REPORT - JAMAICA. The island of opportunity

Forward-looking island banks on its ‘creative spirit’

Jamaica’s strategic location between the US and South America, and its natural beauty, are generating significant increases in the amount of tourism and foreign investment coming to the island.

In a new wave of changing political leadership worldwide, Jamaica followed Germany, Liberia and Chile by welcoming the nation’s first female prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, earlier this year. Mrs.Simpson-Miller, leader of the People’s National Party (PNP) and former minister of local government and sport in the outgoing cabinet, was sworn in on March 30, 2006. In her inaugural address she pledged to eradicate crime and corruption, fight poverty, maintain the country’s macroeconomic stability and international credibility, reform education policy and boost the job market. Former Prime Minister PJ Patterson, also part of the PNP, called the leadership change “transparent and seamless”, saying that Jamaica “will rise to new levels of economic growth and witness upward social mobility.”

January 2006 saw the start of a new era for the Caribbean, with the launching of the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME), an extension of Caricom (the Caribbean Community), Jamaica is looking to reap the rewards of a decade of preparation that has converted it into a leading regional voice and has created one of the most promising economies within the Caribbean single market, which comprises six of the fifteen Caricom countries: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, Suriname and Belize. The six members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS): Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, are due to join the initiative in June 2006. The remaining three Caricom nations, the Bahamas, Haiti and Montserrat, will follow but have yet to formally sign the agreement.

Under the previous prime minister, Jamaica planted the foundations for development. Macroeconomic indicators are stable, growth is set for 2.9 per cent this year, major infrastructure improvements have led to high levels of new development, and foreign investment is on the rise. The CSME will be essential to secure the future of Jamaica and of Caricom, and in promoting unity among the individual states in the region.

Jamaica is on its way to becoming a nation with first-class infrastructure and access to universal education and training, preparing citizens to reach their full potential in the global village. Developments in the country throughout the last few years have come a long way in achieving this goal. New highways now connect previously isolated areas and facilitate large-scale developments in tourism. Port expansion has led to increasing interest from international companies who see Jamaica as a logistics hub for the Americas. The communications infrastructure is practically on a par with the most advanced systems worldwide and opportunities for new partnerships in various sectors have arisen.

Mrs. Simpson-Miller pointed out that, in order to maintain the current levels of growth and active participation in the global community, it is necessary to build on the legacy of interparty and international collaboration. “Unity is a prerequisite for success,” she said.“Let us launch a new era of cooperation, working together in the interest of all Jamaicans.”

In a country where it has been historically difficult for women to hold leadership positions, this is a breakthrough. Mrs. Simpson-Miller follows in the footsteps of only two other female prime ministers within the Caricom region, Eugenia Charles, who governed the Dominican Republic from 1980 to 1995, and Janet Jagan, who was President of Guyana between 1997 and 1999. Mrs Simpson-Miller’s victory is considered “a long-awaited affirmation of the ability of women to lead.” And lead she will, as the new prime minister says she is eager to “unleash the Jamaican creative spirit that can move the country forward.”