Commerce slowly returns to troubled city
Dionne Rose, Business Reporter
Yesterday, businesses began pulling up shutters, some warily, signalling a gradual return to trading in the usually bustling downtown Kingston business district, which became deserted after days of unrest in the Corporate Area.
But while the umbrella business grouping, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) is reporting losses of $100 million and climbing from missed business, damage and looting, some financial institutions were yesterday keeping their locations in the heart of the troubled city shuttered.
Milton Samuda, president of the JCC, told the Financial Gleaner yesterday that final figures for losses faced by the association's members were not yet in, even as it became clear that the businesses of non-members were also affected, some significantly.
"I still don't have the final figures but it is looking to be $100 million so far," he said.
Samuda said most of the JCC member companies would have re-opened for business yesterday. Only a few of his members were said to have been affected by looting, which he reported was not widespread.
While some informal traders returned to the streets yesterday, many converged on the outskirts of the city, creating major traffic congestion in the nearby Three Miles area to the western end of the city.
Among the business places which opened their doors in downtown Kingston yesterday were Ammar's Departmental Store on King Street, Lerner Shops at South Parade and King Street and the King Street location of Kingston Bookshop.
The Harbour Street headquarters of conglomerate GraceKennedy Limited, and the Spanish Town Road operations of Pepsi-Cola Jamaica, also reopened yesterday.
Government offices, among them the Tax Administration Department's offices in downtown Kingston, neighbouring Cross Roads and Spanish Town, St Catherine, where violence also flared, also resumed operations.
The Supreme Court in downtown Kingston and the Spanish Town Resident Magistrate's Court, forced shut, too, by several days of running gunfights between law enforcers and criminals, also resumed activities yesterday.
But not all businesses were assured that the downtown area was safe enough for normal commerce yesterday. Several banks and other financial institutions kept their branches in the area closed. The Scotia Centre at the corner of Duke and Port Royal Streets, the Jamaica headquarters of the multinational bank, as well as its branches at King Street, Harbour Street and at Victoria Avenue and Blake Road were still closed yesterday.
"We are looking at the situation on a daily basis," Simone Hull, public relations specialist at Scotiabank, said yesterday.
The National Commercial Bank's Duke Street and Windward Road branches in the business district also remained shuttered up to yesterday. Sheree Martin, the bank's senior assistant general manager for group marketing, said NCB was monitoring the situation daily to assess safety levels before the branches reopened.
Jamaica National Building Society also kept its Duke Street offices closed yesterday, indicating that it would reopen for business today.
Meanwhile, the Jamaica Public Service Company kept its South Parade office in downtown Kingston shut.
"We are expecting that things will be back to normal by Monday," said Winsome Callum, head of corporate communications at the JPS.
"We will continue to assess the situation."
Business also remained at a standstill at the Kingston offices of the Government's Urban Develop-ment Corporation (UDC) yester-day. The offices are located in an area of the Kingston waterfront still being used by the security forces to coordinate their opera-tions, which are still ongoing in parts of Tivoli Gardens in the city.
"Hopefully, we should be back in full swing tomorrow," UDC General Manager Joy Douglas said yesterday.
Most businesses in downtown Kingston were shuttered last Thursday and Friday following news that a warrant for the arrest of area strongman, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, had been issued. Coke, the reputed don of west Kingston enclave, Tivoli Gardens, is wanted by the United States on allegations of drug trafficking and gunrunning.
For days residents of Tivoli Gardens and other west Kingston communities mounted roadblocks preventing access to the community. The security forces, during an operation on Monday, went into the communities where they were attacked by gunmen. At least 73 persons have been killed during the operation, while gunmen in western Kingston and other sections of the Corporate Area, where the violence spilled, killed a soldier and two policemen.
The Government issued a state of emergency for the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew. The state of emergency is expected to last for a month.