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All our industries must operate at world-class levels

Grace VIRTUE

Tuesday, August 19, 2014    

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Our athletes are world class. They win in fine style, making them star attractions at premier international sporting events. Usain Bolt has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Life Magazine, among numerous other publications, and his Facebook page has more than 15 million likes. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce holds her own, despite the clear gender bias in how athletes are treated. She has nearly half a million Facebook likes, has appeared on the cover of Buzz Magazine, and she is the first UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador for Jamaica. There are others who are doing just as well and some are comfortable multimillionaires (in US dollars!). They are my favourite rich people; shining examples of what it means to succeed by dint of talent and hard work. No one will ever question where they got their wealth. They made it right before our eyes.

Our athletes' prowess, reggae music, renowned cuisine, and other vibrant aspects of culture, combined with the island's natural beauty, are among the key strengths of the global Jamaican brand.

As a country, we will start winning, socially and economically, when our Government and industries are all functioning at world class levels -- when the positive aspects are no longer diluted or dragged down by negatives that citizens encounter on a daily basis. Those negatives also keep visitors and investors away and deny us the growth that we need to improve the quality of life for all.

Finance and Planning Minister Dr Peter Phillips recently pointed to the need for adjustments to be made in how government functions in order to enhance our competitiveness. The adjustments, he said, are imperative to ensure that Jamaica "secures maximum benefits from implementation of more difficult aspects of the Economic Reform Programme," now underway in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund. The country will not be attractive to investors if the services required to do business are not internationally competitive, he said.

"We need to ensure that institutions of government, particularly those central to doing business, operate at world class standards," Phillips said, August 15, 2004, addressing the weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of New Kingston at Chasers Café.

Whether or not Phillips is merely speaking for the IMF, the fact is, he is correct. There is tremendous work to be done to modernise for greater efficiency, accountability and productivity, and it is not merely in those areas "central to doing business". Other critical areas such as health care and national security, because they directly impact quality of life and represent critical barriers to progress.

In the almost 20 years since I have lived in the United States, the most often cited reasons, from both Jamaicans and foreigners alike, for not visiting Jamaica are:

1) a poor health care system, including the absence of emergency response;

2) unacceptable levels of crime and lack of effectiveness and professionalism on the part of the police;

3) indiscipline on our roads; and

4) pervasive bureaucracy in both the private and public sector, which makes even simple interactions difficult and time-consuming.

This has tremendous implications for long-term investments as well as tourism. Although it remains one of our best performing sectors, the fact is, tourism can do better and it needs to, as our most immediate source of foreign exchange, and measures need to be in place to guarantee improved performance and sustainability. This requires greater care of the natural environment, ongoing improvements to our major attractions, the development of others to enhance what nature has given us, better conceptualisation and marketing of all attractions, and greater and more sophisticated incorporation of heritage and culture into the product.

Phillips' statements go beyond Government. Our private sector can be equally unfocused and unproductive and quite unsophisticated by international standards. In fact, much of the difficulties facing some businesses nowadays come from the simple fact that they are no longer monopolies — the only environment they can succeed in. The more innovative — those who understand what globalisation is and whose products are of the highest quality — are in the marketplace competing effectively just like our athletes.

For example, Gordon "Butch "Stewart's Sandals began in Jamaica and is now in St Lucia, Antigua, The Bahamas, Grenada, Barbados, and the Turk and Caicos Islands. Its website reflects a company that understands what branding is and what it means to compete in a global marketplace. I hope to see them one day in Costa Rica, Panama, Miami, and Myrtle Beach.

GraceKennedy began in Jamaica in 1922. Its network now includes 60 subsidiaries and associated companies in the Caribbean, North and Central America, and the United Kingdom. The company's 2020 vision, developed in 1995, aimed to transform Grace "from a Jamaican trading company to a global consumer group with our roots in Jamaica".

The Jamaica National Building Society, traces its roots to the Westmoreland Building Society, which began in 1874. They now have offices in Florida, Toronto, and the United Kingdom, servicing the Jamaican Diaspora.

Digicel started in Jamaica 13 years ago. They now operate in 32 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia Pacific. Its total investment to date stands at over US$5 billion. Chief Executive Officer Mark Linehan, in an address to the Jamaica Stock Exchange Conference, January 25, 2012, reminded us of some key factors that, even in a competitive global economy, represent distinct advantages for Jamaica: proximity to the United States, a mere one-hour-and-twenty-minutes flying time from Miami, Florida — the crossroads of the Americas; our ability to speak or understand English; a cadre of highly skilled and-educated individuals; a modern infrastructure, including three international airports, a major shipping port and an extensive highway and road network; a sophisticated telecoms infrastructure; and solid democratic political institutions.

We need to put on our grown-up clothes and organise, capitalise, internationalise and compete!

Grace Virtue, Ph.D., is a social justice advocate

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