Speaking at last month’s 8th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference, with its theme “Building Pathways for Sustainable Development”, Prime Minister Andrew Holness outlined ambitious plans for the city’s future.
“We want to genuinely make Kingston not just the capital of Jamaica, but we feel that it is the central city in the Caribbean,” Holness told delegates who attended his opening presentation at the June 16-20 event, held at the Jamaica Conference Centre in the capital.
“We want to make Kingston the center of trade, commerce of the Caribbean. We want to make Kingston the center of art and culture and entertainment. We want to make Kingston the business center, the finance center of the Caribbean.”
The conference attracted thousands of delegates seeking to reconnect with their homeland Jamaica, invest in rebuilding the country and seek answers to some of the ills affecting downtown Kingston, an area being redeveloped and re-energized for growth.
The prime minister said he views the diaspora as an integral part in the process to make Kingston, and the entire island, a vibrant economic hub for business, culture and families.
“Something is happening that is positive in the diaspora,” he explained, “but more than that, we must never underestimate the value of our diaspora in ensuring that the economy of Jamaica remains strong even in the depths of a recession.”
Holness addressed the diaspora’s direct and indirect involvement in the more than 40 projects islandwide that are improving the lives of Jamaicans and the health of the nation’s economy.
Yet he also lamented the level of crime in Jamaica and how it affects the nation’s psyche and economic growth.
“Over the last three decades or so, we have seen an unabated rise, even acceptance, of violence in our society,” Holness said.
“We have to look at ourselves and address this uncomfortable subject. And we require members of the diaspora to help us with this conversation about violence in our society.”
The prime minister explained, for example, that corporal punishment is still viewed by many as the best way to instill discipline in children. He said many in the diaspora and Jamaica believe some physical punishment is beneficial to personal development and would be reluctant to support any other view.
However, Holness warned that not only does corporal punishment have a generally negative impact on psychology, outlook and emotional development, it also leaves an imprint of violence which is projected onto future generations.
But all is not dire, according to Holness. He said government is spending close to 20 billion Jamaican dollars on national security two years running, the highest ever spent on social issues, particularly violence. He also claimed that, coupled with massive investment on infrastructure and fiscal discipline, the country is experiencing positive growth.
“Our interest rates are the lowest they have been for decades,” Holness said. “In 2013 our unemployment rate was 16 percent. Today, I am pleased to report that the last figures tell us it is now eight percent. In 2013 thereabouts, our national debt, some people say it was 151 percent, but it was probably in reality 141 percent of GDP. Today, we are expecting it to be at 96 percent of GDP.”
Holness also assured the diaspora his government is stepping up efforts to fight corruption to make it easier to do business in Jamaica. He urged the diaspora to show support for a country willing to embrace it.
“We invite members of the diaspora to now seriously look at Jamaica as a safe, profitable opportunity for investment,” said Holness.
“Jamaica is open for your business. Yes, I want you to come back and be tourists in your land, but I want you to come back and be investors in your land as well.”