We received good news at last week's quarterly briefing of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) from Chairman Keith Duncan. "Tourist visitor arrivals have exceeded pre-COVID-19 levels," he noted. "For the March 2023 quarter, 700,477 tourists visited Jamaica…Visitor arrivals for the quarter represented 104.3 per cent of the total arrivals in the comparable period in 2019."
This and increasing employment have resulted in revenue and grants outperforming government budget targets. He shared: "For the first two months of financial year 2023/2024, revenues and grants totalled $129.8 billion, exceeding the budget by $12.3 billion. Pay As You Earn (PAYE) was ahead by $5.7 billion, a 35.1 per cent increase, while travel tax was higher by $1.3 billion, a 33.1 per cent increase."
He commented, "I would say the economy has been very well managed by the Government of Jamaica, the minister of finance, and the Bank of Jamaica. Inflation is trending down and is just outside the Bank of Jamaica's projected range of 4 to 6 per cent."
Duncan noted that the supplemental budget was allocated $95 billion for the restructuring of salaries in the public sector, with reducing bands and allowances, describing it as "an efficient public sector compensation model". He noted that ministers' salaries are tied to those of permanent secretaries and would, therefore, be automatically increased. Regarding the significant rise in the prime minister's, governor general's, and parliamentarians' salaries, he noted that it had been nearly two decades since those were reviewed. He, however, conceded that the communication around this could have been better managed.
The repeated question is: Now that the macro is doing well, how do we see the positive effect on the micro? The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is still hamstrung by a shortage of motor vehicles, our seniors still have a low threshold for taxation and cannot keep up with their living expenses; market vendors are facing unhealthy issues in their markets; and road conditions are testing. If we can get the micro right, now that the macro is on track, we would be well on our way to becoming one of the fastest developing countries in the world.
Plié - Amalgamation Dance Gala
Plié for the Arts and the Plié Academy shone at Amalgamation – The Global Dance Festival Gala held last week at the Little Theatre. The gala honoured the memory of Harry Belafonte and was supported by multiple sponsors.
We attended on the second night when the packed house held their collective breaths and cheered dancers from the Boston Ballet, Alvin Ailey, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Alonzo King Lines Ballet, Art Studio Company, Plié's Senior and Studio Collective, and the witty Zoey Anderson of Parsons Dance.
I was especially proud of my young relatives Arya Chin, who sang on the first night with Tessanne Chin's Voice Box and Kyla Campbell of Plié Studio Collective and L'Acadco – United Caribbean Dance Force founded by Convent of Mercy "Alpha" alumna Dr L'Antoinette Stines.
The renowned Michaela de Prince of Boston Ballet conducted a free master class series this past weekend sponsored by the US Embassy in Jamaica. Kudos to the indefatigable Marisa Benain, founder and artistic director of the Plié organisations.
Usain Bolt's statue
Children are already mimicking Usain Bolt's "to-the-world" pose in front of his recently unveiled statue at the Ansin Sports Complex in Miramar. Created by Jamaican sculptor Basil Watson at a cost of US$250,000, it has drawn criticism. However, according to a report from Axios, vice-mayor Alexandra Davis, who spearheaded the project, said that the statue will inspire residents and local athletes while attracting tourists. Bolt posted his photo with the statue, writing, "Just a Kid from the Country. #Humbled."
Because Jeff Schwab was always an active, helpful president of the Stella Maris Church Ushers Association, we are still expecting him to be at the church door having a special word with our elderly folks and addressing various needs. This magnificent human being drew no attention to his life of service to others.
"The fact that Jeff was self-employed allowed him to live out his life as he wanted," shared his stepson Justin Morin at the thanksgiving service held recently. "And that turned out to be a life of service, role model, fixer, and chief support officer. For many people, they are driven by money and accolades, but that was not Jeff. He preferred to stay in the background. He found numerous ways to give back to his community, to society, to his friends and loved ones, often without asking for anything in return."
Justin noted that as a computer expert and director of Stand Up Jamaica, President Carlotta Gulotta and her team considered him to be the most valuable person in the organisation, giving computer lessons to prisoners who would enthusiastically greet "Mr Jeffrey" when he arrived for classes. Jeff and his friend Kirk Jardine were leaders of the Street People Feeding Programme, delivering hot meals to over 400 homeless in downtown Kingston and Half-Way-Tree.
Schwab oversaw the transformation to digitisation in major companies and embassies, and as a karate black belt, conducted classes for the Mona group of ISKF Jamaica.
Born of Swiss parents, the Jamaica College Old Boy was a model of excellence. He and his wonderful wife Margaret have always looked out for our most vulnerable and have mentored countless young people. They were inseparable; their love, said Justin, "was one for the ages".
"Our 'Jeff-Jeff', friend to so many, loved by all," said Justin, "I don't know if we'll ever come to terms with not having you around. You preferred to put others in the spotlight while you worked tirelessly in the background. You created a safe space for people to be themselves. You were a sincere, honest, and a practical man. You were a loving husband, father, grandfather, godfather, and a family man." Rest in Peace, God's good and faithful servant.
Unforgettable Jill Stewart
Through his posts Adam Stewart introduced us to his wife Jill and took us on their journey after her cancer diagnosis in May of last year.
His posts went viral as we celebrated with him the courage and beauty of his wife. Literally hundreds of thousands of followers kept praying for her recovery, and the Stewart and Jardim family and friends did everything in their power to bring her joy. They ran the London Marathon in her honour, got Chris Martin of Coldplay to send her a special message, and encircled her with their love.
Our hearts fell at the news on Saturday; it was as if we had lost a close relative, so invested we had become in Jill's well-being. Stewart wrote, "To our beautiful Jilly, you taught us the true meaning of selfless love and we will love you forever."
We pray for his comfort and the comfort of her beloved family. Martin said he wanted Jill to be at their Coldplay concert, whether in Portugal, Italy, or Spain. Now she can watch all three, her soul a special star in God's universe.
Jean Lowrie-Chin is executive chair of PROComm and CCRP. Send comments to www.lowrie-chin.blogspot.com