Tue | Mar 28, 2017

Western stakeholders disappointed with SEZ delays

Published:Tuesday | January 10, 2017 | 1:14 AMMark Titus
An aerial view of Montego Bay free zone, the hub of Jamaica’s call centre industry.

One year after passing the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) act into law, government is yet to roll out the regulatory framework to govern the new regime, and members of the investing community in western Jamaica are not happy.

"We know things cannot happen overnight, but if we are to get anywhere near the 300,000 jobs projected by the Prime Minister for the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) sector, this must be treated as a matter of priority," said Dr. Guna Muppuri, president of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ) who represents stakeholders in the lucrative BPO sector.

"The thinking has to change there must be strict timelines. "If you have money in your pocket and go to spend, but you have to wait a particular amount of time, that customer could become frustrated and go and do business elsewhere," continued Muppuri, who is a medical doctor by profession.

He added: "We need to protect our prospected investors and operators that are coming - and to wait for eight to ten months is unacceptable."

The SEZ Act was passed in January 2016, repealing the Jamaica Export Free Zone Act and included tax and customs incentives for qualified entities. The BPO sector in particular, enjoys the highest employment growth rate of any sector in the last decade and presently accounts for more than 14,000 jobs across the island. Most BPO facilities are located in Montego Bay.

 

OTHER OPTIONS

 

According to one leading member of the private sector, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Jamaica could lose prospective investors to other destinations, if government does not act with greater urgency.

"We must be reminded that those expressing interest in our country also have other options, some with more attractive incentive than ours," he said.

"The SEZ act was passed in January 2016 and we are still waiting on the regulations in January 2017. They are giving interim approvals, but no one wants an interim approval," he added.

When contacted Metry Seaga, chairman of the Special Economic Zone Authority acknowledged the concern of the business operators, but revealed that all was in place for a roll out of the regulatory framework by month end.

"There is a time lag because one act was repealed, before the other was enacted, Seaga said.

"We are getting somewhere but that does not say we should not be moving quicker, but I am happy to say that all is now in place and the application forms are available at the Office of The Prime Minister. Any new company can fill out the form and after the due diligence is conducted, expect a relatively quick response to their application," the chairman said.