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Reality check: Would you invest in Jamaica?

Published:Wednesday | November 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Dennie Quill, Columnist

So the Secrets project in Negril was recently raided by thieves. The news item said bandits made off with an estimated $9 million worth of material from the construction site. How individuals were able to move bulky items like plywood without being observed defies the imagination.

Even as the police investigate the matter to find the criminals and hopefully the materials, the incident is deserving of national condemnation. Is this any way to encourage investment?

Secrets is just another in the long list of companies that has been robbed. The utility companies appear to suffer the brunt of the impact of thievery. Electricity theft has become so rampant in all sectors of the society that it has left the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) scratching its head for new strategies. After installing tamper-proof meters and other anti-theft devices, the JPS recently admitted that it had run out of ideas.

Cell sites are regularly looted of copper wires and fuel, and there are many stories of how brazen criminals have attacked these facilities, bleeding them of valuable assets and rendering them inoperable.

Expensive investment

Thieves have no conscience, so they are not likely to appreciate that their actions can have a severe negative impact on businesses by putting many jobs at risk. But security is a major issue for business. It has a direct impact on critical areas of operation, including productivity and continuity.

The minister of industry must surely recognise that Jamaica is a very hostile environment for business. How can the minister seriously seek to woo investors to this country when they face an array of challenges? Why come to Jamaica when the competition for the investment dollar is so fierce?

Most investors have to borrow money on the commercial market to start a business. Money is not cheap. Hefty interest payments have to be met, and other operational costs such as insurance and utilities are very pricey. Many businesses are just managing to break even, while a lot of them are teetering on the brink of extinction. What looks like prosperity is sometimes the last gasp in the life of a business.

Although the Private Sector of Jamaica, chambers of commerce and other business groupings have not been highlighting the security concerns as I believe they ought to, it doesn't take long to learn from business operators how much of a security nightmare they face in conducting business in Jamaica.

From the hiring of security guards and installation of surveillance and alarm equipment, to providing transportation for workers, these additional costs make business that more challenging in our country.

Stem criminality tide

We acknowledge that the police cannot be present everywhere, but it would be reassuring if once in a while thieves could be caught in the act of raiding, say, a cell site. Above all, there needs to be a comprehensive response to corporate-raiding. The initiatives to counter the problem must include enlisting the cooperation of residents.

Sadly, business operators say they also face theft from within their organisations as well. A wholesaler tells me he has had a revolving door of accounting clerks, as in eight months he has had to hire six clerks, each one stealing a bit more than the one before. Every business operator can relate examples of how workers try to sneak a product or two through the back door.

The nature and scope of the problem is mind-boggling. And the severity of corporate-raiding is something which threatens the very life of the island's commercial sector.

P.S. The ridiculous news of the month has to be the report that young Sasha Obama seemed to have worn her sister's hand-me-down skirt on election night.

Apart from the fact that this may be embarrassing to the child, one wonders since when have we become so transfixed on the material things of life that an 11-year-old's skirt becomes a huge talking point in media.

Of course, hand-me-downs are nothing new within families.

Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to and