Friday, February 09, 2007

Impairing our assets

Recently we had a fire at the Riverton City dump, which caused immense discomfort to people living miles away. Some commentators were of the opinion that the dump should be relocated elsewhere as this was not an isolated incident and it is not ideal to have such a large dump close to residential communities. I think that it doesn't really matter where the dump is located, because people will move to the surrounding areas anyway and the authorities will not even bother to ensure proper zoning.

But where, I thought, would be an ideal location for the dump? Aha! How about the middle of Montego Bay? The second city is already in such a deplorable state that nobody would notice if a dump were to be located right there.

I mean, if you go through Montego Bay you will see that the city is now a totally disorganised area, overrun by undisciplined behaviour, particularly on the streets in the downtown area. The roadwork being done as you approach the second city is disgraceful. It is good that the work is being done, as it will have long-term benefits, but why does it have to take so long? I mean, this is supposed to be the tourism capital of Jamaica, and we have managed to maintain this chaotic status quo for so long! If they were really serious about completing the work as soon as possible, shouldn't work be happening 24/7, as they do in developed countries? If the reason is that the direct cost of working 24 hours is greater, isn't the cost to business activity much more than any additional cost of working 24 hours?

Depleting our assets
When tourists come to Montego Bay, the only place we fix up for them is the hip strip. Outside of the hip strip Montego Bay is in a disastrous state. Even the hip strip is on the decline and is a much underutilised asset. There is no doubt that the Montego Bay that tourists used to look forward to visiting is no longer the same. It is because of the manner in which we have depleted our national assets that the only tourists we seem to get are those who prefer to remain sequestered in all-inclusive hotels. It is the same way that we have allowed the degradation of the seven-mile beach stretch in Negril.

If we are serious about improving Montego Bay's value and attractiveness to tourists, we must put the proper public and private structures in place. We need to elect a parish council, form a chamber of commerce branch, and put a police force in place just like in Kingston. I say that these need to be in place because no one can convince me that we have (1) a parish council with an effective mayor; (2) a Montego Bay chamber of commerce; and (3) a police force. There is no way that that these bodies could exist and have Montego Bay remain in such a deplorable state.
As far as I know, it is the responsibility of the parish council to ensure order in the city. Instead, visitors to the town see a chaotic situation where drivers stop in the middle of the road to talk to each other, people double-park on almost every street , vendors line the streets in makeshift stalls, and the garbage is as prevalent as the number of people walking around. People cross the street at will, as there are no marked pedestrian crossings, thus bringing traffic to a standstill at peak periods. And don't bother talking about the police, as the entire force seems to be located on the hip strip.

The hip strip has become an area of retreat for the locals, as the number of tourists traversing the strip seems to be in decline also. If we were really serious about maximising tourism in Montego Bay, wouldn't we use the hip strip as a place to market our culture and an area where tourists would flock 24/7, instead of leaving it to just restaurants and a strip of clubs at night? For example, during the recently concluded "music festival" we should have transformed the hip strip into an area where jazz music could be played all day and all night, and properly organised street vending of Jamaican products could take place. Instead, we hosted a stage show for three nights. The strip should not have vehicular traffic, but rather people should park on the fringes and walk or be transported by carriages. Just imagine the difference that would make to the attractiveness of the place.

Crime capital
It is because of the indiscipline that prevails in the city that it has fast become the crime capital of Jamaica. I have always said that if we cannot control indiscipline generally, then how do we intend to deal with crime? Over the years we have allowed Montego Bay to be taken over by squatters and have transferred the indiscipline from downtown Kingston to downtown Montego Bay.

Behind remittances, tourism has the highest foreign exchange inflow. So what we are doing is putting our foreign exchange earnings in danger, and even though it is the direct responsibility of the non-existent parish council and chamber of commerce, the government should ensure that this national asset is protected because in the long run it will affect the entire Jamaica.

Maybe we need to start applying accounting standards when assessing the value of our national assets. The standards call for periodic impairment tests to be done on a company's assets to determine if there has been any impairment in the value of the assets. If, for example, an asset is originally valued at $100 and after the impairment test is done the asset shows a value of $60, then $40 is written off the value of the asset, just as NCB has consistently done with the Supreme Ventures shares.

Similarly, if we were to do an impairment test on our cities, beaches, and other national assets, we may well find that the values have been impaired. If we do not protect the value of our assets, which give us the natural competitive advantage in tourism, then we will soon find that we no longer have that competitive advantage. I have always believed that Jamaica's tourism is much less than it should be because we have not been able to properly exploit the natural beauty and culture of Jamaica. Instead, there is always a half-hearted effort to develop tourism.

If we are serious about maximising our tourism potential then we must have a properly developed strategic plan. This must not just include advertising Jamaica, because if we do not protect and develop our assets then we will only be advertising an inferior product. Instead, we allow countries such as Barbados, Bahamas, and Cuba to outclass us in tourism per capita numbers, when we have a superior natural competitive advantage from our beauty and culture.

I believe this is a national crisis which must be addressed by the government. I put it in the hands of central government, because the parish council and chamber of commerce are both ineffective. We cannot have this level of indiscipline permeating our tourist capital. If we do not act now, then sooner or later tourists will be less than enthusiastic about coming back to Jamaica, as all they will encounter are touts and dilapidated attractions.

As if all our efforts at wasting away our assets were not enough, we have gone ahead and charged US$100 for obtaining a Caricom visa during Cricket World Cup, when the fallout could actually cost us much more.


Anonymous said...

You are so right about Montego Bay. That place is a disgrace. I have been there on quite a few occassions and in fact have worked there.

What is interesting though is the level of poverty that exists there, which is reflected in the number of squatter settlements.
I remember a friend from abroad who visited the city around the time I was there. He was interested in purchasing hotel sometime before.

He was very curious as to why there were so many people living on the edge based on the potential he sees.
A day before he left, he said to me that the problem was due to the large gap between the rich and the poor.

He was right. If you look at the tourism, you will realise that it does not trickle/flow down to the average person. Example, one issue that is always a problem there, are the craft vendors versus the inbond merchants; wages and salaries of hotel workers and the all-inclusive concept.
Thoughts to ponder.

PS. thanks for changing the backgroung colour.

Anonymous said...

Very much a sad case brother. Couldnt agree with you more. I worked for 2 weeks in Mobay...and had to run. The place was do conjested...traffic wise and people-wise. No wonder the people temper flares ever so often...a poor environment will always breed such crass and crude structure, nor infrastructure place. The town planning is abysmally nothing's the city of 'NOTHINGNESS'. Ocho Rios is fast becoming the same too. We are just slidding into a decadent state..lawlessness prevails.Keep on writing very good articles.

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