Mark Titus, Sunday Gleaner Writer
In a bid to have a stronger voice on national issues, business groups in some rural parishes are calling for the immediate re-establishment of the Association of Chambers of Commerce (ACC) as the umbrella group for business operators in Jamaica.
"What we have seen over the years is the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) being summoned to meetings in relation to matters of national importance, and this should not be so because the JCC rightfully represents Kingston and St Andrew, not all the parishes," said Wendy Freckleton, president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"I do commend the JCC for its efforts, but I would like to see the re-establishment of the ACC, so we can have a body that truly represents the interest of the business community in all 14 parishes," added Freckleton.
"Kingston and St Andrew issues should not be deemed national issues because Kingston and St Andrew is not Jamaica."
But head of the JCC, Francis 'Paco' Kennedy, said the body has never pretended that it is speaking on behalf of all the chambers.
In a telephone interview from Washington, DC, where he was part of a delegation led by Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton, Kennedy told The Sunday Gleaner that representing the interest of the businesses outside of Kingston and St Andrew is not compromised at these talks.
"We have never been the umbrella group for the parish chambers of commerce," Kennedy said.
"The umbrella group (the ACC) split about 15 years ago, so as the most senior chamber, and being in Kingston, there are times we are called to these high-profile meetings, but we do communicate with the other chambers, and we do hold quarterly meetings with all the presidents," added Kennedy.
ISSUE WITH USE OF 'JAMAICA'
However, Freckleton, who is in her second term as president of the Manchester chamber and has been a member of that group since 1996, believes the name Jamaica Chamber of Commerce should rightfully be used by the umbrella group.
She argued that, like everyone else, her colleagues in Kingston and St Andrew should be using the name of their parishes.
She suggested that Kennedy could preside over the reconstituted umbrella group, with each parish president serving in rotation.
"While quarterly meetings are held, and each president does make a report, none of the issues are discussed or seriously followed through because there is no organised platform from which representation can be made on behalf of the group," argued Freckleton, "The umbrella group would be there to take on these issues without any form of bias."
Kennedy would not be drawn into a discussion about the use of Jamaica in the name of his chamber instead of the parishes it represents.
This is reportedly a very sore issue, as the Kingston and St Andrew-based chamber's refusal to relinquish the name was a factor leading to the split and demise of the ACC years ago.
The leadership of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry is also unimpressed with the level of representation the region is getting, and expressed concern that none of the stakeholders were invited to be a part of the consultative talks held with the various sector groups leading up to the recent launch of the National Debt Exchange (NDX).
"It is an embarrassment because Montego Bay has contributed significantly to our tourism product over the years and has also made meaningful contributions in the areas of commerce, which has had a positive effect on the country's gross domestic product," said Davon Crump, president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
"We cannot move from Third-World to First-World status without the business sector throughout Jamaica coming together to speak as one voice," added Crump.
UMBRELLA GROUP NEEDED
"In the western region, our greater contribution comes through tourism and the ICT sector. However, this might not be the case for Kingston and St Andrew and the JCC team. Therefore, it is very important that we move towards the re-establishment of the umbrella group, and the sooner the better."
Interestingly, Richard Bourke, head of the neighbouring Trelawny Chamber of Commerce and Industry, does not think JCC representing all the other chambers is an issue worth debating.
"They have been doing a reasonable job. As far as I am concerned, they seek to address our issues and each chamber president is a director of the JCC, so we have a voice," argued Bourke, even as he admitted that his chamber was not contacted before the recent discussions with the Government surrounding the NDX and the recent tax package.