Avia Collinder, Business Writer
Desmond Malcolm, the new general manager of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), says there is enough private capital available in Jamaica to energise local projects.
Malcolm, who settled into the post on August 4, said that the UDC would be relying on public-private partnerships to commercialise lands owned by the state agency and develop productive programmes for other assets.
UDC does not, he insists, have to depend on external capital and that there are private investors in Jamaica willing and able to cut and fund deals.
The corporation, with J$46 billion in assets, has been pursuing a programme of privatising non-core assets - a policy instituted under the Bruce Golding administration - which included a list of 36 properties nationwide for divestment and development.
But the UDC's push to offload its properties has had limited success. Its most noted sale transaction was The Jamaica Pegasus hotel to Quivin Holdings, and even then minority shareholders lambasted the deal saying the US$11-million price undervalued the property.
Malcolm would be expected to show more results on the pending divestments.
"We have a deputy general manager who is doing a lot of work on that, but clearly part of our focus is the building of public-private partnerships which are locally based," Malcolm told the Financial Gleaner.
"The potential is here, not so much externally. We have gotten support from IDB, from PetroCaribe, but there is evidence that there is private capital here. We have a lot of land assets and we are focused in that direction," he said.
Malcolm also takes over the ambitious US$3-billion redevelopment of the 10,000-acre Caymanas Estate for industry, commercial development, housing and other purposes. The project was formulated by his predecessor, Joy Douglas, who resigned in late 2011 amid controversy over the handling of a property sale in downtown Kingston to businessman Gassan Azan.
15-year track record
In Malcolm, the K.D. Knight-led board of the UDC has secured their wish - a new UDC boss with a minimum track record of 15 years in public-sector management.
A graduate in mechanical engineering from Howard University in the United States, he was first employed in Jamaica with the Water Commission in the 1970s, working eight years with the body.
Malcolm left when the commission was about to be merged with the National Water Authority and parish council water bodies to become the National Water Commission.
He notes that he went back to the United States in the 1980s to work in the energy sector, including as engineer with the District of Columbia in natural gas and electricity regulation.
He moved on to work with the federal government in the areas of roads, transport, environmental and waste-water management, among others.
In the 1990s Malcolm returned to Jamaica, re-engaging with the National water Commission between 1998 and 2002, with responsibility for waste-water systems in Negril, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay.
In 2002, he left to work with the National Works Agency as project director for North Coast Highway which runs from Negril to Port Antonio. His contract ended in June 2010.
The general manager said his experience in infrastructure, in addition to a master's in public administration, tipped the scale in his favour, during interviews for the post.
"One of the core functions is urban-rural development which includes not only building and development (planning), but roads and water supplies in the establishment of new towns. It fits very nicely with my previous experience," he said.
Created in 1968, the UDC's job is to transform urban centres and rural towns. The development agency has operated as a self-financed entity since 1987.