Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has reached out to Jamaicans living abroad to gauge their interest in the construction of public schools across the island. The schools would be built under a public-private sector arrangement as part of the Government's efforts to attract greater investments from the diaspora.
State minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Arnaldo Brown, made the disclosure late last week as he addressed a Gleaner Editors' Forum. According to Brown, this would be part of a range of investment opportunities open to members of the diaspora. He said under the proposed arrangement, the constructed schools would be turned over to the Government under a lease agreement.
"What has been put to the members of the diaspora is that persons so inclined could build schools and lease them to the administration."
Brown said the 5th Biennial Diaspora Conference, which is scheduled to get under way today in Montego Bay, St James, will also be used to gauge interest in the investment opportunities that are expected to come from the creation of the logistics hub and the potential for Jamaica to tap into the global multibillion-dollar health tourism industry.
He pointed to the case of a Jamaican man living in the United States who is among a group of investors seeking to pump US$200 million (J$20 billion) into the construction of a luxury hospital in St James.
"(They) bring the patients in, you treat them, they convalesce, and they go back to their places of origin," Brown explained.
Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson announced last month that Cabinet has given approval for construction to begin.
The project will be undertaken through an established partnership with the Jamaica Government.
But even as he made his pitch to members of the diaspora, Brown acknowledged that Jamaica has to swiftly address some of the bureaucratic red tape that serve as hindrances to doing business.
"What needs to happen now, without any further delay, is to get our house in order in terms of business facilitation," he asserted. " … And once we are able to get that correct, then I think we can see a more robust level of involvement, not only from the diaspora, but from other business interests," added Brown.
Phillip Mascoll, an executive member of the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation, acknowledged that there are numerous opportunities for health-related projects in Jamaica. He said Jamaicans living overseas are prepared to invest in their homeland, but bureaucratic red tape and issues of personal security are major deterrents.
"There are people in the diaspora who would come here and build those (health) facilities once those issues have been moved out of the way," said Mascoll. "Old people 'fraid'."
Mascoll also criticised the State's trade promotion agency, JAMPRO, and the Jamaica Tourist Board, charging that "for a long time" they have not viewed members of the diaspora community as investors.
"You prefer the foreigners. You are doing it now, but for a long time you looked for investment from people who were born abroad," Mascoll claimed.