry and Commerce Minister Karl Samuda
Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton (centre) observes activities being carried out by business process outsourcing firm Elephant Group's sales agent, Jannel James (seated), during his tour of the company's newly expanded office space in the Montego Bay Free Zone in May. Also observing are: Yvan Garcia (left), director, Elephant Group; Clive Fagan (second left), chairman, Montego Bay Free Zone, and Factories Corporation of Jamaica; and Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams, state minister for industry, investment, and commerce.
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Former Industry and Commerce Minister Karl Samuda is blaming major local building contractors for the failure of the Government to find space to accommodate the growing Information Communication and Technology (ICT) and Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) sector.

With Minister of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining Phillip Paulwell arguing that a lack of commercially available space in the right locations is stifling Jamaica's chance of becoming a highly competitive and attractive business destination and a leading contact centre, Samuda charged that this is a result of a selfish and myopic private sector.

According to Samuda, the attitude adopted by influential members in the private sector, who controlled the construction sector when he, as minister, approached them with a proposal to construct ICT space, is to be blamed for the present troubles.

The veteran legislator, who now serves as opposition spokesman on industry, investment and commerce, suggested that Paulwell would be wasting time and energy going back to local developers.

"What the Government should be doing is to seek international assistance for the construction of aspects of the facilities," Samuda told The Sunday Gleaner.

Desperate appeals

With a lack of local space said to be stifling ICT growth locally, Paulwell has been making desperate appeals to the private sector, including real estate developers, to invest in the development of space.

But the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and the Realtors Association have signalled that developers are apprehensive to invest in such a venture as they may be hard put to collect on their investments.

For Samuda, "the chickens have come home to roost, as without buildings, there will be no expansion of ICT throughout the country".

He said while he was the minister in charge of investment he made repeated requests to enter into a joint-venture arrangement in which the then Government would provide land and the private sector would carry out the construction.

"In addition, we would seek, through JAMPRO, customers to occupy the facilities," said Samuda. "What we were asking of them is to enter into the agreement to build facilities but we could not give any fiscal guarantees because of our fiscal situation."

Samuda said the developers refused to make even the slightest effort and insisted that in order to go forward, the Government had to guarantee them revenue.

Entrepreneurial courage

"That, in my view, displayed a lack of entrepreneurial courage, and now, after giving my experiences to Parliament, when this Government came to office, they persisted in giving the false impression that there was adequacy of space to accommodate the ICT sector," complained the veteran parliamentarian.

Samuda said as minister he met with the largest users and providers in the world of ICT, including Vistaprint.

He said at the time Vistaprint gave the Government an undertaking that it was well advanced in planning to construct its facilities.

"This was happening even as other people interested in Jamaica would not look at it unless appropriate incentives were offered that is a credit per seat of employee in the facility, and other tax facilities that were common in other countries."

According to Samuda, these potential investors would not discuss the possibility of doing business in Jamaica until they could at least see some signs in the ground with a specific time frame as to when the facility would be made available.

"They were never in the business of making any commitment unless they were absolutely certain of the time frame involved in the commencement, which includes the provision of all physical and social infrastructure," stressed Samuda.

He said he was forced to resort to the Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ) in the Montego Bay Free Zone, where the Government had buildings designed and used for manufacturing.

"They were transferred to the ICT sector that remodelled the buildings at great cost, and in doing so converted them from a factory facility into an ICT facility. It is still operating."

The opposition spokesman said with the local private sector unwilling to construct the buildings, he was forced to change his approach by going through the FCJ to acquire 200 acres of Caymanas lands to stimulate local investments and for building out an ICT facility.

CAPTION - Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton (centre) observes activities being carried out by business process outsourcing firm Elephant Group's sales agent, Jannel James (seated), during his tour of the company's newly expanded office space in the Montego Bay Free Zone in May. Also observing are: Yvan Garcia (left), director, Elephant Group; Clive Fagan (second left), chairman, Montego Bay Free Zone, and Factories Corporation of Jamaica; and Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams, state minister for industry, investment, and commerce.