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Trench Town for Jamaica's cultural hub

Henley MORGAN

Wednesday, July 02, 2014    

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THERE is an enthralling story told in the Bible about Jacob, a man who was obsessed with riches, wrestling all night with an angel. Neither Jacob nor the angel was able to prevail and so the struggle continued until daybreak. The angel pleaded, "Let me go." Jacob, his thigh bone painfully dislocated, said, "I will not let you go until you bless me."

The relationship between Jamaica and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bears some of the features of the wrestling match between Jacob and the angel. Locked in a deadly embrace, Jamaica hangs on for dear life, pleading for a blessing. Head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, came and went. She gave praise but no blessing. The rules of engagement remain as onerous as before.

On the eve of the IMF managing director's visit to the island, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) convened a meeting of council. It was disheartening to hear an audience made up of some of Jamaica's brightest and best entrepreneurs, including some titans of industry, sounding defeated; as if they are mere bystanders to a process into which they have been co-opted with no discernible way out.

I doubt there were many in that room who think the necessary bookkeeping functions imposed on the minister of finance by the IMF is apanacea for the country's economic ills. How does one achieve the much talked-about but ever elusive growth when demand is being sucked out of the economy like ice water through a straw on a hot day and with the value of the local currency falling precipitously, drying up input to the productive process?

Reported in the October 25, 2013 Jamaica Observer, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding in a keynote address at the Caribbean International Network lecture series in New York made a common-sense observation. According to Golding, as painful and necessary as the current IMF Extended Fund Facility is, it "will not by itself bring about the required economic change". What, then, shall we turn to for the nation's economic salvation?

Columnist Ronald Mason believes the Global Logistics Hub, for which Jamaica is well-suited, given its strategic geographic location at the crossroads of major international shipping lanes, is the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg.

Writing in the September 1, 2013 edition of the Daily Gleaner, Mason had this to say: The goal to position Jamaica as a fourth node in the global logistics network, to complement Singapore, Dubai, and Rotterdam, is "the most transformative economic activity that we will undertake as a government".

With an estimated expenditure of US$1.5 billion by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and generation of an estimated 10,000 jobs, the benefits, in the absence of consideration of environmental and other costs, do sound compellingly attractive.

Given that the investment by the Chinese on the Goat Islands is a done deal, why not extend the discussion and action to creating Jamaica's hub for the cultural and creative industries?

The definition of logistics hub that I find easiest to work with is one from the Euro-platform Report. It says in part, "A logistics hub is a centre or specific area designated to deal with activities related to transportation, organisation, separation, co-ordination and distribution of goods for national and international transit, on a commercial basis".

The idea of a cultural hub is demystified when thought of in the same vein. A cultural hub, then, can be considered to be a centre or specific area designated to deal with activities related to the creation, development, production, protection, co-ordination and distribution of cultural and creative goods and services for local and international consumption on a commercial basis.

The idea of a hub for the cultural and creative industries is one that cannot wait. The potential benefits are immense with almost no down side in terms of costs.

Tamara Scott-Williams, in a January 20, 2013 Sunday Observer article, provides an explanation that sets the mouth watering. I quote: "Estimates put the global cultural and creative industries as being worth US$2.2 trillion and growing at an annual rate of five per cent. This industry, which exists to create, produce, and/or distribute copyright materials, affords Jamaica its greatest foreign exchange-earning potential and should be placed at the forefront of the search for economic solutions. In fact, according to the Creative Economy 2010 published by the United Nations, the Government of Jamaica needs to focus on reggae, film, and other creative services to grow the economy."

In that same article, Scott-Williams referred to work done by UTech professor of economics Dr Vanus James, which shows that "a dollar of foreign exchange put into music and other recreation forms yields $6.18 while that same dollar put into information technology yields only $1.49".

A giant step in the direction of advancing this under-exploited area of the national economy has been achieved with the establishment of the National Cultural and Creative Industries Commission on March 25, 2014 in the Office of the Prime Minister, in fulfilling a promise that she made in her contribution to the 2012/2013 budget debate.

Among the deliverables expected from the commission are a National Cultural and Creative Industries Policy and a Master Plan for the sustainable development of Cultural and Creative Industries.

The Jamaica Information Service release which reported on the historic development quoted the prime minister as saying the following: "We need to recognise how important these industries are for both economic growth and national development."

The prime minister said something else at the first meeting of the commission that needs repeating, given the fractious nature of relations in the sector: "We need a partnership between the players in the industry and the Government because this industry will play an important part in our national development. We need to get it right."

This idea of a cultural and creative industries hub should get no less attention than the logistics hub. Look at the advantages: Jamaican-owned and fully integrated into the local economy, trading in a non-depletable resource that is uniquely Jamaican, leveraging an asset that already enjoys universal appeal, and requiring only modest capital investments to kick-start thus allowing Jamaicans in our current economic state to remain in ownership and control.

Will this be another nine-day wonder and talk shop, two commodities for which Jamaicans have become famous but which earn us nothing but scorn and derision by those we go to cap in hand? The way to avoid this is to pick a winner -- the iconic brand Trench Town -- where the process has already begun.

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